On the last track, we discussed the first five of nine explanations of school shootings, and how these theories hold up under professional scrutiny. These first five explanations of school shootings are, mental illness, ‘he just snapped’, family problems, bullying, and peer support.
On this track, we will discuss the second four of nine explanations for school shootings. These second five explanations are: the culture of violence, gun availability, violent media, and the copycat effect.
Explanations Continued (#6-10)
Explanation # 6 - Gun Availability
The sixth explanation of school shootings involves gun availability. It is certainly true, as you are aware, that the number of guns in the United States has more than doubled since 1970. Access is certainly more prevalent in rural areas and small towns, where the majority of school shootings have taken place.
Certainly, the availability of guns is causally related to school shootings, but it is not clear that increasing gun availability actual accounts for the recent high numbers of school shooting incidents. Hunting communities, for example, have always had guns at the ready, but school shootings have experienced an increased rate relatively recently.
Explanation # 7 - Exposure to Violent Media
A seventh explanation of school shootings is exposure to violent media. As you are aware, it is difficult to assess the role violent media and games play in school shootings. There is clearly no one-to-one correspondence between exposure to violent video games and behavior. However, psychiatrists analyzing Michael Carneal, who we discussed on the last track, did point out that his exposure to media violence could be considered a factor that contributed to "the attitudes, perceptions, and judgment that led to his violent behavior".
In general, there is evidence that exposure to media violence may be associated with increased antisocial behavior and the tendency to identify violence as the best solution to problems. This of course raises confidentiality boundary issues. In a session, if your OCD client is obsessing about the violence in his or her video game, at what point do you feel this behavior may generalize into a shooting incident? Only your knowledge of the student’s normal mode of behavior, normal level of intensity and doing or saying things out of character would be your guide.
Explanation # 8 - The Copycat Effect
In addition to gun availability and violent media, an eighth explanation of school shooting is the copycat effect. Certainly, the close proximity of school shooting incidents to each other suggests that later shootings took their inspirations from earlier incidents. However, not all shootings are incidents of copycatting, regardless of proximity in time. In Michael Carneal’s case, a shooting in Mississippi had occurred not long before, but there was no particular evidence that Michael was especially aware of this incident.
As you know, recent research indicates that media coverage affects the forms and methods of crimes, rather than the amount. However, this may not be the case for youths who are already suicidal. There is some evidence, although somewhat controversial, that youth suicides spike after highly publicized suicides, especially those of celebrities.
However, would you agree that it seems inconceivable that an otherwise healthy and happy adolescent would shoot at their school, simply because they saw media coverage of a previous event? Rather, media coverage of these events may serve as modeled behavior for a solution to a problem experienced by already troubled youths.
Explanation # 9 - Changing Communities
A ninth explanation of school shootings involves changing communities. Have you heard, as I have, many individuals attribute school shootings to the increasing pace of life in small towns, and to the increased rates of parents working long hours or having dual income households? However, concerns about parents being less invested in their children’s lives do not always mesh with the facts surrounding school shootings.
However, in several of the cases, the communities in which the shootings occurred boast high levels of community connectedness and solidarity. Teachers know the parents of their students well from neighborhood, family, church, or other connections. In these cases, it may be the very strengths of these connections, not an increasing weakness, that contributed to the problems experienced by the shooters. dense, all encompassing, interconnected networks of friends and family can make the lives of ‘misfits’ unbearable, and in addition may actually stifle the flow of information about potential warning signs. Would you agree?
As we have seen in this track and the last, simple explanations cannot explain why some children become shooters while others do not, nor are there any simple guidelines for pinpointing individuals who will become violent. Violent media are certainly part of the picture, for example, but millions of children play violent computer games, yet never become violent themselves.
Likewise, many individuals may want to attribute school shootings to ‘violent’ areas of the country, yet the evidence shows a fairly even distribution of the events throughout the country. On the next several tracks, we will more closely examine factors that may actively contribute to school shootings, and work towards developing a framework for understanding the social and organizational structures in place that make it difficult to identify school shooters at an early stage.
Allan, age 46, came to see me because he was concerned about his son, Greg, age 16, playing violent online video games. Allan stated, "One of these games he plays is so realistic that it frightens me. So I told Greg flat out I wouldn’t stand to have my son bringing those disgusting games into my house. We got into this huge shouting match! I said some things I wasn’t proud of… how do I get through to Greg? I worry those video games will make him think that kind of violence is normal!"
I suggested Allan might try using Three-Part Messages to communicate with Greg. As I describe how I addressed three part messages with Allan, think of how you introduce three part messages in sessions with your clients.
Three-Part Messages Technique
I stated to Allan, "A Three-Part Messages works like this:
1. "First, make a concrete, verifiable statement about the behavior you want changed. No embellishments, no moral judgments." Allan stated, "You mean something like, ‘Greg, you play violent video games’?"
2. I stated, "That’s a good start. Second, state how you feel. Use ‘I’ statements, I suggest you avoid saying ‘you make me feel…’" Allan chose to state, "I feel worried."
3. Third, I asked Allan to make a simple statement of fact that Greg can verify. Allan stated, "Well, I feel worried because I have seen research that indicates that exposure to violent media is associated with a tendency to identify violence as the best solution to problems."
I stated, "That would be a good place to start. By saying this calmly and honestly, you invite Greg to have a discussion with you, and you make it clear why you want the behavior changed. Additionally, you give Greg a valuable model for requesting a change in behavior, and you make it easier for yourself to avoid saying things you might regret later."
Think of your Allan. Would reviewing the Three-Part Message technique you are currently using be useful to him or her?
On this track, we have discussed the second four of nine explanations for school shootings. These second five explanations are, gun availability, violent media, and the copycat effect.
On the next track, we will discuss four aspects of how structural secrecy may decrease the likelihood that school shooters will be identified early. These four aspects are privacy, the clean slate, institutional memory loss, and counselor-student confidentiality.
Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Markey, P. M., Ivory, J. D., Slotter, E. B., Oliver, M. B., & Maglalang, O. (2019). He does not look like video games made him do it: Racial stereotypes and school shootings. Psychology of Popular Media Culture. Advance online publication.
Raitanen, J., & Oksanen, A. (2019). Deep interest in school shootings and online radicalization. Journal of Threat Assessment and Management, 6(3-4), 159–172.
Reddy, M. K., Seligowski, A. V., Rabenhorst, M. M., & Orcutt, H. K. (2015). Predictors of expressive writing content and posttraumatic stress following a mass shooting. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy, 7(3), 286–294.
What are the Three parts in the three-Part message technique?
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