Recent Surveys Give Insight into School Violence
By Michelle Gaseau, Managing Editor

School doors have opened for the year and many administrators and students are wondering if violence will erupt in their hallways. The jury is still out in many arenas about how to reduce the likelihood of school violence, but two recent studies may provide some assistance.

In August Alfred University of New York released the results of a national survey of 2,017 high school students asking them their thoughts about school violence. In July a University of South Carolina study looked into teens' opinions on life satisfaction and their tendencies toward risky behavior. 

The Alfred study reveals how much students know about who is likely to commit violent acts in their school; while the USC study, which was part of a Centers for Disease Control Youth Risk Behavior Study, showed that those who are less happy with their lives are more likely to take part in violent behavior.

"It kind of goes with what superintendents would tell you, that 10 percent of the kids cause 90 percent of the problems. They are on the fringe, they need to get into something that makes them feel good about themselves, so intervene early or pay the price of sending them to prison," said Dr. Robert Valois, lead author in the USC study which was published in the American Journal of Health Behavior. 

Yet there were some aspects of the study's finding that surprised Valois and others authoring the research. 

Life Satisfaction and Violence

According to Valois, most of the 5,032 South Carolina teens surveyed in the study were happy with their lives in school, with their families, their friends and where they live. But those who said they were dissatisfied with an aspect of their lives were also the ones who were more likely to carry a weapon to school, ride with someone who had been drinking, be threatened or injured by someone with a weapon in school and engage in a physical fight that required treatment by a nurse.

"We were surprised that it seemed to be an equal opportunity relationship across race and gender groups. I was surprised that not being satisfied was pervasive to all race and gender groups, in particular the females," said Valois.

About 30 percent of black females and males, 28 percent of white females and more than 26 percent of white males reported their life satisfaction to be in the lower range.

The areas where the kids reported dissatisfaction were also a bit of a surprise.

"I was thinking it would be family and friends [that they were dissatisfied with]. But with school, it is getting harder and harder. There is a big push to improve academic performance and it is where you have to go. School can be the place you go to be made fun of and picked on," Valois said.

When these dissatisfied teens were asked about their risk behaviors and participation in violence, the results showed that schools are particularly vulnerable. 

*Dissatisfied white females were three times more likely to have carried a weapon to school than their satisfied counterparts. Dissatisfied white males, black males and black females were twice as likely to have carried a weapon to school. 
*Dissatisfied black males were twice as likely than their satisfied peers to ride with someone who had been drinking. Dissatisfied white males and females were 1.5 times more likely to ride with someone who had been drinking.
*Dissatisfied black males were three times more likely than their satisfied counterparts to have been threatened or injured by someone with a weapon on school grounds, while white males were 2.5 times more likely and white females were twice as likely to have been threatened or injured.
*Dissatisfied black males were 3.5 times more likely to have been in a physical fight that required treatment, dissatisfied black females were more than three times more likely an white males and females were twice more likely to have fought and needed treatment. 

"We have created an instant gratification, impatient society that is manifesting in impatient behaviors. A cell phone can get your buddy in a second. I think technology is not improving our lives," said Valois.

He said that the study might prompt school administrators and teachers to consider how to gauge their students' well being as a way to understand the likelihood of violence.

"It would behoove schools to take an interest in the health and mental health of these kids. The data [from a survey like this] could be used to keep a pulse on a school. 
I would have my school doing these on an annual basis. Teachers can't teach if kids are fighting or worried about hitting on the girl sitting next to them," said Valois.

Alfred Survey Shows How Much Students Know

The Alfred University study Lethal Violence in Schools is telling because it confirms that teens know who in their school has the potential for violence and shows that those who are likely to be violent in school think about it ahead of time.

"We were surprised by the magnitude of some of the numbers. People had suggested that bullying and being picked on were operative related to school shootings. When we got 86 percent of respondents saying [violence was committed] by those who wanted to get back at people, we thought it was pretty high," said Dr. Edward Gaughan, principal investigator and Professor of Psychology at Alfred. 

Gaughan added that the kids said breaking up altercations or intervening when a student is being picked on does little to stop the ridicule. "There is no consequence. There is no follow up. The schools should have a programmatic response that isn't just nipping it in the bud. There are many programs out there to bully proof the schools," said Gaughan.

When students feel alienated and picked on, they tend to want to lash out.

According to the survey:
*37 percent of respondents said they thought there were kids in their school who might shoot someone; 20 percent heard rumors that another student planned to shoot someone and 8 percent said they had thought about shooting someone
*61 percent of respondents said they know students who could bring a gun to school and 24 percent said they could easily get a gun "if they wanted to"
*only about half of students would tell an adult if they overheard someone at school talking about shooting someone. If they were to tell anyone, students said they were more likely to tell a teacher
*13 percent of students told survey investigators that there is nothing that can be done to stop school shootings. The 12 percent of students who are inclined toward violence were twice as likely to say nothing could be done to stop shootings in school.

How can schools improve communication between students and teachers or other adults? Gaughan said the kids in the survey would like more complete relationships with their teachers.

"They want them to be more than just an instructor and get them to know the kids a bit more. It means investing more resources in the schools. There needs to be more resources in mental health. Most schools have only one fully trained mental health professional. They need more back up," said Gaughan. 

Another area of the study that should be considered closely is the availability of guns. "The kids thought that being able to get a gun was a factor [in school violence,]" said Gaughan. He warned, however, against school administrators going too far to try to solve the weapon issue by violating students' privacy and civil rights.

"One of the things that is important is despite these numbers, the schools are safer places for the kids. Three quarters describe the schools as safe or somewhat safe," he said. "It is especially good to be reminded that [kids] are social beings not just academic beings. It is good to encourage high achievement but [school] is also another place for stress." 

For more information about the Alfred University Study, visit the school's website at
To order a copy of the report email

For information about the USC study, call Margaret Lamb at university public affairs at 803-777-5400.
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