Characteristics of Violent Students

Can You Tell If a Student Is Going to Explode Into Violence?

Troubled Teenager
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If there was a student in your school planning a Columbine-type attack, how would you know? Are their common characteristics to look for in people who explode into school violence? How do school officials know when a student is just behaving badly or when they are exhibiting real signs that they could be dangerous?

There is, of course, no foolproof way to identify potentially dangerous students, but the National School Safety Center identified behavior that was consistent with students that were responsible for killing fellow students and teachers during school attacks in the United States from July 1992 to the present.

After studying common characteristics of youngsters who have caused such deaths, NSSC identified some common behaviors, which could indicate a student's potential for harming himself or others.

They Have Talked About It

Research shows that the troubled youngsters who commit such violence have demonstrated or have talked to others about problems with bullying and feelings of isolation, anger, depression and frustration.

These characteristics identified by the NSSC will help alert school administrators, teachers and school staff to address the needs of troubled students before the problem escalates. This can be done through meetings with parents, utilizing school counselors, guidance and mentoring services, involvement with appropriate community health/social services with threat assessment training and law enforcement personnel.

This behavior should also provide an early-warning signal that safe school plans and crisis prevention and/or intervention procedures must be in place to protect the health and safety of all school students and staff members.

Characteristics of Potentially Violent Students:

  • Has a history of tantrums and uncontrollable fits of anger.
  • Often resorts to name calling, cursing or abusive language.
  • Repeatedly makes violent threats when angry or upset.
  • Has a history of bringing weapons to school.
  • Have serious disciplinary problems at school and in the community.
  • Has regularly used drugs, alcohol or other substance abuse.
  • Is a loner with few or no close friends.
  • Is fixated on weapons, explosives, or other incendiary devices.
  • Is often truant or has a history of being suspended or expelled from school.
  • Is cruel to animals.
  • Lives in an environment where there is little to no adult supervision from parents or a caring adult.
  • Has been bullied and/or bullies or intimidates peers or younger children.
  • Blame others for difficulties and problems s/he causes her/himself.
  • Prefers TV programs, movies or music expressing violent themes and acts.
  • Prefers reading materials dealing with violent themes, rituals and abuse.
  • Reflects anger, frustration and the dark side of life in school essays or writing projects.
  • Is involved with a gang or an antisocial group.
  • Is often depressed and/or has significant mood swings.
  • Has threatened or attempted suicide.

Other characteristics can include a history of encounters with police relating to violent behavior, a history of stalking or using surveillance tactics to watch other students, idolizing or identifying with people who are known for being violent and talking about avenging the wrongs done by others.

What's Between the Lines?

Teachers can also be alerted to potentially dangerous students based on the content in their school assignments.

Students who write about extreme violent scenarios, use inappropriate language, describe disturbing sexual violence, romance the concept of suicide, or exhibit artwork that is violent and dark in nature, could be at risk teens.

What Should Teachers Not Do?

If a teacher finds that a student's behavior is closely linked to the checklist and other potentially dangerous behavior they should not dismiss what they have observed. Instead, they should report it to the proper school authorities and let other trained professionals observe and access the situation.

Teachers should also avoid confrontations with the student by not challenging them or embarrassing them in front of their peers. It is also important to keep a safe distance away from the student. Standing too close can cause the student to feel that they are being challenged and it could increase their anxiety and anger.

If the student becomes delusional, teachers should not try to convince them that their thinking is wrong or it could ignite an episode. Instead, they should couple with the appropriate departments and school counselors to address the situation appropriately and safely.

By involving school officials, trained counselors, parents and trained professionals, a potentially volitle and danger situation can often be avoided.