A Primer for Parents, Teachers, Administrators
This is in loving memory of Aquan Lewis, the 10year old fifth graders found hanging from a coat hook in the boys bathroom at Oakton Elementary School, Chicago.
Suicides Among Young Children-Rare. In the United States, during a six year period from 1999 to 2005, there were just 10 suicides among 10-year-olds the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Injury Prevention and Control reported.
De-Bunked Myth. Contrary to popular myths, kids in lower level grades may partake in more active violence than high school students. DoSomething.Org provides facts that show middle school students are more than twice as likely as high school students to be affected by school violence.
Transition Periods. Most school-associated violent deaths occur during transition times – before and after the school day and during lunch. Further, scholarly research was undertaken within ‘dangerous’ high schools of with high incidences of violence and found that violent events occurred primarily in spaces such as hallways, dining areas, and parking lots at times when teachers typically were not present.
Effective Deterrent to School Violence. The American Psychological Association indicated in 1996 that the most effective deterrent to violence was the presence of a teacher.
De-sensitization to Extreme Acts of Violence. Most youth will have viewed 8,000 murders and 100,000 other acts of television violence by the time they are 11 years old. Additionally, in the first longitudinal study linking television to violence, the New York State Psychiatric Institute found that young teens who watch more than an hour of television a day are nearly four times more likely to commit aggressive acts in later years than those who watch less than an hour.
What Can We Do?
Actively involve the PTA in managing the hallways, cafeteria, and bathrooms before and after school and during recess and lunch.
Ask your local school to develop and present an intervention, behavioral modification plan and/or a positive behavior system. Request to see the plan and reports of implementation regularly.
Turn off the television. Limit your child’s time spent playing violent video games.
Turn on your radar. Parents have an instinctive radar to ferret out trouble. Did you child obliquely mention the troubles of a classmate? He might be referring to his own situation. Is he joking about something that could be serious? It might be his attempt to communicate something to you without raising your alarm. Forget the hassles of work. Get out there. Get involved. Make the necessary calls. You’ll save yourself the guilt trip later.
Communicate regularly with your child. Ask open-ended questions about his day with keen emphasis on his mood and temperament during transition periods.
Make your presence known. Visit your child’s school monthly. Drop in unannounced. See if your child is attending his regularly scheduled class, or is he skipping, walking the hallways? Is he off to himself during lunch? Does he appear to be engaged in the classroom? You can learn a lot more during a regular class day that during a ‘Pomp and Circumstance’ parent and teacher conference event.
Skip the principal. In today’s highly competitive world, parents immediately head to the school principal or another top level administrator (superintendent or school board) when there is a school issue. Remember too much of a good thing isn’t good. Failure to follow protocol and lines of authority increases the chance that a teacher will take a hands off approach to avoid trouble in the event of an incidence.
Develop a school support network. Get to know the teachers. Establish rapport. Let them know that you appreciate that they are looking after your child. Don’t forget teachers, administrators, counselors and other support staff during the holidays. Present with a thank you note or card showing appreciation.
Establish a relationship with his friends. Do you shun the favored parents of your child's friends? Do you think they are too 'touchy feely' or 'phony'? Go ahead and emulate them. The more your child’s friends take an active liking to you, the greater the likelihood that they will protect and look out for your child. When you are not around, your child's friends may also serve as his 'super conscious ego police' informing and stopping him when he is about to harm himself, break the rules, or disobey authority. Too much popcorn, sugar, praise and hugs in this case is never a bad thing.
Finally, get to know the under-paid and under-appreciated security guards, custodians, engineers. Often many have a special connection with the kids and are the first to step in when something goes wrong. A little act of kindness toward your fellow man regardless of his/her position goes a long way. In so doing, you may save your child’s life.
Dr. Mead, PhD, MBA, MA http://www.ishareknowledge.com is a consultant specializing in human behavior, school and social psychology. She can be contacted at: tonya.ishareknowledge.com