How Adults Can Encourage Teens to Prevent School Violence

bullyingSchool shootings, bullying, fighting, and other forms of teen violence are becoming more frequent in America. To prevent violence, we need the cooperation of our teens. They are on the front lines, not adults. The students are the ones that see the knife that some kid brings to school, or see the bully humiliate his victim, or hear the rumors of death threats. Teachers and parents won’t know about the escalating problems unless the students choose to share what they have seen or heard.

Teens often do not want to share information about their peers. They don’t want to be a snitch or get anyone in trouble. They feel uncertain about how serious what they have seen or heard is, so they err on the side of not sharing because that person might have been joking or blowing off steam.

Parents and teachers must help to change this mindset. First and foremost, these adults must develop caring and supportive relationships with youth so that teens feel comfortable talking with the adults in their lives. Speaking to teens in open and honest ways and reacting calmly to the information shares will ensure that teens will be more willing to share their concerns when they see a threat of violence.

Second, parents and teachers must explain to youth that it is critically important that teens tell an adult if they hear of any threats – death, suicide, harm, violence, fights – so that adults with the power to intervene can best decide what to do. Be sure to tell teens that they should not be trying to determine whether or not a peer’s threats or rumors of threats are real or not. No one should make that determination alone, and adults can work together to best figure it out.

Teens should tell an adult where, when and from whom they heard the threat. They should provide names and details. But most importantly, teens should demand and expect to be treated as an anonymous source. Many teens fear for their safety, and they may have a legitimate reason. The type of person who would make death threats is also the type of person who would hold a grudge. Adults should reward the teen’s courage to come forward by protecting their identity.

The only way school violence can truly be prevented is if adults are made aware of the problems before they boil over, and the only way that will happen is if teens share what they are observing. Adults must foster open, honest communication and trusting, loyal relationships with youth to get them to become partners in preventing future school violence.

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