Why Do Some Students Become Violent? The Answer Can Prevent a Tragedy


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Why Do Some Students Become Violent?

The Answer Can Prevent a Tragedy




"We were on a collision course with disaster."

That phrase has started showing up a lot on our workshop evaluations lately.

That phrase is also being used a lot by participants during workshop sessions.

The recent school shooting seems to have crystallized many school staff's concern that their site could face a tragedy. Educators seem intensely worried about best managing and preventing student violence.

Educators are offered so little basic mental health training to help them understand deeply troubled students. When a school shooter does not fit the profile of a consistently aggressive, acting-out student, it can seem confusing.

In the recent incident, the shooter did not fit that classic profile of someone who was routinely assaultive, bullying, or verbally abusive. It can seem very scary when student violence can have an aspect of mystery.

Nor was this violent student someone who was being constantly bullied or tormented, another stereotype of shooters often offered in the media.

Human beings are more complex than either of these two options.

Educators are often more accustomed to preventing and addressing violence from acting-out youth, and may feel far less prepared to prevent or address violence from other types of youth. We have gotten quite a few calls and emails asking for help.

Here are some of the questions we have been receiving at our office and at our workshops around the country.

We're providing this information to you now in the hopes that it will help non-mental health workers compensate a bit for any deficiencies in their mental health training.

However, this article isn't the full training you need on this topic. You're urged to fully update your skills for violent students by learning much more than the headlines provided below.

We also encourage you to pass on this issue to colleagues. If you want to attend one of our workshops so you get a complete understanding of potentially violent students, note that we always offer half-price work-study slots at each workshop so nearly anyone can afford to come.

As possible, we also provide our books on violence at greatly reduced prices to school and agency staff who have little budget but still need resources.

If you do need assistance locating or getting resources, contact us. We're here to help.


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Answers to Your Questions About

Violent Students


Question: Why are some depressed, withdrawn kids becoming suddenly violent?

Answer: Perhaps some of these kids are like pressure cookers that build up so much steam that they literally explode.

Many professionals are used to seeing serious youth depression that includes withdrawal, lethargy, reduced verbiage, reduced activity levels, self-harm and/or threats of self-harm, and comments reflecting hopelessness and despair.

But, some depressed youngsters may explode out of that "acting-in" into serious acting-out. Note that the depressed youngster can explode due to bullying, but it is critical that you realize that he can explode over anything at all, not just bullying. We recommend that you watch for depressed students not just bullied students.

Bullying does not have to occur to prompt a tragedy.


Question: Our staff has training on preventing and managing violence by acting-out students like conduct disorders. Will those methods work with other types of students like depressed kids?

Answer: No, you must use completely different methods with different types of students, or else you will be completely ineffective. You can't extrapolate your training on conduct disordered youth and have it work with depressed students.


Question: I now understand that the acting-out youngster and depressed youngster have the potential for extreme misconduct. Anyone else I need to know about potentially violent students?

Answer: Absolutely. There is another mental health disorder called "thought disorder." This disorder means that the student's thoughts are disordered. These youngsters may hear voices or have visions that compel them to do bad behavior. Like the other disorders, only a mental health professional can diagnose the problem but anyone can be alert for the disorder and adjusting how they view and work with a youngster who may have the problem. An extreme example of this disorder is John Hinckley. Many clinicians around the country are reporting a big increase in young thought disorders, especially in elementary students.


Question: How does my school or agency know if we are on a collision course with disaster?

Answer: Here is a quick test. Your staff must be able to:

(1) Identify at least three types of students who may be at highest risk of extreme violence. (The three types are named in the preceding questions.)

(2) Specify exactly how they must work differently with each type of student as one-size-fits-all methods will fail with all three of these youngsters. If your staff can't answer these two questions, you may have legitimate concern that your site is "on a collision course with disaster." There's no substitute for acquiring a more sophisticated understanding of the different students at risk of extreme violence, and learning which tools to use with each kind.


Question: Some states are considering laws to penalize bullies. Will that reduce extreme violence like shootings?

Answer: Probably not. Depressed students don't necessarily blow up over a single problem like being harassed. Bullying laws will also likely have little or no impact on whether conduct disorders and thought disorders engage in extreme violence. We all need to understand that violent students aren't all uniform, identical entitites.


Question: I am totally confused about thought disorders. What helps?

Answer: The proper medicine taken correctly won't be magic, but the closest thing to it. It's by far the most important tool to help thought disorders. There is no second best option.

Conduct Disorders bookQuestion: Where can I go for more details on the three disorders described here?

Answer: Go to the menu at the top of the page, and click on Blogs. It will show you all our articles including our Introductory issues. Read Introductory Issues 2 and 3 to get more basic information.

There is comprehensive information in our books.



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About Ruth Herman Wells

Author/Trainer Ruth Herman Wells, M.S. is the director of Youth Change Professional Development Workshops. In 2011, Ruth was rated as a Top 10 U.S. K-12 educational and motivational speaker by Speakerwiki and Speakermix. She is the author of several book series, a columnist, adjunct professor for two universities, and a popular keynote speaker and workshop presenter. Ruth's dozens of books includes Temper and Tantrum Tamers and Turn On the Turned-Off Student.