School Violence: Prevention
School violence can be prevented. Research shows that prevention efforts – by teachers, administrators, parents, community members, and even students – can reduce violence and improve the overall school environment. No one factor in isolation causes school violence, so stopping school violence involves using multiple prevention strategies that address the many individual, relationship, community, and societal factors that influence the likelihood of violence. Prevention efforts should ultimately reduce risk factors and promote protective factors at these multiple levels of influence.
Discussions about school violence rarely include public health’s proven prevention approaches. Public health approaches focus on preventing violence before it starts and have been shown to effectively reduce school and youth violence. This known effectiveness stands in contrast to commonly used prevention strategies, such as metal detectors and other security measures, for which there is insufficient data to determine their benefits and some evidence to suggest that they may negatively impact students’ perceptions of safety.1 Public health offers knowledge and experience in preventing school violence that can significantly enhance approaches to end school violence.
Youth’s experiences, knowledge, and skills can influence their likelihood of becoming involved in violence. Strengthening young people’s abilities to effectively solve difficulties that arise and their opportunities to participate in prosocial activities can significantly reduce the risk for violence. One strategy for addressing these individual risks are universal, school-based violence prevention programs, which have been proven to reduce rates of aggression and violent behavior among students.2 These programs are delivered to all students in a school or a particular grade and focus on many areas, including emotional self-awareness, emotional control, self-esteem, positive social skills, social problem-solving, conflict resolution, and teamwork.
Positive relationships between students and their prosocial peers, teachers, and families can be critical assets in promoting youth’s well-being and preventing school violence. Several strategies to enhance these relationships have been found to be effective in reducing violence.3 For instance, many universal, school-based violence prevention programs improve students’ social skills and problem-solving abilities, which can result in more positive peer and student-teacher relationships throughout the school. Some school-based programs also help students know how to appropriately and safely intervene to stop an escalating violent episode between peers.
Many school-based programs and policies are also effective in helping teachers build healthy relationships, model nonviolent attitudes and behaviors, and contribute to a broader positive school climate, which in turn lowers the risk for school violence.3 These approaches teach educators effective ways to manage a classroom, resolve conflicts nonviolently, promote positive relationships between students with diverse backgrounds, and create positive student-teacher relationships so that students feel comfortable talking with teachers about violence-related issues.
Finally, by enhancing parent involvement in both academic and social aspects of their children’s school experiences – including involving parents in prevention programs – family cohesion and communication are improved. Prevention approaches that involve the family, especially those that start early, can have substantial, long-term effects in reducing violent behavior.3
The social environment of schools can influence the likelihood of violence. Schools can take numerous steps to improve school connectedness in order to promote learning and to reduce negative outcomes, such as violence.4 These include supporting effective classroom management practices, promoting cooperative learning techniques, providing educators with training and support to better meet the diverse needs of students, providing opportunities to actively engage families, and creating open communication and decision-making processes.
In addition to the social environment of a school, research suggests that the physical environment can influence fear and safety.5 Physical features of the school environment that could reduce violence include increasing natural surveillance, such as having windows at entrances and low or no shrubbery that does not block visibility, and effectively managing access to the building with well-marked entrances and exits that are continually monitored. Other strategies include creating a warm and welcoming environment with prominently displayed student artwork and the school’s mascot/logo and by maintaining the building and parking areas by removing graffiti and making sure areas are well lit.
The characteristics of the community surrounding schools also influence the likelihood of school violence. By making changes in communities, school violence can decrease. Some effective community level strategies include providing youth with more structured and supervised afterschool opportunities, such as mentoring programs or recreational activities, in order to increase monitoring and healthy skill development of youth.3
The broader social and cultural climate that surrounds schools affects the likelihood of school violence. By creating the conditions and systems to put evidence-based violence prevention approaches in place, violence experienced by school-aged youth can be decreased.3 Examples of this work include prioritizing prevention and the use of public health strategies that are based on the best available evidence. Addressing social norms about the acceptability of violence in schools and ensuring that educational systems promote strong educational growth for all students are additional strategies.
- Hankin A, Hertz M, Simon T. Impacts of metal detector use in schools: insights from 15 years of research. Journal of School Health 2011;81 100-106.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The effectiveness of universal school-based programs for the prevention of violent and aggressive behavior: a report on recommendations of the Task Force on Community Preventive Services. MMWR 2007;56(RR-7):1-12.
- David-Ferdon C, Simon TR. Striving To Reduce Youth Violence Everywhere (STRYVE): The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s national initiative to prevent youth violence foundational resource. Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; 2012.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. School connectedness: strategies for increasing protective factors among youth. Atlanta, GA: Department of Health and Human Services; 2009.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Using environmental design to prevent school violence [cited 2014 Apr 10]. Available from URL: http://www.cdc.gov/ViolencePrevention/youthviolence/cpted.html