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Deadly Lessons: Understanding Lethal School Violence
Dealing More Effectively with Adolescent Status Concerns at Home, in Schools, and in the Community
One message that comes through loud and clear in the cases is that adolescents are intensely concerned about their social standing in their school and among their peers. For some, their concern is so great that threats to their status are treated as threats to their very lives and their status as something to be defended at all costs.
In addition to the dread and fear that loss of status of any kind inspires in some adolescents, of equal importance is how hard it is for them to form accurate estimations of their standing. They are easily confused by relatively small events, easily imagining that “everyone hates them” or that “life isn’t worth living” on the basis of what may later look like relatively small setbacks.
It is important for siblings, parents, teachers, guidance counselors, youth workers, and employers to be vigilant in noticing when these threats to an adolescent’s status occur and to be active in helping them deal with their status anxieties. Young people need some places where they feel valued and powerful and needed—that is part of the journey from childhood to adulthood. If they cannot find paths that make them feel this way, or they find the paths blocked by major threats, they will either retreat or, in the case of lethal shootings and rampages, strike back against those who seem not to value them, or are threatening them, or are blocking their way. Holding spaces and pathways open for them may be an important way of preventing violence.
The best way to prevent lethal school shootings and school rampages is to create communities that are committed to the safety and healthy development of their youth. The value of this work is not measured solely in its success in preventing lethal school violence and school rampages. To become and remain a nation that creates equal opportunity for all, that creates the conditions under which individuals can make the most of their talents in whatever pursuit interests them, communities must help young people get to the starting line of adult life with health, vitality, and confidence. Communities that cannot keep their children safe from lethal violence, that endure conditions in which those reaching for adult status and competence in schools cannot be safe, are failing to protect the American dream.
Improved basic research is needed to support theories about the scope and nature of lethal school violence. There is already a large body of research on violence among urban youth, much of it emphasizing such risk factors as the influence of a violent environment, belonging to crimi