Adolescent Behavior Warnings

It is scary and confusing for all of us to see violence, particularly gun violence, in schools, which are supposed to be a place of safety and learning. Before each deadly shooting, there have often been numerous warning signs. However, a lack of communication and coordination between parents, schools, and law enforcement ensures that the complete picture of the danger emerges only when it is too late.

Often, parents and teachers have different perspectives on and understandings of a student’s behavior. For example, students who act out in school are often well behaved at home or vice versa. Meanwhile, a fascination with guns may be known only to a child’s parents or his classmates.

Most students who act out at school will never murder any of their classmates, and the majority of gun owners will never commit a mass shooting. But students who are violent and/or make disturbing remarks at school and who own a lot of guns are far more likely to become extremely dangerous.

Unfortunately, parents and teachers do not like to discuss such things—while a teacher might tell a parent that a child is acting up, the parent is unlikely to inform the teacher or an administrator that the child also has a fascination with firearms—which means that tragedies occur that probably could have been prevented.

No parent wants to believe that his or her child is capable of mass murder. No teacher wants to imagine a shooting in his or her classroom. But our unwillingness to think such things should not be a barrier to communication aimed at solving the problem.

Improving networks of communication between schools and parents would go a long way towards making sure the warning signs that precede a school shooting are spotted and acted on. I am not sure exactly what action would be appropriate, and such things would have to be decided on a case-by-case basis—as long as a decisive conclusion is reached in each case.

Obviously, the FBI’s failure to act on the information they received about the Florida shooter is a problem, but it’s important to remember that we do not know exactly what they heard or what form the tips took. Better communication might have solved that problem.

Even if we manage to make such societal changes, however, it would not absolve the federal government (the Republican Party in particular) of the guilt it carries due to its unwillingness to pass sensible gun safety legislation. America is so unsafe not because we have higher rates of mental illness (which has never been shown to be associated with violence) or even violent crime than other Western industrialized democracies, but because our legislature has refused to act to stop the carnage.

However, in the face of today’s shameful inaction, everyday Americans must do what we can, such as communicate better to prevent further tragedies.




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