Understanding School Violence

School violence is youth violence that occurs on school property, on the way to or from school or school-sponsored events, or during a school-sponsored event. A young person can be a victim, a perpetrator, or a witness of school violence.

Youth violence includes various behaviors. Some violent acts—such as bullying, slapping, or hitting—can cause more emotional harm than physical harm. Other forms of violence, such as gang violence and assault (with or without weapons), can lead to serious injury or even death.

Why is school violence a public health problem?

School associated violent deaths are rare.

17 homicides of school-age youth ages 5 to 18 years occurred at school during the 2009-2010 school year.

• Of all youth homicides, less than 2% occur at school, and this percentage has been stable for the past decade.

In 2010, there were about 828,000 nonfatal victimizations at school among students 12 to 18 years of age.

Approximately 7% of teachers report that they have been threatened with injury or physically attacked by a student from their school.

In 2009, about 20% of students ages 12–18 reported that gangs were present at their school during the school year.

In a 2011 nationally representative sample of youth in grades 9-12:

• 12% reported being in a physical fight on school property in the 12 months before the survey.

• 5.9% reported that they did not go to school on one or more days in the 30 days before the survey because they felt unsafe at school or on their way to or from school.

• 5.4% reported carrying a weapon (gun, knife or club) on school property on one or more days in the 30 days before the survey.

• 7.4% reported being threatened or injured with a weapon on school property one or more times in the 12 months before the survey.

• 20% reported being bullied on school property and 16% reported being bullied electronically during the 12 months before the survey.

How does school violence affect health?

Deaths resulting from school violence are only part of the problem. Many young people experience nonfatal injuries. Some of these injuries are relatively minor and include cuts, bruises, and broken bones. Other injuries, like gunshot wounds and head trauma, are more serious and can lead to permanent disability.

Not all injuries are visible. Exposure to youth violence and school violence can lead to a wide array of negative health behaviors and outcomes, including alcohol and drug use and suicide. Depression, anxiety, and many other psychological problems, including fear, can result from school violence.

Who is at risk for school violence?

A number of factors can increase the risk of a youth engaging in violence at school. However, the presence of these factors does not always mean that a young person will become an offender.

Risk factors for school and youth violence include:

• Prior history of violence

• Drug, alcohol, or tobacco use

• Association with delinquent peers

• Poor family functioning

• Poor grades in school

• Poverty in the community

How can we prevent school violence?

The goal is to stop school violence from happening in the first place. Several prevention strategies have been identified.

• Universal, school-based prevention programs can significantly lower rates of aggression and violent behavior. These programs are delivered to all students in a school or grade level. They teach about various topics and develop skills, such as emotional self-awareness and control, positive social skills, problem solving, conflict resolution, and teamwork.

• Parent- and family-based programs can improve family relations and lower the risk for violence by children especially when the programs are started early.4 These programs provide parents with education about child development and teach skills to communicate and solve problems in nonviolent ways.

• Mentoring programs can significantly reduce youth violence.4 These programs pair a young person with an adult who can serve as a positive role model and help guide the young person’s behavior.