Recent tragedies in schools have motivated policy-making that is attempting to put an end to senseless violence. However, reactionary legislation that focuses on school building safety (e.g., security guards, metal detectors, surveillance cameras) or exclusionary discipline (e.g., suspension, expulsion, arrest) may have limited effectiveness, and may actually contribute to a climate of danger, fear, and distrust in school (APA, 2008; Nolan, 2011).
Zero tolerance policies and repeated suspension of students with behavior problems does little to change anti-social behavior, and may fuel school failure and delinquency.
Preventing violence requires comprehensive, school-wide efforts to create nurturing environments rather than short-term solutions. Comprehensive programs like Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) include general supports for all students as well as more specialized and intensive services for students with special needs. Such programs proactively teach and reinforce emotional self-awareness, self-esteem, and appropriate behavior, and they create opportunities for students to practice new social-emotional competencies.
Students are shaped by their social contexts. When the Subcommittee on Youth Violence (2013) identified risk factors for rampage shootings, social alienation and rejection from close-knit peer groups were critical indicators. Students’ sense of connectedness in schools and relationships with caring adults can protect at-risk youth against becoming involved in aggression and violence (Gregory et al., 2010).
Facilitating marginalized students’ engagement in school requires special attention. Engagement in academics, social activities, and problem-solving or decision-making fosters an inclusive school culture where students feel safe and respected. Such an environment acts as a protective factor against involvement in violence. Research shows that engagement in afterschool programs decreases involvement in delinquent behavior, increases academic achievement, and improves students’ attitudes about themselves.
Comprehensive approaches to violence prevention must address social contexts, implement behavioral expectations fairly and consistently, and support positive child development. Although teaching and implementing pro-social behaviors may be more challenging than relying on exclusionary and punitive measures, it is much more effective in preventing future delinquency. If we continue to develop and test these kinds of prevention programs, we can facilitate widespread adoption of successful strategies.
Gregory, A., Cornell, D., Fan, X., Sheras, P., Shih, T., & Huang, F. (2010). Authoritative school discipline: High school practices associated with lower student bullying and victimization. Journal of Educational Psychology, 102, 483-496.
Nolan, K. (2011). Police in the hallways: Discipline in an urban high school. University of Minnesota Press: Minneapolis, MN.
Positive Behavioral Interventions & Supports: Effective Schoolwide Interventions. (2013). http://www.pbis.org/
Subcommittee on Youth Violence of the Advisory Committee to the Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences Directorate. (2013). Youth violence: What we need to know. National Science Foundation. Retrieved from http://wolf.house.gov/uploads/Violence_Report_Long_v4.pdf