The causes of school violence are complex and varied. Forensic psychologists who study criminal behavior believe school killers are very different from other violent youth, such as gang members or drug dealers. For whatever reason, they feel powerless and begin obsessing over killing or injuring others. They may make direct threats concerning those they feel are taunting or intimidating them. They often express these thoughts and plans to fellow students. In general, other students tend to ignore the comments or simply look the other way.
Students from Columbine High School mourn the loss of their friends and classmates after a tragic shooting at their school in 1999.
The decision to kill for these youth is not a sudden occurrence, but coldly planned. Use of guns gives them the power they felt deprived of, and makes those offending them powerless. In addition, the shooters become famous with their faces splashed across televisions screens nationwide. The violent outbreak turns the tables and gives them both the power and attention they seek. This type of offender is almost always male; females approach retribution in less direct ways, such as hiring classmates or others to kill those they wish to strike out against.
Each case may represent a unique combination of factors. Some are physical, some behavioral, and others are learned. Physical factors can include birth complications. For example, being deprived of oxygen during the birth process can lead to brain dysfunction and learning disabilities. Violent behavior has been linked to certain forms of these abnormalities. Similarly, head injuries have been shown to increase the potential for violent behavior in certain individuals.
Behavioral problems can be linked to a difficult personality, which leads to problems of interacting with others, impulsiveness, and being unable to conform. These children may not blend into school activities and become ignored and rebellious. Some become depressed and take medication that can produce serious behavioral side effects. Broken family relationships can also be a major factor. Harshly treated children are more likely to behave violently later in life.
Being bullied or teased by others can often lead a troubled youth to violent revenge or retribution. This factor showed up repeatedly in the school shootings of the 1990s and beyond. It received the most attention from school administrators and others in the early twenty-first century.
Learning violent behavior can come from a dysfunctional or abnormal home life, perhaps involving domestic abuse or parents who do not respond well to authority figures such as the police. From this type of home environment, youth learn to react to authority such as teachers or school officials with aggression. Some believe learned violent behavior also comes from repeated exposure to violence in the media such as music lyrics, Hollywood movies, television programs, video games, and 24-hour news stations broadcasting violent or graphic scenes. Studies showed that youth exposed to an overwhelming amount of such material became more aggressive and no longer upset by violence and its consequences. These kids, it is believed, have trouble distinguishing between reality and fantasy.
Schools themselves have changed a great deal since the 1950s, and by the later twentieth century they brought a wide range of students together from often markedly different social environments. Differences appear in attitudes and behavior that can lead to social cliques or racial tensions. A major change was the emergence of gangs, which doubled between 1989 and 1993. Gang activity within schools included recruiting new members, which often led to school violence as part of initiation. In addition, illegal activities in the vicinity of the school increased, such as selling drugs and firearms.
Yet another major factor in the rise of deadly school violence was the easy availability of firearms and other weapons. Estimates in the 1990s on the number of weapons brought to school on a daily basis were staggering. The number of guns brought into schools on any given day ranged up to over 250,000 and the number of knives more than double that figure.
School violence is a major problem around the world. The effects of school violence can lead to division and severe mental and physical trauma for both perpetrators and victims alike. The main cause of school violence is a combination of weak community relations and a lack of a firm hand within both schools and communities. To effectively deal with the issue, both of these need addressing.
The beginnings of school violence often stem from differences between teenagers. Children are natural herd creatures and will gravitate towards people who are similar in looks, mentality, and those who have the same interests. Other groups are seen as enemies, and this is where conflict begins.
A lack of education is one of the main causes of school violence. If young people aren’t taught from an early age about the consequences and wrongs of violence there’s a high chance they’ll indulge in it later. Education must occur in the home, alongside parents, and in the classroom.
Furthermore, when violence does happen, a lack of will to punish the perpetrators encourages them to participate in it again later. Teachers and law enforcement officers must stamp down on violence. It’s simple mentality. A punishment says mentally and physically violence is wrong. Allowing them to get away with it says to them they haven’t done anything wrong. This is a trend we have seen replicated in UK prisons and the high reoffending rates.
Weak community relations start school violence. Inter-racial schools where students come from different backgrounds sow the seeds of conflict. Many students haven’t come into contact with people from these backgrounds before, and this creates suspicion and wariness. It’s highly unlikely violence will occur if they have been in contact with people from these backgrounds before.
Divisive communities are more likely to suffer from violence than harmonious ones. It’s why schools in East London and international cities like Los Angeles have a reputation for violence in schools and between schools. Too often, schools act on violence within schools, but they fail to work with other schools and community representatives to tackle the problem between academic facilities.
Parental guidance in the home has a large effect on school violence. If a student’s parents are violent or prejudiced, they are likely to develop the same aggressive characteristics. Even if there’s only one person like this in a school, it can still lead to violence in the classroom.
Overall, it’s not so much the risk factors of violence which become the problem. It’s the lack of will to act on it when it does happen. It’s impossible to stamp out all types of violence. Children make mistakes and it will happen. To stop it happening again, schools and community officers must act.