[Current Topics in Psychology]


Children and Violence

[Resources for Students, Educators, & Mental Health Professionals]      [9/11]

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Update: May 27, 2022: Sadly, I feel compelled to update this page, last time being 6 years ago, already finding it too onerous to keep track of each new - once shocking - massacre. This page was begun in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, to share with teachers, parents, mental health professionals.... all traumatized. Fast forward, once again shakes me and many others to our core: The near daily dose of gun violence, so many guns & so many massacres. And with so few actions - still. Here's a very somber U.S. late-night show host 2 days later. We cannot focus on only one or the other, he says, it's mental health AND some "well regulated" gun policies.

Updated: Friday, 06-May-2016
Notice: Quite sadly, it's not possible to update each new massacre, school shooting, or act of terror. It has become constant, the rule, the exception being more than a few days without such violence and horror. Murder rates domestically are horrific, guns are everywhere (and seen as the solution by many), and the world seems intent on extinguishing itself at both global and individual levels. These are some highlights of events which once had people vowing to stop the flood of hate and violence. Now it is simply 'daily life', and with it brings trauma, more hate, and more violence. Children may be impacted the hardest, and perpetuate this world, unless again the conversation comes forward and people somehow rise above the orgy of hate, violence, reaction, more hate...

Breaking News Alerts

Boston Globe
April 19, 2013

City Under Siege as Manhunt Continues

"Boston a Ghost Town" "The region felt as if it had been gripped by martial law as police searched for a suspect..."

Bombs and shrapnel kill and maim at the 2013 Boston Marathon, followed by gunfights near M.I.T., bombs thrown from a car, and a lockdown of the greater Boston area. Once again, people ask 'why?'. With each new event many are re-traumatized (from all the 'triggers' of memories) while many more become further desensitized to our steady dose of mass violence.

Washington Post/AP
December 14, 2012

20 Children Among 27 dead in Connecticut Elementary School Shooting

Described as "among deadliest in U.S. History", Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut suffers the latest tragedy, as one man with guns kills at least 20 children and 6 adults. Plus 74 school shootings since!

USA Today
August 7, 2012 Oak Creek, Wisconsin

Just weeks after the killing spree in Colorado, another massacre, this time religious worshippers and a police officer are shot, six killed. The front page story speaks of the gunman who "left behind plenty of signs that he was consumed by one thing: hate."

Immediately next to this story, on the front page center, is another story describing how "states relax laws regarding carrying guns", with the NRA enjoying an increase in the number of gun safety instructors. "A growing number of people - many of them women - are acquiring guns for self-protection." Indeed, 'USA Today' seems to be responding to gun violence by encouraging gun ownership.

Denver Post
July 22, 2012 Aurora, Colorado:

Gunman kills 12, wounds 58, in movie theater massacre

Thirteen years after the school shootings at nearby Columbine High School, a lone shooter in the darkness of a movie theater, goes on a killing spree, armed with smoke/gas canisters, assault weapons and body armour - and manages a massacre within 90 seconds before police arrive.
The 'suspect' tells them that improvised
explosive devices are set to kill still more (police/responders). Many questions and much pain...

What have we learned? What can be done? One thing which we knew in the late 1990's was being taught by the 'Warning Signs' project of MTV and the American Psychological Association. This was just at the time of Columbine's tragedy, and the message was to students: your peers may exhibit 'warning signs' to be taken seriously - like isolation, anger, strange behavior, 'hate talk', depression/suicidality, etc. Many students would never act on warning signs, but some disasters might have been averted if they had.

Just as the 'Warning Signs' project was launched (1999), Columbine HS had its famous disaster, adding to the urgency of alertness. Two years later: Sept 11, 2001. Now police and national security agencies also launched a campaign of 'if you see something, say something' - to the police, or (if you're a nervous student) to an adult you trust. Perhaps if both messages are combined, simply to be alert to, and aware of 'warning signs', it would help in prevention and foster interpersonal awareness.

Mon, Feb 27, 2012 8:54 AM ET
Gunman kills one, injures four in Ohio school shooting

A familiar story, sad, and once again with clear warning signs.
Another 'teachable moment' presents itself, warranting discussion of bullying and its consequences, as well as about underlying causes and effective interventions.


The New York Times
Sat, January 08, 2011 -- 1:22 PM ET

Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona Reportedly Shot in Tucson
A Democratic congresswoman from Arizona was shot along with several others during a public event at a grocery store in Tucson, according to news reports. The condition of Representative Gabrielle Giffords remained unclear. The Tucson Citizen reported that Ms. Giffords had been shot at close range in the head.
Slide Show - NY Times]

With this rampage came the death of innocent bystanders (including a judge and 9 year old girl born on Sept.11, 2001), and in the aftermath many questions: 1) Why were warning signs not acted upon? 2) What conditions contributed to the shooter's goal and ease of execution? Answers await time and the answers to prayers, as proposals are considered both locally and nationally. Children and adults alike have been impacted once again. What if anything can be done, individually and systemically?

April 16, 2007:
BLACKSBURG, Virginia (Reuters) - Thirty-three people were killed and 15 others were wounded at Virginia Tech University on Monday in the deadliest campus shooting rampage in U.S. history.

October 2, 2006: Massacre in a one-room Amish Schoolhouse!!
Were there no warning signs? What can we learn, and what can we do?
Here are several informative articles and video news clips from CNN

March 2005
Red Lake, Minnesota (USA) -

As the U.S. news media was focused on moral dilemmas and steroids, in Red Lake Minnesota a teen killed a relative, took his police car, and proceeded to Red Lake High School where he went on a killing spree with his collection of guns and body armor. The reports were that despite his circumstances and many warning signs, nobody among his peers in that close-knit community, reported the talk about violence to authorities.

Nine people died as a bright but troubled boy, coming to grips with culture and life, lashed out. His father committed suicide and his mother died in an accident. He shared his anguish and anger with a great many people online and f2f, before he began his rampage of death. Amazingly, this terrible event barely made the news, nor did it draw the attention of national leaders, as in the distant days of Columbine High School, when such violence captured America's attention for some years, and was seen as a symptom of a serious problem growing to epidemic proportions. Now it seems that violence among children has been crowded out by daily stories about war, morality, politics, and baseball. But this is real daily life for many adolescents in America. This is not new. Remember "Columbine High School"? Scroll down for the original focus of this page prior to Sept. 11, 2001: the growing alienation and anger and ease of acting upon it violently among teens. In 2000, APA and MTV were trying to spread the message: there are WARNING SIGNS!!

Why is school violence emerging again? It is.

EMIDJI, Minn., March 23 - Looking back at all the pieces, some who knew Jeff Weise say they wonder why someone did not see his eruption coming months, or even years, ago.

There was the threat Mr. Weise, 16, once made on his own life, sending him away from his home on the Red Lake Indian Reservation for psychiatric treatment. There were the pictures of bloodied bodies and guns he drew and shared freely with classmates. There was the story he apparently wrote about a shooting spree at a school in a small town.

"The clues were all there," said Kim DesJarlait, Mr. Weise's stepaunt, who lives in Minneapolis. "Everything was laid out, right there, for the school or the authorities in Red Lake to see it coming. I don't want to blame Red Lake, but did they not put two and two together? This kid was crying out, and those guys chose to ignore it. They need to start focusing on their kids."

Others, including the principal of the high school where, on Monday, Mr. Weise killed five students, a security guard, a teacher and then himself, defended their handling of the teenager, saying that the authorities had seen all there was - at the time - to see, and had actually been struggling madly to help a boy through his difficult youth. (NY Times, 3/24/05)

One guest on the PBS News Hour analysis 3/24/05 suggested that children are so inundated with violence that they're rarely concerned about others' love for death or aggression, to the point of reporting such talk to an authority. (Less than fifty percent said they would).

And then there are events like this. Nine killed, plus the shooter. Countless potential lost, and immeasurable pain among witnesses and survivors. The gunner told all around him what was to come, and nobody acted. Why? Perhaps we need to be resensitize our youth to "Warning Signs" and systematically offer preventive psychological services in the schools!

Particularly among adolescents, and particularly in suburban and rural areas, alienation, anger, and access to weapons seems to create these events with more and more frequency, and more and more warning signs. This boy was in treatment, and on Prozac. Only his friends knew how violent his preoccupations and plans were. But nobody thought to seek help.

"Kids are so immersed in violence that it wouldn't seem unusual to hear another student talking about it... "

"Keeping guns away from depressed people, can you do that?"
[Ray Suarez, PBS Newshour, 3-24-2005]

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[World Trade Center]

Psychologists: Attacks Will Leave Deep Scars

Reuters News, September 11, 2001) - In scenes worse than a disaster film, three hijacked passenger jets slammed into the World Trade Center and Pentagon on Tuesday killing untold numbers of people and robbing a nation and the world of its sense of safety.

Trauma experts and psychologists said survivors of the catastrophe and relatives of those killed in the disaster would never be emotionally the same again.

For millions of others who watched the carnage on television the harrowing images will be imprinted forever in their memory.

Trauma Resources:
Attacks Will Leave Deep Scars | Disaster Response | Talking (tough topics) with Children

VIOLENCE EXPLODES IN AMERICAN SCHOOLS! (March 8, 2001)       [Resource List]

At least 11 students in California were under arrest and several other were suspended for making threats -- serious or otherwise -- to outdo Monday's shooting spree at Santana High School in a middle class suburb of San Diego.

In Pennsylvania, a 14-year-old girl was arrested on Wednesday after allegedly shooting a female classmate in the cafeteria of their Roman Catholic high school.

Incidents reported in California on Wednesday ranged from a 17-year old spotted in an Orange County school parking lot with a reproduction of an M-16 rifle to two teens in the desert resort town of Twentynine Palms accused of harboring a gun and a hit list of 16 classmates.

In the San Diego area, sheriff's deputies were posted at all 12 high schools in the district comprising Santana High, and seven sheriffs were on full time duty at Santana High itself as classes slowly resumed.
(Yahoo!/ABC News)

March 22, 2001 - ANOTHER SCHOOL SHOOTING! In a school with an elaborate "school safety plan". It is imperative for school leaders to understand that we can't offer a safe and secure learning environment for children and adolescents unless the causes and warning signs of violence are addressed. Preventive mental health services in schools need to be taken seriously. Turning schools into armed camps is not the answer. An ounce of prevention...

April 27, 2002 - School Violence in Europe!

ERFURT, Germany (Reuters) -- A student responsible for Germany's worst post-war massacre was a gun club marksman who shot many of his 16 victims in the head at close range before an unarmed teacher stopped him, police said on Saturday.
Robert Steinhaeuser, 19, ran amok in his former school on Friday, firing 40 rounds from a pistol in a 20-minute frenzy of revenge for being expelled, before killing himself. He was also carrying a legally owned pump-action shotgun, but did not use it in his killing spree which was apparently cut short by the steely courage of a teacher who knew him.

The letter below was written on April 21, 1999, the day after the tragedy at Littleton, Colorado's Columbine High School. It was sent to the NY Times (which did not publish it) and re-printed here as an open letter. Several people apparently printed the letter and sent it in to newspapers, as I'd received acknowledgements of publication. My point was that mental health is not something we need concern ourselves with only after some catastrophe takes place. We need to understand and address the causes of violence towards self and others before other tragedies take place. This page continues, along with the page on adolescent mental health to draw more visitors than any other area of this web site. Violence is being discussed. That's an important first step. We still have a ways to go....

Resources for Students, Educators, & Mental Health Professionals

Adolescent Health and Mental Health
An Internet guide to adolescent mental health issues, including self-esteem, peer pressure, dating and family stress. Links and interactive advice for parents & teens. (Fenichel)

Anger and Narcissistic Personalities
A thoughtful (graduate and professional-level) review of the relationship between humiliation and violent anger in the context of recent mass-shootings by children in public schools. Self-esteem vs. self-absorption.
(APA, 1998 - Reprinted in Science Daily)

Boys just want to have fun... with guns
Summary of a recent study which found that left on their own, boys will play with guns even when taught not to. (USA Today, 6-20-01)

Updated resource page from the American Psychological Association. Bullying (including "cyber-bullying") - causes, responses, and prevention, with useful information for the home and classroom.

Children and Trauma
A guide for discussing the World Trade Center tragedy with children, professional references for mental health practitioners, survivor links, and information about the symptoms of trauma and PTSD. (Fenichel)

Evil, Hate & Horror
A powerful and provocative discussion about the nature, causes, & context of good vs evil behavior - historic, pithy discussion from the 2007 APA Convention - with Aaron T. Beck, Phil Zimbardo, & Frank Farley.

Five Questions on the Tucson, Ariz., Shootings for Psychologist Joel Dvoskin, PhD
Brief responses to some important questions relating to mental health, children, and community response. (American Psychological Association)

Love Doesn't Have to Hurt Teens
A serious discussion about the stresses and pressures which can lead to violence, and what to do if you are causing or feeling anger or pain.[.pdf] (APA)

New Lessons on Children and Stress
From research in the wake of Hurricane Andrew to the aftermath of Sept. 11, to urban violence, an APA Monitor on Psychology report on psychologist Annette La Greca's findings of widespread PTSD among children.

Suicide in the U.S.: Statistics & Prevention
From the NIMH, an overview of statistics frequently asked questions, current research, and more.

Warning Signs
The online companion guide to the acclaimed APA-MTV special aimed at teens.

Who Will Speak For Our Children?
An overview of the challenges facing children, and a call for a spokesperson to represent them in terms of national policy and daily experience. An op-ed piece from Dorothy Singer and Ellen Wartella (June 2000).

Youth Violence: A report of the Surgeon General
A comprehensive look at the magnitude of the problem, risk factors, developmental and social dynamics, prevention/interventions strategies, and a vision for the future.

Parent Resources

Helping Children and Adolescents Cope with Traumatic Events
A discussion of the incidence and effects of trauma among children and adolescents, at different ages and in different types of disasters.
From the National Institute of Mental Health.
[En Español]

Parent and Family Digital Learning Guide
Information on safely navigating the "information highway" at home and in school. Tips for getting started, a glossary of Internet terms, and a list of recommended sites. (U.S. Department of Education)

10 Necessary Steps in Stepfamily Integration
Family therapist Joan D. Atwood, Ph.D., discusses the dynamics within stepfamilies. Sibling rivalries, parental stress, discipline issues, strengthening the marriage and more.

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April 21, 1999

To the Editor:

Once again people everywhere are asking "WHY?", and discussing the psychology of alienation and violence among children and adolescents. I am struck by how many people on the news are in agreement about the essential reality: that mental health is an important aspect of our children's formative school years. Too often it is not until after such tragedies occur that schools and newscasters wonder aloud why there had not been any warning signs and why there were few if any mental health supports available for those who dearly needed them. Psychologists are by Federal Law available to virtually every school district, though too often consigned to limited settings or confined to administering tests.

School psychologists strive to be an essential part of the parent-school alliance, emphasizing not only thinking and learning skills, but coping and communication skills as well. If we as society are committed to mental health as a virtue, we need to assure that psychologists are made available to schools to work in the areas of prevention, support, and consultation with teachers and parents . Sadly, psychologists and other mental health professionals are time and again seen by the media only as those people called in for crisis intervention after such terrible incidents as yesterday's massacre in the Colorado high school have occurred.

Our children deserve to have mental health services in schools. The resources are already there. We must learn to pursue "prevention and intervention" in earnest. The cost to not do so is simply too great.

Michael Fenichel, Ph.D.
President, NY State Psychological Association,
School Psychology Division
State Affiliate of the
American Psychological Association

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Last Updated: Saturday, 20-May-2023 15:12:26 EDT

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