School Violence

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Aggression with fists is no longer news in an era when armed aggression is cool. Violence in schools is on the rise worldwide. But not until a child picks up a gun and slaughters that it makes news.


Why should I be aware of this?

A nationwide study of violent deaths in US schools by the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control found that 77 percent of the school deaths were caused by firearms. Knives accounted for 18 percent. According to a WHO survey, in Israel 25 percent of boys and 6 percent of girls carry a weapon to school for protection.

Some of the major disciplinary problems among schoolchildren in the 1940s were talking out of turn, chewing gum, making noise in class, running in the hall, cutting in line, dress code violation and littering. Cut to the 1990s and you find these problems have morphed into drug abuse, alcohol abuse, teenage pregnancy, suicide, rape, robbery and assault.

How does this affect me?

A troubled loner, Cho Seung-Hui, 23, massacred 32 fellow students and teachers at the Virginia Tech University, near Washington. His only apparent motive was he was a sad boy.

Early life experiences where children are exposed to violence in the home and community have a deepening effect which pushes them to violence.

All about school violence

In Dunblane, Scotland, 16 children were killed at a school playground. In Erfurt, Germany, 17 children were killed in a massacre in 2002. In a more recent incident in Finland an 18 year old shot and killed five boys, two girls and an adult woman at a high school in southern Finland.

A few years ago the National School Safety Center in Westlake Village, California, USA, got a call from a kindergarten teacher saying that she was on medical leave after being beaten up by one of her students. The Center is entrusted with the task of monitoring school violence on behalf of the federal government.

Some facts and figures

  • 1996 - Dunblane, Scotland: Shooter kills 16 children and a teacher. Then kills himself
  • 1997 – A Jordanian soldier kills seven Israeli school girls. The soldier was on a field trip in Bakura.
  • 1998 – A bombing in Algiers on a crowded street packed with students returning home from school killed one person and wounded several others.
  • 1999- A killing spree by two Columbine High School students. Students committed suicide after killing 12 fellow students and a teacher, and wounding 24 others.
  • 2002 – Two students were murdered and fifteen wounded by a gunman believed to be from an ethnic minority Karen rebel group in an attack on a school bus in Thailand.
  • 2002 – An unidentified gunman killed 14 teachers, 2 students and a policeman at a school in Erfurt, Germany.
  • 2004 –As many as 350 people, half of who were children, were killed in a school in Beslan, Russia by a group of rebel extremists
  • 2006 - Montreal Canada. One student was killed and 19 injures at Dawson School by indiscriminate firing by a gunman, who later killed himself
  • 2006 - In one-room Amish schoolhouse, A heavily armed truck driver shot at ten girls in one of Amish schoolhouse, killing five and critically injuring the others

Factors responsible for growing school violence

  • Criminologists, physiatrists, counselors unanimously put the blame on factors like a steady diet of movies which glorify violence, and the evolution of single parent homes.
  • Lack of respect and accountability at home develops into lack of respect for the law. It is common for the police in the US to confront lack of respect for the law even among children 7 or 8 years of age.
  • Inequalities in education system -- According to research findings by Penn State University researchers, there is a link between school violence and inequalities in education system, which leads to inequalities in educational attainments. Apart from inequalities in educational attainments other causes leading to violence are rejection of culture, race and socio-economic disparities. Years of subjection to such behavior can lead to alienation, despair and anger, leading to violent actions.
  • To get back at those who hurt -- In a national study conducted among teenagers entitled Lethal Violence in Schools by Alfred University USA, 87 percent of the respondents said that the strongest motivation for shooting was the desire to “get back at those who have hurt them.” This was closely followed by 86 percent of the respondents saying that teenagers turned to lethal weapons because of “other kids picking on them, making fun of them or bullying them”.

Causes responsible for growing schol violence

Causes can be physical, behavioral or adopted.

  1. Physical causes include head injuries which are shown to bring about violent reactions in some.
  2. Behavioral problems may occur due to personality problems which often prevent free interaction with others. Such children are not able to blend with school activities and feel ignored and isolated.
  3. Adopted abnormalities may come from disturbed family background or excessive exposure to violence in the media.

Profile of perpetuators

  • Experts describe most of the perpetuators of chool violence as self-centered, self-absorbed and angry youngsters. Shawn Johnston, a psychologist in California, in his 20 years of forensic psychology and 5,000 interviews with juvenile offenders, described them as "very self-centered, very self-absorbed, angry youngsters who derive extraordinary pleasure from savage vengeance they wreak on one another," He blamed this behavior on children’s frustration and pain at not getting everything they wanted.
  • Bullying, which was once characterized as a normal, character-building rite of passage for school children, are now creating serious physical and mental health consequences for both the bully and his or her target. One recent study found that 60 percent of boys classified as bullies in middle school were convicted of at least one crime by the age 24. Researchers have confirmed that effects of bullying have long –lasting effects but are worst among adolescents. Those bullied before puberty seem to get over the effects faster. But those bullied late on in puberty often become aggressive or turn to drinks to cope with the problem.
  • A study by the US Secret Service found that most school shooters felt bullied or threatened by someone else just before they went on a rampage. In more than two-thirds of cases, the attackers said they felt persecuted, bullied, threatened, attacked or even injured by others just before the shootings.
  • Another disruptive reality is violence on children. The United Nations Secretary-General's Study on Violence against Children, which includes physical violence, psychological violence, discrimination, neglect and maltreatment of children worldwide, reported that much violence on children is considered routine and much of it remains hidden and is approved by society.

The Alfred University survey found 61 percent of the teenage respondent felt that students take up firearms as they were themselves victims of physical abuse at home. Among the respondents, 54 percent felt witnessing physical violence at home could lead teenagers to take up arms. Use of guns gave them the power they lacked.

90 degrees

Minor Violence

Not much is heard about ‘minor’ violence happening in schools across the world every day. Racism, assault, theft and racketeering keep happening every day and in all geographical spheres. Such violence may be that of a 5 year old throwing tantrums or a bully terrorizing his playmates.

A measure of day-to-day violence in schools can be made from statistics of students’ victimization reports which go to show the amount of violence taking place in school classrooms, bathrooms, locker rooms and gyms. Maximum numbers of reports of student victimization came from Hungary, Romania, and the Philippines. More students reported being victims of violence and extreme Bullying in these countries than in the United States. The study reported that even countries with relatively peaceful images such as New Zealand and Canada had more victimization reports than the USA.

What can I do?

Steps immediately taken by school authorities following each spate of violence include intensifying security, bringing in metal detectors, surveillance cameras, bomb-sniffing dogs and isolating the “high-risk” students.

It is a mistake to think that violence has to do with security or lack of it. Tackling only one aspect of a problem of this magnitude will not help. This problem must be approached together by school authorities, parents and community members with commitment and collaboration.

Schools must have systems to address the problems of students with troubling behavior. Some approaches are given here:

  • Academic focus -- Schools should have strong academic focus, be supportive to students and encourage them to excel
  • Involve families -- Students whose parents are involved in the growth and development of children both in and out of schools are less likely to adopt anti-social ways. Schools should encourage positive interactions.
  • Community development -- Get students involved in community development projects. Encourage involvement with the community at large which includes support services, community police, and the faith-based community.
  • Build student-staff relationship -- Support of adults in schools is vital in preventing student violence. Quality time should be spent with students, addressing their problems, dispelling their fears etc.
  • Give respect to students -- Avoid any action which would be treated as bias or prejudice. Students who are treated unfairly often resort to violence
  • Have a referral system for neglected and abused -- Such students need urgent attention and care lest things go out of hand.
  • Be involved in future planning -- Help develop skills in students so that their transition to a future life is smooth.

How We Can Help As Parents

Research shows that children, till reaching adolescence, crave for caring adults in their lives to talk about critical issues which baffle them. In their early years they seek parental guidance in the same manner. Only parents can clear confusions in children’s minds and teach them how to cope with tough issues. Some ways of helping them are:

  • Talk to kids openly and frankly -- Make communication with your kids so open and frank that they can ask you any question confronting them. When they do, give them straight answers. If you have no answer, admit so and together set out to find them. A single talk may not be enough for children to grasp everything. So keep talking.
  • Encourage them to come to you with problems -- Talking to elders gives children confidence and helps them shed their fears. It is normal for children to feel depressed, worried and persecuted. Reassure them of your continued support at such times. Even if he is violent or has been a victim of violence he should be assured of this safety net.
  • Share the media -- Experts are of the opinion that too much exposure to violence on TV, movies and other media can desensitize children to violence. They also make children act aggressively. Watch TV or play video games with them and discuss what you see. Explain about the implications of violence in real life.
  • Reassure children of their safety -- Reassure them that even if there is violence in the world, their place is secure, at home, with their parents. Children need to grow up with such reassurances as violence not only frightens them but can lead to other psychological complications.
  • Discourage violent games -- Even if other children do so, discourage your children from playing too many violent games.
  • Set an example -- Set an example as a parent by controlling your anger and sudden outbursts. Do not use physical force to settle a problem.
  • Tell about toys and real guns -- Teach your child the difference between toys and real weapons which can hurt and kill for real.

It is also very important to pay heed to warning signs which might indicate that a child is on the verge of violence:

  • Enjoys playing with weapons, or obsessed with violent games
  • Talking about violence and imagining a role for himself
  • Obsession with violent movies
  • Has tendency to bully or threaten others
  • Is cruel to pets or other animals


  • 160,000 kids miss school everyday due to bullying and school violence.
  • 950,000 students across the United States bring weapons to school every month.
  • Schools now report that over a quarter of a million students per month are being physically attacked during the school day.

Additional information

  • Also see Dozen Things Teachers Can Do To Stop School Violence
  • Also see 10 Things You Can Do to Prevent Violence in Your School Community


  • When Kids Kill
  • Stopping School Violence
  • School Shootings
  • Talking with Your Kids
  • Map of School Violence
  • Israel's schools mirror a culture of violence
  • Strategies to Keep Schools Safe
  • A Guide to Safe Schools