School Shooting Prevention: Suspicious Behavior Often Goes Unreported

It happens after almost every school shooting where a student is involved. After the rampage is over, classmates come forward and reveal disturbing information about the shooter. For example, students may say that the shooter:

  • Bragged about an act of violence they said they would commit.
  • Shared articles or manuals on how to commit an act of violence.
  • Asked others to participate in an act of violence.

Students may observe this kind of behavior for months or even years before a shooting takes place. Unfortunately, students almost never report this kind of behavior until it is too late.

Why does this happen? Why don’t our students report suspicious things that they see or hear?

There are several reasons:

  • No one has told them to. Without some training on what behavior should be reported and consistent encouragement from school leaders to make reports, many students won’t even think about reporting suspicious activity.
  • They don’t take the threat seriously. Young students don’t have the same training that law enforcement officers do, so when they hear a classmate say, “I’m gonna blow up the school,” they immediately assume the threat is not credible.
  • People look for the good in others. When asked what the shooter was like before a shooting, students will often say things like, “He was a good kid. He seemed nice. I can’t believe they did it.” People don’t want to assume bad things about others, even when their intuition might tell them otherwise.
  • They’re afraid of retaliation. Students are afraid of what might happen to them if they “tell on” a classmate and the person finds out.
  • They’re afraid of getting in trouble with adults. Students may fear that administrators or parents will assume they’re involved if they report suspicious activity.
  • They don’t believe anything will be done. If students don’t feel that school leaders listen to their concerns, then they won’t waste their time reporting suspicious activity.

Despite the dozens of dramatic incidents of school violence we’ve seen over the past few decades, the reasons why students don’t report suspicious behavior have remained the same. It’s time that we all invest more time and resources into violence prevention efforts.

To overcome students’ natural resistance to reporting suspicious activity, there are three basic steps that administrators need to take:

  • Build a culture of trust. Actions speak louder than words. When students know they can trust you to act on their concerns, they are more likely to come forward.
  • Make the time for violence prevention training. Every school administrator is busy, and training can cost valuable time and money – but that is not an excuse to push aside violence prevention efforts. Train students on what they should report and keep encouraging reports over time.
  • Give students the option of reporting anonymously. Students may be more willing to make a report if they know they won’t have to face retaliation or criticism for doing so.

We can’t prevent all incidents of school violence. However, if every school in America took the steps outlined above, then perhaps we wouldn’t have to see another mass shooting that could have been prevented. Let’s all work together to encourage students to report suspicious activity in our schools.

For more information on how the CyberBully Hotline can assist with your violence prevention efforts, click here.

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