Anonymous Reporting Can Help Fight School Shootings

By Paul Langhorst                       December 17, 2012

FBI School Shooter Report

Click the image above to download "The School Shooter: A Threat Assessment Perspective" from the FBI.

The tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School last week has reignited intensive review and debate over school safety measures, with the central question being, “What can be done to prevent these horrific school shooting incidents?”

The solution is not simple. These events are often random, fast moving, multidimensional and further mitigated by mental health issues and easy access to lethal weapons. Furthermore, most school shootings are perpetrated by current students, where a student’s behavior and actions are observable by faculty and peers prior to the shooting. However, in the case of Sandy Hook, the shooter was not a student, making any form of forewarning that much more difficult.

If your school or organization is seeking information to help review your school safety and crisis plans in light of the Sandy Hook tragedy, we suggest you start with the FBI’s “The School Shooter – A Threat Assessment Perspective.” This is an easy-to-read document based on a review of 18 school shootings. This report stresses that there is not a “one size fits all” solution to identifying school shooters and evaluating school threats, lays out a 4-point frame work for threat assessment, and shares conditions that are often associated with school shooters.

In addition, the FBI school shooter report shares information on the concepts of “signposts” and “leakage” that are supportive of the need for anonymous reporting solutions, such as the CyberBully Hotline, to which students or parents can be encouraged to make a report when they sense something is just not right with a fellow student. Per the FBI, signposts and leakage are precursor conditions present in almost all cases of school shootings.

Signposts: “In general, people do not switch instantly from nonviolence to violence. Nonviolent people do not ‘snap’ or decide on the spur of the moment to meet a problem by using violence. Instead, the path toward violence is an evolutionary one, with signposts along the way. A threat is one observable behavior; others may be brooding about frustration or disappointment, fantasies of destruction or revenge, in conversations, writings, drawings, and other actions.”

Leakage: “‘Leakage’ occurs when a student intentionally or unintentionally reveals clues to feelings, thoughts, fantasies, attitudes, or intentions that may signal an impending violent act. These clues can take the form of subtle threats, boasts, innuendos, predictions, or ultimatums. They may be spoken or conveyed in stories, diary entries, essays, poems, letters, songs, drawings, doodles, tattoos, or videos.”

In light of the horrific nature of these events, your students must be taught that they are an extension of the eyes and ears of your staff. They must be educated on the signs and changes to look for, and it must be continually reinforced that it is okay, and their duty, to report such information for their own safety and the safety of their fellow students. Students are often in the best position to see and hear signs, comments, threats, or writings that could potentially be used to prevent a school shooting. If they have concerns about a fellow student, students must be encouraged and know that it is okay to either talk to an adult or make an anonymous report. This may be at odds with a student’s hesitation to “tell on” someone, but doing so may actually be in their best interest.

If a student is not comfortable coming forward face to face, encourage them to use some form of anonymous reporting to share their concerns. Programs such as the CyberBully Hotline are low cost, extremely versatile, and can be part of your school’s early warning and detection plan.


Verbal Bullying and What the UK Royal Prank Call Teaches Us About It

By Greg Howard – December 10, 2012

Photo of teenage girl being verbally bullied by classmates.

The CyberBully Hotline Resource Center gives school administrators tools to prevent bullying. Click the image to visit the Resource Center.

“You just couldn’t foresee something like that happening from a prank call.”

“You know, it was never meant to go that far; it was meant to be a silly little prank that so many people have done before. This wasn’t meant to happen.”

“If we had any idea that something like this could…happen, you know…we couldn’t see this happening. It was meant to be a prank call.”

Those quotes come from one of the Australian radio show deejays behind the now famous UK royal prank call.  In the call, the deejays impersonated the King and Queen of England and requested information on the hospitalized Duchess of Cambridge; the unwitting nurse actually provided information and was subsequently held up for public scorn in the media.  Days after, the nurse apparently committed suicide, and criticism of the deejays’ actions quickly followed. In a recent interview with Australia’s “Today Tonight,” which is where the above quotes were taken from, the deejays candidly expressed how sorry they were about what happened.

You wouldn’t call the deejays’ actions verbal bullying; the deejays made the prank call with the expectation that they would be hung up on and embarrassed themselves. However, this story gives us an opportunity to think about verbal bullying because of how it dramatically illustrates the consequences of one’s actions. Incidents like this may help our young people see that verbal bullying, whether excessive or casual, can destroy a person’s life.

There are three things that should be noted about the interview with the deejays.

First, notice how they express their shock at what happened. Over and over, they essentially say, “We couldn’t have predicted this.” The fact that they “couldn’t foresee” the consequences underlines how important it is to be careful with words and actions. Young people need to know that all forms of verbal bullying, including teasing, insults, and the like are always inappropriate. They should also know that failing to report bullying behavior by others may contribute to the problem.

Second, notice the second quote listed above: the deejay says, “…it was a silly little prank that so many people have done before.” This is a good reminder to adults that young people with limited life experience need help in assessing the consequences of their actions. An undeveloped mind may think that a casual prank or a joke at someone else’s expense is harmless, especially if it is one that has been done before. After all, most of the time, a person isn’t going to literally die of embarrassment after a prank. But the inability to predict how words will influence others, and the possibility that they can drive a person to emotional or physical harm, should make young people think twice about teasing or unkind words.

Finally, note that the two deejays are young people themselves—one is 25 years old, and the other is 30. You could argue that they should be old enough to understand the consequences of their actions, but they obviously didn’t have the life and career experience necessary to understand the risks. If the deejays didn’t have the life experience necessary, can we really expect mature thinking from our tweens and teens? School administrators should ponder that question as they look to educate their students on the consequences of bullying.

Bullying prevention resources are available in the CyberBully Hotline Resource Center.

How to Talk to Kids about Bullying: New Tips for Parents

By Greg Howard

Photo of a parent talking to a teen about bullying.

Visit the CyberBully Hotline Resource Center for helpful bullying resources. Click the image to visit the Resource Center.

A recent article in the Chicago Tribune talks about a new development in the field of bullying prevention: the fact that kids are tuning out.

With bullying such a hot topic in the media, more parents are asking their kids about bullying, and many schools are pushing their students into assemblies on bullying prevention. According to experts in the field, many kids have simply had enough of the constant questioning and educational efforts. A memorable quote on the subject comes from Cynthia Lowen, the producer of the movie “The Bully Project.” She states that kids “are at the eye-rolling stage with bullying.”

So, how should parents talk to their kids about bullying these days? The experts quoted in the article offer some helpful guidelines for parents to follow.

  • Don’t just ask kids, “Are you being bullied?” Many of them will respond to this query by saying “no,” either because they see bullying as something that happens to younger kids, or because they don’t want their parents to be upset. Instead, listen closely to what your child is telling you about what’s happening at school, and focus on specific behaviors. Is someone spreading rumors about your child? Is someone calling them names? These kinds of things can fall under the umbrella of “bullying,” but your child may not recognize that.
  • Avoid pressing your kids too hard for information when they tell you about incidents at school. If kids are asked questions that sound accusatory, such as, “Why didn’t you tell the teacher?” or “Why didn’t you just stick up for yourself?” they are likely to stop talking to you. Instead, try to empathize with them and talk with them about potential solutions to the problem. Kids need to feel that you both are on the same side of the fence working on the problem together.
  • Don’t assume that your kids will come to you with their problems. Many kids, especially older ones, might be ashamed to admit they have problems. They may feel like a failure or that they are an embarrassment to the family. One expert quoted in the article noted that bullied kids she spoke to when writing a book on the subject “all reached a place of extreme crisis before they spoke up” to parents. Pay attention to what’s going on in your kids’ lives and talk to them when it seems like they’re struggling, even if they claim that they aren’t being bullied.

We hope that these ideas help you talk to your kids about about bullying.  Feel free to share this article with parents and friends who might benefit from it.

Click here to view the other resources available in our Bullying Resource Center.

Visit the Chicago Tribune article here:,0,1936239,print.story

Is SnapChat the Perfect App for Teen Sexting and Cyberbullying?

Photo of teens looking at a cell phone picture.It’s hard to imagine a smartphone app that enables teen sexting more than SnapChat. The app, which allows users to text picture messages to friends that disappear after a brief, user-defined period of time, pratically encourages teens to engage in behavior that they may regret later.

What’s most dangerous about the SnapChat app is the product’s central selling point—the idea that pictures sent will disappear forever. If the images disappear forever, a teen might think, they don’t have to worry about them. However, while the images may disappear from within the app itself, there’s nothing to stop someone from taking a picture of their cell phone to capture a SnapChat image.

Moreover, even SnapChat itself admits that not all images may be deleted as they claim! The app’s Privacy Policy makes this clear: “Although we attempt to delete image data as soon as possible after (a) message is transmitted,” the policy says, “we cannot guarantee that the message contents will be deleted in every case.”

As an increasingly popular photo sharing app, SnapChat will likely be around for the foreseeable future. Considering this, the app can’t be ignored by parents or school administrators, as sexting is an activity that seems to be on the rise among teenagers.

Although it has been somewhat hyped by the media over the past few years, sexting is a very real phenomenon among teens. In December 2009, the Pew Research Center reported that 15% of teens aged 12-17 surveyed on their cell phone use said that they had received a “sext” from someone they know. 4% of the same group reported that they had sent “sexually suggestive nude or nearly nude images or videos of themselves to someone else via text messaging.”

Since that landmark study was released, more data has emerged, and it suggests that teen sexting is on the rise. For example, a study published in the July 2012 issue of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine reported that 28% of the 14 to 19 year olds surveyed said that they had “sent a naked picture of themselves through text or e-mail.”

So, how can parent and administrators help teens avoid sexting with apps like SnapChat? A recent Chicago Tribune article on bullying suggests some points to consider. Experts quoted in the article counsel parents to assume that teenagers aren’t going to tell them whether they are being bullied. It’s not hard to imagine this being true when it comes to sexting; obviously, no teen would tell their parents that they’re engaging in sexually explicit behavior. The experts also say that parents should realize that embarrassment or shame might be keeping teens from reporting bullying. This can also be true when it comes to sexting, especially if an embarrassing photo has been spread around to a teen’s classmates.

Proactively talking with teens in a constructive and non-accusatory way may help them see the consequences of misusing apps like SnapChat. An anonymous communication program may also help teens come forward to talk about incidents of sexting that would otherwise go unreported.