Saturday, February 27, 2010

School Violence Put in Perspective

School shootings and classroom violence have captured the public's attention in recent years, starting with Columbine and continuing with a host of periodic school shootings that have taken place since then. The most recent is the shooting at Deer Creek Middle School in Colorado. It has many parents questioning the safety of their children during the time they spend in class. Aside from the fear of abductions, this threat has to be second on the list in terms of stoking a parent's emotions. Nothing is more anxiety producing than the thought of sending our kids to school in the morning only to have them never return home. So let's take a quick look at the statistics, and examine exactly how concerned parents should be.

From the July 1992 to June 2000 period, an annual average of 29 homicides and five suicides occurred throughout U.S. schools. This may seem like a lot, the equivalent of about 2 1/2 Columbines per year, but not when you look at the larger perspective. These numbers represented less than 1% of the homicides among youths aged 5-19 years and less than 0.5% of the suicides among youth in the same age group. Considering that kids spend around 30-35 of their waking hours a week in class during those times when school is in session throughout the year, such numbers overwhelmingly indicate that your child's time at school is far safer than their time away from it.

The picture becomes a little less clear when talking about non-fatal crime, however. In 2003, approximately 740,000 violent crimes were committed at schools against adolescents aged 12-18 years, a rate of 1.3 incidents per 100 students each year. Of these, approximately 150,000, or 20.3% of the incidents overall, were classified as "serious." The period of getting to and from school can also pose a potential risk. Research shows that a disproportionate amount of crime occurs during this relatively short period of time. Kids from school often take this opportunity to fight or bully each other, and children also become more susceptible to muggings and other crime.

Although violence at schools captures the public spotlight and garners a great deal of media attention, it is but a small representation of the violence that occurs in society as a whole. The research overwhelmingly shows that your child is much less likely to die a victim of violence while at school as they are in the world at large.

1. J. DeVoe et al., "Indicators of School Crime & Safety: 2005," Washington, DC: US Gov't. Printing Office; 2005 (NCES 2006-001/NCJ 210697)

2. Robert Hahn et al., "The effectiveness of universal school-based programs for the prevention of violent and aggressive behavior." Morbidity & Mortality Weekly Report, Aug. 10, 2007, vol. 56, No. RR-7, CDC

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