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School Violence: Expert Advice on What Can Be Done

What can students do?

Fink: They have to learn not to keep secrets. If they think there's a problem, they have to alert people, not try to solve problems themselves or keep quiet. Go to a school counselor, parents, the kid's parents, the principal -- somebody who can help them.


S. Hoffman: Students might think it won't happen in their school, that a student is just kidding. But they need to know the warning signs and report any threat, even if they don't think it's real -- just report what they hear. They don't need to be in a position of evaluating. Experts in the school can make that determination.


L. Hoffman: In a well-functioning school, the kid who does the teasing, the kid being teased, the kid who bullies, the kid who is bullied are not dealt with individually but are dealt with in a group. 'Look what happened when you pushed so-and-so around.' It then becomes a group situation, without identifying good guys and bad guys. It becomes a part of the group identity. It's all about helping kids develop their empathy toward another human being, and that's often very hard for them to do.


What can society do?


Fink: The problem we have now is that we're in a very punitive mood. We want to lock them up and throw away the key. We want retribution. There has to be some understanding that there are many, many damaged children. We need to help them now, not wait 'til they hurt someone. It comes down to the parents. It's like I said; they need to be listening and talking to their kids more. But we also need parenting education -- teaching people how to be good parents. We have a program like that here in Philadelphia. We need to help these kids as early in their lives as possible.


L. Hoffman: With instantaneous media, the contagion effect [and] imitation are both factors. And now there is the technical ability to manipulate images in TV and videos -- seemingly bringing people back to life. If kids have trouble differentiating their fantasies from reality, they're not necessarily aware that after all this shooting, someone cannot come out and make a new movie -- that shooting is a final act. There have always been stories of good guys and bad guys, but for the kid at home watching TV all day -- whose parents aren't there, who have no limits -- the fantasies take hold. The kid's inability to differentiate fantasy from reality becomes a real problem.


S. Hoffman: Society as a whole probably needs to look at the issue of gun control and access. We need to look at staying connected with kids, giving them options when they're feeling stressed or alienated -- counseling options, adults available to talk. And we as a society need to look at examples of violence in the media, video games, movies, etc. We may need to examine our value system as a society and make choices about what's most important.


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