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School Violence and the Media


In their report, the investigators note that although there is no prior information available about school threats, research has established a tie between media coverage of a suicide and "copycat" suicides. That has the authors concerned about how tragic stories in general are covered in the press.

"I believe that the media have responsibility for the content of their product," Kettl tells WebMD. "These violent episodes can be imitated by susceptible youth. Am I saying they should not be reported? No ... but along with that right comes responsibility to help."

He recommends that specifically, the media should "not say exactly what happened" and they should not give "how-to instructions of exactly how bombs are made, exactly where they were placed, how you can get around metal detectors in schools."

By downplaying the "glory factor" -- and offering solutions -- news accounts would better serve troubled kids, he says.

"The individuals who perpetrate these acts should not be ... presented as counter-culture heroes," Kettl tells WebMD. "Rather, they should be described realistically as being troubled."

News accounts "should also include information on how troubled teens and others could get help -- calling crisis intervention centers, the local mental health association, etc.," he says.

How schools react to these incidents is another way to curb threats, he says.

Also, larger schools should try to personalize the attention they give children after these well-publicized incidents. "Some schools may divide classes into teams," he says. "However they want to do it is fine, but what's most critical is letting the child feel that he or she individually is important, especially if the children are feeling alienated.

"Kids who are having more behavioral difficulties are more likely to be violent, and are worthy of special attention when a dramatic event like this takes place," he tells WebMD.

Other experts agree with the report.

"This study confirms what I've been saying for at least 15 years," says Irwin Hyman, PhD, professor of school psychology and director of the National Center for Study of Corporal Punishment and Alternatives at Temple University.

"Media coverage of these events vastly exaggerates the extent of this kind of incident," Hyman tells WebMD. "It scares kids, makes them afraid to go to school. And it makes the kids who tend to be alienated more likely to make threats."

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