Incidents of school violence are terrible and frightening, but fortunately they are rare. Although it might not seem that way, the rate of crime at U.S. schools that involve physical harm has been declining since the early 1990s.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), fewer than 1% of all homicides among school-age children happen on school grounds or on the way to and from school. The vast majority of students will never experience violence at school or in college.
Still, it's natural for kids and teens to worry about whether something may happen to them. To help them deal with these fears, it's important to talk about these tragedies when they happen, and to know what your kids watch or hear about them. This helps put frightening information into context.
It's important for kids to feel like they can share their feelings, and know that their fears and anxieties are understandable.
Rather than waiting for your kids to approach you, consider starting the conversation. Ask what they understand about these incidents and how they feel about them.
Share your own feelings, too — during a tragedy, kids often look to adults for their reactions. It helps kids to know that they are not alone in feeling anxious. Knowing that their parents have similar feelings helps kids legitimize their own. At the same time, kids often need parents to help them feel safe.
Talk with your kids about what schools do to help protect their students. Many schools are taking extra precautions — some focus on keeping weapons out through random locker and bag checks, limiting entry and exit points at the school, and keeping the entryways under teacher supervision. Others use metal detectors.
Lessons on conflict resolution have been added to many schools' courses to help prevent troubled students from resorting to violence. Peer counseling and active peer programs help students learn to watch for signs that a fellow student might be becoming more troubled or violent.
Another thing that helps make schools safer is greater awareness of problems like bullying and discrimination. Many schools now have programs to fight these problems, and teachers and administrators know more about protecting students from violence.
Of course, you are not your child's only source of information about school shootings or other tragic events that receive media attention. Kids are likely to repeatedly see or hear news stories or graphic images on TV, radio, or online, and such reports can teach them to view the world as a confusing, threatening, or unfriendly place.
Unlike movies or entertainment programs, news is real. But depending on a child's age or maturity level, he or she may not yet understand the distinctions between fact and fantasy. By the time kids reach 7 or 8, however, what they watch on TV can seem all too real.
For some kids, the vividness of a sensational news story can be internalized and transformed into something that might happen to them. A child watching a news story about a school shooting might worry, "Could I be next? Could that happen to me?"
TV has the effect of shrinking the world and bringing it into our living rooms. By concentrating on violent stories, TV news can also promote a "mean-world" syndrome that can give kids a misrepresentation of what the world and society are actually like.
To calm fears about the news, parents should be prepared to deliver what psychologists call "calm, unequivocal, but limited information." This means delivering the truth, but in a way that fits the emotional level of your child. The key is to be truthful, but not go into more detail than your child is interested in or can handle.
Although it's true that some things can't be controlled, parents should still give kids the space to share their fears. Encourage them to talk openly about what scares them.
Older kids are less likely to accept an explanation at face value. Their budding skepticism about the news and how it's produced and sold might hide fears they have about the stories covered. If an older child is bothered about a story, help him or her cope with these fears. An adult's willingness to listen will send a powerful message.
Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: June 2015
|Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) The CDC (the national public health institute of the United States) promotes health and quality of life by preventing and controlling disease, injury, and disability.|
|Tolerance.org Tolerance.org encourages people from all walks of life to fight hate and promote tolerance.|
|Center to Prevent Youth Violence Founded in 1998, The Center to Prevent Youth Violence (CPYV) works to end the crisis of youth violence in America.|
|Center for Mental Health Services (CMHS) CMHS is a federal agency that provides information about mental health to users of mental health services, their families, the general public, policy makers, providers, and the media.|
|National Youth Violence Prevention Resource Center (NYVPRC) NYVPRC was established as a central source of information on prevention and intervention programs, publications, research, and statistics on violence committed by and against children and teens.|
|Word! Violence Your parents have probably told you not to watch a TV show because it is too violent or that some video games are too violent.|
|Disasters Disasters, like earthquakes and tornadoes, are serious problems. Find out more about these difficult situations and how to help people in need.|
|How to Talk to Your Child About the News News from the TV, radio, and the Internet is often educational. But when stories are about violence or other disturbing topics, parents can find it hard to explain to kids. Here are some guidelines.|
|Helping Kids Deal With Bullies Unfortunately, bullying is a common part of childhood. But parents can help kids cope with it and lessen its lasting impact.|
|Healthy Habits for TV, Video Games, and the Internet TV, interactive video games, and the Internet can be excellent sources of education and entertainment, but too much plugged-in time can have unhealthy side effects.|
|Someone at School Has a Weapon. What Should I Do? If you suspect that someone is bringing a weapon to school or threatening someone else's life, it requires immediate attention. This article offers some tips on getting help.|
|Terrorism Terrorist attacks cause sadness, fear, anxiety, and anger. Find out how to cope.|
|Should You Worry About School Violence? Do you worry whether school is a safe place? Find out what you need to know about school violence in this article.|
|Gun Safety Guns are in more than one third of all U.S. households, so they're a very real danger to kids, whether you own one or not. Learn how to talk with your kids about gun safety.|
|Gun Safety By now, you probably know what guns are and what can happen if they fall into the wrong hands. Find out how to protect yourself and how to learn about gun safety.|
|Dealing With Bullying Bullying has everyone worried, not just the people on its receiving end. Learn about dealing with bullies, including tips on how to stand up for yourself or a friend.|
|Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Kids and teens who live through a traumatic event can develop posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Healing is possible with the help of professional counseling and support from loved ones.|
|How TV Affects Your Child Television may seem like a good thing: kids can learn the alphabet and you can keep up with current events on the evening news. But how does TV affect kids?|
|Terrorism Terrorism makes everyone afraid and on edge. Find out what people can do to feel better.|
What to expect when coming to Akron Children's
For healthcare providers and nurses
Residency & Fellowships, Medical Students, Nursing and Allied Health
For prospective employees and career-seekers
Our online community that provides inspirational stories and helpful information.