New research: why kids bring weapons to school

A recent study reveals students who are bullied by their classmates are far more likely to bring a weapon to school, and it highlights the risk factors that can predict such incidents.

The research, published last month in the journal Pediatrics, is based on data from the Center for Disease Control on more than 15,000 students, which shows 20% of high-schoolers have been bullied. A CDC survey showed roughly 4% of all students admit to carrying a weapon to school in the last month, which leads researchers to believe more than 200,000 bullied students carry a gun or knife.

“We wanted to look at those who are bringing weapons into what is supposed to be a safe space,” study co-author Andrew Adesman, a professor of pediatrics at Hofstra Northwell School of Medicine, told ABC News.

Adesman said prior research has shown bullied kids are more likely to carry weapons, but the new study identifies “a striking cascade of risk that is proportional” to three specific risk factors: students involved in fights, those who skip class because they feel unsafe, and previous threats or injuries from classmates.

Researchers contend bullied students who have all three risk factors have a 46% probability of carrying a weapon to school, compared to only 5% when students do not have all three risk factors.

According to ABC News:

Through this analysis, researchers have identified a group that may be at the highest risk of pursuing physical violence. Almost half of this group are carrying weapons to school—a number that is 35 times higher than that of high school students in general.

Amidst this high-risk group, there is a gender discrepancy as well. Though girls were more likely to report being victims of bullying, bullied boys were almost three times more likely to be the ones carrying weapons to class.

Experts who weighed in on the research are advising a multi-faceted approach to addressing the bullying problem.

“If we really want to help our youth be safer, we need to think of a comprehensive plan of combating bullying through electronic media, informing law enforcement and teachers about establishing universal consequences for bullying, and talking about the dangers of weapons on the streets,” Gene Beresin, professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, told ABC News.

Others have pointed to social status as another element of the equation.

Murray Milner, a senior fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture, explains in his book Freaks, Geeks, and Cool Kids that “Bullies have always been a problem.

“Part of growing up is learning to deal with them,” Milner wrote. “But that does not mean that young people should be without assistance in [dealing with them].”

Milner contends that with bullying, status is often in play, and because of the sheer numbers of students, teachers are often not attentive to the status dynamics among students that can fuel bullying, and thus other consequences.

There are, however, schools making strides in combating the problem.

Some schools, such as Valor Collegiate Academies, use “advisory groups”—which Valor describes as a mentor program—to help students and teachers form bonds over a student’s tenure at the school. In addition to the academic benefits of goal-setting, these intentional mentoring relationships play a valuable role in curbing bullying.

Parent attacks teacher, invites reflection on the power of family culture

Pittsburgh mother Daishonta Williams is setting an example for her daughter, from the Allegheny County Jail.

Williams, 29, currently faces multiple counts of aggravated assault after she allegedly stalked Janice Watkins, a PreK–8th-grade teacher at Pittsburgh King, before smashing her in the face with a brick at a traffic stop earlier this month, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports.

School officials called Williams to meet earlier in the day because Watkins alleged her 10-year-old daughter bit her when she confiscated the girl’s cellphone. King has a no phone policy for students.

Williams’ daughter claimed Watkins, 46, choked her during a dispute, and Williams demanded “appropriate action.” Watkins denied choking the child, and an upset Williams left the parent-teacher conference promising Watkins “was going to get it later,” court records show.

According to the Post-Gazette:

Ms. Watkins told police that she was sitting in her car on the ramp to the West End Bridge around 3:15 p.m. when she noticed a man and a woman get out of a vehicle they’d parked on the right shoulder. Ms. Watkins was on the phone with her mother and her driver’s side window was rolled down, she said.

Ms. Watkins said the two people approached her car. The woman, whom Ms. Watkins identified as Ms. Williams, then threw a brick through the open window and into Ms. Watkins’ face, according to police.

The couple also allegedly dragged Watkins from the car and stomped and punched her in the roadway, KDKA reports.

Watkins’ husband, a teacher in the district who did not want to be identified, told the television station Watkins was left with a cracked molar, bloody lip, and “lumps all along her forehead and all along the side of her face.”

Police caught up with Williams on a stoop on North Charles Street the next day, and she allegedly owned up to the attack, telling officers “I ain’t gonna lie. I did it,” according to court records.

Police also arrested Williams’ boyfriend, Vincent Beasley, for allegedly helping Williams during the assault.

Williams told WPXI the night before her arrest that she punched Watkins, but denied using a brick.

“I did get out and I did hit her, but I did not throw a brick through the window as they say I did,” Williams said. “I did not. I punched her in her face.”

Regardless, there’s little doubt Williams’ daughter, as well as other impressionable youngsters, are watching and learning.

The Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture highlighted the impact family and school communities have on character in its “Culture of American Families” report.

“It is true that the seedbeds of virtue are found within many overlapping domains that would include the school, peer relationships, places of worship, the internet, and popular culture, but most important of all is the family and its culture,” according to the report. “Family culture acts as a filter for the larger culture, and its role in forming character ideals among the young is fundamental and irreducible to other factors.”

While both parenting and teaching require courage, wisdom, and civility, family culture has the biggest influence on shaping those virtues in children, whether it’s positive or negative.

Watkins’ mother, Betty Davis, reflected on that reality in an interview with KDKA.

“My heart goes out to the child, because what has that mother taught that child?” Davis said. “Whatever it is, you solve it with violence.”

Watkins, who is slowly recovering, said she’s now forced to confront how her job—which regularly involves attacks from students—is influencing her family’s culture.

“Although my students are my babies, I do have babies,” the mother of four told KDKA. “Why do I have to choose between the babies that I birthed and my babies at school? But now I have to choose.”

Bullying, suicide, substance abuse biggest problems plaguing Idaho youth

A 2017 survey of Idaho high school students lists bullying, substance abuse, and suicidal thoughts—issues strongly affected by character—as the top problems plaguing the state’s youth.

“Those have always been top issues,” Post Falls School District Superintendent Jerry Keane told the Coeur d’Alene/Post Falls Press. “However, they seem to be even more difficult for students to deal with as the world gets more and more complicated. The bullying of young people over social media is definitely a new age problem that is a challenge for parents, law enforcement, and schools to eliminate.”

The Idaho Department of Education’s 2017 Youth Risk Behavior Survey questioned 1,818 students in 9th through 12th grade about a variety of issues in six categories; violent behavior, tobacco use, alcohol and drug use, sexual behaviors that lead to diseases and unintended pregnancy, unhealthy dietary behaviors, and inadequate physical activity. The survey was developed by the National Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

One in four Idaho high schoolers said they’ve been bullied at school, and about 20 percent reported bullying online. Students who claim to have considered suicide in the last year increased to a 10-year high of 22 percent. Fourteen percent of students admitted to taking prescription drugs that didn’t belong to them, according to the news site.

Other problems seem to be on the decline, including underage smoking, and riding in a vehicle with someone under the influence. High percentages of students also feel confident they can find an adult at school to confide in, and 78 percent said they plan to continue their education after high school.

“Most kids have the ability to control items that hurt their body and mind like drinking, fighting, having sex, using tobacco, and accepting being hit,” Northwest Expedition Academy Principal Bill Rutherford told the Press. “These have all decreased due to public awareness and education in school. But, things that are being done to kids are increasing such as bullying, and electronic bullying which is creating this sense of helplessness in kids. Most kids are doing the right thing and making good choices but are still being bullied physically and cyberly, which creates a sense of helplessness, sadness, and causes students to become less healthy and overweight, and have suicide ideation.”

Northwest Expedition Academy, Post Falls Schools and nearby Cour d’Alene schools all incorporate strategies to help identify students in trouble, to encourage troubled students to seek help, and to discourage bullying.

Coer d’Alene schools spokesman Scott Maben pointed to the district’s suicide prevention program “Question, Persuade, Refer” (QPR).

“QPR saves lives by providing these ‘first responders’ with innovative, practical and proven suicide prevention training, and the knowledge that the signs of crisis are all around us,” Maben said. “We also have held training opportunities for parents and community members. We conduct suicide risk-assessment training every other year.”

“Reading this study, our job is to focus as hard on bullying as we have on tobacco, texting while driving, and alcohol use. This study shows that schools and parents have the power to overcome this sizable issue—if they work together,” Rutherford said.

Working together as a community by engaging parents and local leaders is also key to developing strong character education programs that help to prevent bullying and other risky behaviors by persuading students to think beyond themselves.

“For parents and other adults, the task of ‘saving our children’ means, in large part, telling children what they are being saved for. The task of educating children means teaching them the larger designs that could give form and focus to their individual aspirations, so they can come to understand not only how to be good but why,” James Davison Hunter, sociologist and founder of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture, writes in The Tragedy of Moral Education in America.

One lesson from the Jubilee Centre, for example, encourages students to pretend to look back on their lives 80 years from now, and to imagine how they want the influences of pleasure, wealth, status, power, knowledge, and ethics to shape their life.