The overwhelming majority of schools are safe, but recent tragic events have caused both parents and children extreme and legitimate worry. We know it takes everyone to create safer schools – parents, school administrators, law enforcement, and others play an important role as well.
But as a parent, it is important to recognize the signs of a child’s potential involvement with violence (or drug use or other crime). No one sign should be reason for alarm. But multiple indicators suggest an increased potential risk of a student getting into trouble. These behaviors often appear suddenly, but they may also evolve over a period of time. While there is no foolproof system for identifying troubled students, the list below provides a starting point.
Signs To Look For
— Drop in grades
— Change in friends—new interests, particularly because of peer rejection
— Change in moods—more irritable, secretive, withdrawn, inappropriately angry
— Less responsible—late for school, late coming home, dishonesty
— Child has few or no close friends
— Cruelty to animals
— Sudden change in clothing or style of dress
— Shortened temper and uncontrollable outbursts of anger
— Fascination with weapons
— Threats of violence to self or others
— Persistent disregard for or refusal to follow rules
— Involvement with or interest in gangs
— History of bullying other children (or of being bullied by others)
— Expressions of violence in drawings and writings
What You Can Do
Any of these signs should alert you that a child may be in trouble. Talk to your child. Get counseling, guidance, and mentoring services for him or her. Also, get referrals to appropriate community health, social service, faith community, and/or law enforcement personnel.
How To Reduce the Risk
If you do choose to own firearms—handguns, rifles, or shotguns—make sure they are safely stored. That means unloaded, trigger-locked, and in a locked gun case or pistol box, with ammunition stored separately and locked. Store keys out of reach of children, away from weapons and ammunition. Check frequently to make sure this storage remains secure. You should also know that studies show that a gun in the home increases the likelihood of homicide three times and the likelihood of suicide five times.
Check with parents of children’s friends to determine if guns are accessible in their homes.
Teach your children what to do if they find a firearm or something that might be a weapon – stop, don’t touch, get away, and tell an adult.
Teach your child what to do if they know someone is thinking of using a gun – tell an adult immediately.
Do NOT permit your child to take any weapons, including knives or even toy guns, to school.
Stop Violence Before it Happens
Take a hard look at what you, your family, and your friends watch and listen to for entertainment – from action movies to TV shows to video games and music lyrics. How do the characters solve problems? Do they make firearms and other violence appear exciting, funny, or glamorous? Are the real-file consequences of violence for victims and families clear? Monitor your children’s activities, including music and clothing that send violent messages.
Show children how to settle arguments or solve problems without using words or actions that hurt others. Set an example by the way you handle conflicts in the family and in the neighborhood. Find out if your child’s school teaches conflict resolution.
Discourage name-calling and teasing. These can easily get out of hand, moving all too quickly from words to fists, knives, and even firearms. Teach children that bullying is wrong and take your child’s fears about bullies seriously.
Take Action in Your Community
Be sure you know where and how to report potentially violent situations or concerns about conditions in the neighborhood that could lead to violence. Ask your police department for help in identifying what to report, when, to whom, and how.
Encourage children to report any weapons they know or hear about in or near school to staff or the police.
Learn your state and local laws on firearms. Insist these laws be enforced vigorously but fairly. Support police, prosecutors, judges, and other local officials who enforce laws designed to prevent gun violence.
Start a discussion of neighborhood views on weapons in the home, children playing with toy weapons, children and violent entertainment, and how arguments should be settled. A PTA meeting, an informal social gathering, or a Neighborhood Watch meeting could provide the opportunity.
There is no foolproof way to guarantee our children’s safety. The best prevention any parent can provide is to talk to their child about the dangers that exist and explain how they can help protect themselves.
What a Child Can Do If They Find a Gun
DON’T TOUCH IT! Do not guess that it is a toy gun. Treat it as if it’s real and loaded.
GET AWAY QUICKLY! Do not stay near a friend who is touching a gun. A bullet might end up in you.
FIND A GROWNUP RIGHT AWAY AND TELL THEM OR CALL 911. You may save a friend or someone else’s life.