School Violence Prevention – Warning Signs

by todaystrainingblog

The 1st post in this series focused on a potential scenario of a mass shooting in a school and many warning signs. Now the question is what are those warning signs? Here is the list I’ve collected over the past 27 years, starting with Mid-Buchanan Middle School in Faucett, MO. In 1988. Keep in mind that you may come up with better descriptions and more signs. I don’t pretend to have all the answers or that this is the definitive all-inclusive list.

Some of these have an explanation behind it. Others, like the previous posts, should be self-explanatory. Change these to suit your needs and situations. Some areas of the country will have different ones i.e. the Deep South or the Pacific Northwest. But I will warn you with these. Just because someone you know will have one or two of these doesn’t mean much. But when they start exhibiting 5, 6, 10, or more of these…

  • Threats veiled or overt. And with these you absolutely can’t forget with social media threats. It’s increasingly becoming a platform to say things that kids don’t believe have any consequences.
  • Poor relationships with everyone. From parents, other students, teachers, and so on.
  • Bullying – both being the bully and being bullied. There are enough incidents where the one being bullied turned the tables on their tormenters.
  • Cruelty to animals. And no this doesn’t have to be an incident of killing & gutting animals. Cruelty has many facets to it. Think about starving, teasing, kicking, burning, & etc.
  • Poor health & hygiene. This goes far beyond the Nirvana, or pigpen of Peanuts fame, filthy disgusting teen.
  • attendance problems
  • Inconsistent work habits. This doesn’t just mean not taking out the trash on time. All of their work suffers, from work at school, homework, part-time jobs, working at chores at home, it all adds up to the same thing.
  • Impact on teachers/counselors/administration/parent time. It builds gradually over time and takes up a considerable amount in the long run. From 5 minutes to an hour a few months later. And there is sometimes where it can start taking longer because of disciplinary issues.
  • Unusual or changed behavior- not so unusual for a teenager with hormones and growing up stress but…
  • Safety concerns (tripping and running into things. Again, not so unusual for an awkward teenager, but this goes beyond that even.
  • Sudden fascination with weapons. Live in a Household that holds hunting a fundamental right? That’s fine, it goes beyond that. As if a switch was flipped and they want to have bladed weapons, firearms, bomb making materials, & such.
  • Drug or alcohol addiction and don’t forget prescriptions and inhalants. And by prescriptions I mean check your medicine cabinet to ensure they are all there.
  • Violent music, video games, movies, television, & other entertainment. Teens are unlikely to watch the normal things we watched as kids ourselves, Andy Griffith, The Brady Bunch, Benson, Starsky & Hutch, Star trek, and etc. And our music…
  • Unshakable depression. And keep in mind that depression can easily be concealed by a smile and attitude.
  • Continual Excuses. Are they constantly and consistently pushing the blame for something off on someone else, more so than other teens?
  • Serious stress in personal life. You may not know what’s stressing them out personally. Divorce, addiction, medical issues, college entrance exams are potential issues. And it doesn’t have to be about them. Friends, family, or others they care about.
  • Concentration problems
  • Free expression. If they are creative and like to write short stories then this will be hard to spot and know if they really feel that way or not. A lot of teenagers like to write, or compose, dark brooding stories or songs. If they do…it’s okay as long as other signs aren’t there.
  • Mental illness – one of the hardest to spot because of the innumerable signs of it was well.
  • New Religious Fervor or political affiliation. Can we say ISIS or other religious entities that encourage killing others to satisfy their God?
  • Obsession With Military/Police Tactics

I feel the need to reiterate here that one or two of these signs are probably a teenager being a teenager. However, when these signs begin to add up and you have 4, 7, 9, 10, or more then you should begin to worry. Especially if they occur over a short period of time.

Now the question becomes how do you know how to recognize these students, how do you prevent another Columbine from occurring at your school? The answer is simple and yet very complex and at the same time difficult to ascertain.

The easy answer is to encourage people to ‘see/notice something say something’. It is becoming so cliché at this point, but it is your most effective weapon in preventing an incident.

And yes I know the unwritten code of teenagers, no snitching. But sometimes you have to do everything short of bullying them to get a teenager to fess up. And secondly…listen to what they tell you about school, friends, ‘the losers’, and so on. By listening to them and their social media sites, then you may just get a handle on it and spot these signs.

(Note: this is the 2nd OF 5 POSTS on school violence prevention. The next will focus on the attitudes that allow violence to occur)


Robert D. Sollars is a recognized expert on security issues, specifically workplace violence. He’s spent 33 years in the security field. Visit his Facebook page, One is too Many, where you will read about other items related to security & WPV issues. Or be a twitter follower at @robertsollars2.

                    I May be Blind but my Vision is Crystal Clear