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On the last track, we discussed six cultural scripts that influence a shooter’s decision to commit a violent act. These six scripts are, changing social status through performance, independence from adults, living with it, running away or suicide, violent fantasies, and threats.
On this track, we will discuss three factors that may prevent children from reporting threats from another student to adults. These three factors are violent language and the presumption of innocence, the adolescent code, and perceptual frames. As I discuss these three factors, evaluate if you are currently treating a student who may have influence over a potential shooter. At what point would it be appropriate for you to violate the confidentiality boundary with your client and notify administration of a potential threat?
The first aspect is summed up by Stacey Hunt, a classmate of Mitchell Johnson. Stacey indicated that she had heard Mitchell referring to violent acts before the event. Stacey stated that Mitchell had talked about having a list, and that, "everybody was going to pay. But he didn’t say that he was going to go and pull the fire alarm, get everyone outside and shoot them, you know? He was going around bragging like any other kid would when they were mad." Clearly Stacey, like her classmates, attributed nothing out of the ordinary to such violent threats, rather normalizing them as a common expression of frustration and anger.
A second aspect is that students like Michael and Mitchell were widely known as pranksters, bullies, and prone to acting out. Many attributed these threats to the same behaviors, assuming that the shooters were merely looking for attention. In some cases, shooters may have made so many warnings beforehand that their classmates become convinced that nothing will actually happen. Even instances of a shooter bringing a gun to school may have been interpreted as this bluffing, show-off behavior.
# 2 - The Adolescent Code
Part of this code implies that coming forward with concerns about a threat is equal to being an accomplice with adult authority. Many students asked whether they would report a student cheating on a test indicate that their decision would rely highly on what other students were saying; students fear breaking the code and losing face more than they are willing to adhere to a moral or ethical code of conduct. Even in the case of violence, students tend to fear being seen as a ‘rat’ for telling on another student, which exposes them to a stigma similar to that held against scab workers during a union strike.
Children who are identified as ‘tattletales’ face severe social sanctions, and are frequently popular targets for physical violence. Are your currently treating a student or know of a student who is betting harasses for being gay? Does this student have the potential for violence?
The desire to avoid betraying a friend is also a factor in obeying the adolescent code. A student may fear the loss of a friendship enough to merit not telling a school official that a friend had brought a weapon to school. A friend of Michael Carneal’s who observed him bringing a gun to school indicated he was unwilling to tell someone because he did not want to get his friend in trouble.
# 3 - Perpetual Frames
-- Frame # 1 - Empty Threats
-- Frame # 3 - Jokesters
Clearly, students privy to threats are an ideal candidate for heading off school shootings. However, these same children are notoriously bad at screening out real threats. Think of a middle school child you have seen in your practice. How capable do you feel he or she is in distinguishing a real threat from a casual one? Would he or she have the capacity to understand the risk involved?
Stan, 48, was very concerned about his son Mike’s best friend Derek. Stan stated, "They’re both 13, and I know kids that age talk big. But I came home unexpectedly early the other day and Mike didn’t realize. As I was approaching his room to tell him I was home, I accidentally overheard Derek talking about how he hated his homeroom teacher and was going to blow him away!
Technique: 'Avoid the Big Talk' Variation
On this track, we have discussed three factors that may prevent children from reporting threats from another student to adults. These three factors are violent language and the presumption of innocence, the adolescent code, and perceptual frames. At what point would it be appropriate for you to violate the confidentiality boundary with your client and notify administration of a potential threat?
Vieselmeyer, J., Holguin, J., & Mezulis, A. (2017). The role of resilience and gratitude in posttraumatic stress and growth following a campus shooting. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy, 9(1), 62–69.
Warren, L. J. (2017). Special section part 3: Campus threat management. Journal of Threat Assessment and Management, 4(2), 111.
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