When to Pay Attention: Warning Signs of Potential Violence In Teens
There are many resources that list the warning signs of potential violence. Though this information can be quite useful, it is important to note that no one behavior is a guaranteed indicator. There simply is no magical formula that makes it clear that a child will take violent action. A child or teen may exhibit several behaviors often cited as warning signals for potential violence, such as being a loner, an outcast or being seen as different from other kids, without it meaning anything negative at all. In fact, it just may mean that he or she is a creative, independent individual.
However, a great deal is known about when adults should pay attention. Pay attention to a child's verbal or behavioral cries for help. Pay attention to kids who are bullied, harassed and tormented by others. Children and youth in this situation need adults and peers to speak up against the mistreatment and abuse they face everyday. When a child says or does something that indicates they are troubled or having trouble coping, adults need to listen and response with appropriate action - not overreact or under react.
Some Warning Signs
Professionals have listed a wide variety of warning signs in professional journals and newspaper articles. They include, but are not limited to:
- Making threats;
- Making specific plans to hurt self or others;
- Rage, bottled up or explosive anger;
- Little value for life or hope for the future;
- History of being victimized at home or by peers;
- Desire for revenge;
- Obsessive interest in violence, death, playing violent video games;
- Obsessive interest in and access to weapons;
- Cruelty to animals;
- Destructive to property/environment;
- Recent rejection or loss.
Noted expert Dr. James Garbarino said in his book Lost Boys that all violent boys, whether they live in low-income inner cities or middle-class communities, share "a common sense of inner crisis, a crisis of shame and emptiness. These boys are ashamed of who they are inside, and their effort to compensate for that shame drives their violence. It may be buried under layer after layer of protective bravado or it may be worn like a badge on their sleeves, but it is there."
Paying attention is not only about intervening when someone intends to commit an act of violence against himself or herself or someone else. It is also about creating a safe, nurturing climate in our schools and communities. Adults need to create environments where children and youth feel safe and accepted. These places can become havens where young people know adults care, will take action to protect them and pay attention to their needs.
Fortunately, most young people who are harassed or abused by peers don't hurt themselves or others. But when a young person makes a threat, adults need to take it seriously. When a young person is depressed, adults must get them the help they need to cope.
All young people need caring adults who pay attention to their pain and needs. Young people need adults who talk and listen to them, who help them feel safe, needed and valued.
Don't dismiss a child's comments about hurting himself/herself or someone else as a ploy for attention. Give him/her your full attention. Don't ignore bullying and harassing between young people because it's "just the way it is." Remember, it doesn't have to be that way. It's up to each of us to make the peace.
-School tool Kit, You're The One Who Can Make The Peace, 2001
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