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Indications of Violence in Teens

Family Safety Expert Advice from Gavin de Becker

Q: I have two teenage sons. They're great kids, honor roll students, active in sports, school activities, church, etc. They have friends, attend dances, and are interested in school activities. Like many other teenage boys, they like violent video games and movies. But previous school shooters sounded just like this. What other kinds of things should I be looking for?

A: First of all, the boys who killed fellow students at Columbine did not sound just like this. Sharing a few behavioral features and interests with boys who killed others does not constitute danger. To give you an alternative to the nonsense warning signs offered on the local news, here are some REAL pre-incident indicators associated with boys who act out violently:

  • Alcohol and drug use
  • Addiction to media products
  • Aimlessness
  • Fascination with weapons and violence
  • Experience with guns
  • Access to guns
  • Sullen, Angry, Depressed (SAD)
  • Seeking status and worth through violence
  • Threats (of violence or suicide)
  • Chronic anger
  • Rejection/humiliation

Most of these are self-explanatory but I want to add a couple of brief elaborations: Note that alcohol and drug abuse are at the top of the list; one recent study shows that an astonishing 75 percent of homicides by young people occur when they are high or drunk. Next, the term SAD is used by my firm's behavioral scientists for easy identification of Sullenness, Anger, and Depression, which include changes in weight, irritability, suicidal references, hopelessness, and loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities.

I don't imagine that the items on the list above apply to your sons. Also, there are seven key abilities human beings need to effectively manage life: the ability to motivate ourselves, to persist against frustration, to delay gratification, to regulate moods, to hope, to empathize, and to control impulse. Many of those who commit extreme acts of violence never learned these skills, but I expect your sons have.

If you are still worried, let me know.

More on: Expert Advice

Gavin de Becker is widely regarded as the leading U.S. expert on the prediction and management of violence. His work has earned him three Presidential appointments and a position on a congressional committee. He is currently co-chair of the Domestic Violence Council Advisory Board, and a Senior Fellow at the UCLA School of Public Policy.


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