Wednesday, August 29, 2001

Teens say revenge is reason for violence

By Lori Hayes
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        One in five students has heard another student talk about shooting someone at school, while one in four say they could “easily get a gun if I wanted to.”

        These are among the key findings released Tuesday in the nation's first survey asking teens for their thoughts on school violence.

        Most listed revenge as the No. 1 reason for school shootings. And 2.6 percent of those surveyed are likely to carry out a school shooting, saying they had:

        • Thought about shooting someone at school.

        • Made a plan to shoot someone.

        • Had the means to carry it out.

The complete study, “Lethal Violence in Schools,” is online at:
  Highlights from school violence survey:
  • 25 percent of students surveyed said their schools are only “somewhat safe” or not safe at all.
  • Students consider rural schools the most dangerous.
  • 61 percent said they know students who could bring a gun to school if they wanted to.
  • 10 percent said they have thought about how to shoot someone at school.
  • More than 10 percent may be inclined toward violence.
  • Of the teens most likely to carry out a school shooting, those students are most likely boys in 11th or 12th grade who are highly alienated at school or home and have a perceived low quality of life.
  • 50 percent said they would tell an adult if they overheard someone talking about a school shooting.
  • 23 percent said teachers should care more about their students.
  • 12 percent said teachers should take a more active role in their students' lives.
  Source: Lethal Violence in Schools survey
        In an average high school of 800 students, that's as many as 20 teens.

        “That makes me worry,” said Edward Gaughan, the study's principal investigator and a psychology professor at Alfred University in Alfred, N.Y. “When we see those kinds of numbers, they're just very surprising.”

        Through an anonymous Internet survey conducted this summer, researchers at Alfred polled a random sample of 2,017 public school students in grades 7 through 12 on what they think leads to school shootings, the potential for violence at their schools, their own propensity toward violent acts and what can be done to prevent school shootings.

        Eighty-seven percent said shootings are motivated by a desire “to get back at those who have hurt them,” the survey found, while 61 percent said students shoot others because they have been victims of physical abuse at home.

        While the school shootings that have garnered national attention have occurred in less than one-hundredth of 1 percent of schools, Alfred researchers said parents and educators need to pay attention to this recurring phenomenon.

        “As long as students are abused by their peers, witness or are themselves abused at home, think there is nowhere to turn and can easily get a gun, more tragedies will occur,” the report stated. “That's what our children are telling us.”

        Despite the researchers' concern, some Tristate parents and educators aren't surprised by the results.

        Milford parent Chris Lemmon said one of her four teen-age children could be among the 24 percent of teens who said they had easy access to a gun.

        “They'd know how to get a gun,” she said, pointing to friends' parents who hunt and have guns in their homes.

        But guns and school violence are not Mrs. Lemmon's main concerns.

        “I worry more about drugs than guns,” she said.

        Schools around the country have implemented violence prevention efforts, from anti-bullying programs to metal detectors. But some educators say there's little schools can do to prevent such incidents.

        Students listed improved relationships between teachers and students as the top way to prevent school violence. But 13 percent said nothing can be done to stop school shootings.

        Winton Woods City Schools has adopted adviser programs and other methods to foster trust between students and faculty and create a safe school atmosphere.

        “But you can't say that's fool-proof,” said Superintendent Thomas Richey. “You can prepare as much as you can, but if someone wants to harm another, there's always a way to do it. The violence that occurs in our community is going to spill over to our schools, even if we take the most prudent steps.”

        Mr. Richey, however, questioned the validity of the Alfred survey because of its Internet polling. Some of the findings, especially those on the number of students likely to commit shootings, are extremely high, he said.

        “That statistic is more than alarming,” he said. “It's almost difficult to accept.”

        The Alfred researchers stand behind their methods. The univer sity hired Harris Interactive, a worldwide market research and polling firm known for its pioneering use of online polls, to conduct the survey, which has a margin of error of 2 percent or less.

        However, Fred Bassett, superintendent of Beechwood Independent Schools in Fort Mitchell, agreed that some of the survey's results are misleading and should be kept in context.

        “These students are saying the kinds of things that students have said for a long time,” he said. “There are many more cases of students saying those things to get attention than there are students who really plan to go through with it. It's really hard to separate those.”

        “There will always be some very troubled youth out there. We have to find ways to minimize that and try to help those kids before they come to that.”


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