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By Anandhi Narasimhan, M.D.

School Shootings and How to Keep your Children Safe

In the aftermath of the Columbine, Virginia Tech and Cleveland school shootings, and the recent Omaha and Colorado shootings, the concern and fear of parents with children in school is understandable.

Episodic reporting of these kinds of events can lead one to assume that they could not have been prevented; that perhaps it is impossible to pinpoint every troubled youth with the potential of becoming a future mass murderer. However, it might be possible to identify people at risk for committing these acts and intervene early enough to prevent these things from happening.

One of the risk factors of a child or teenager engaging in violent acts is a history of being bullied or of bullying others. Boys are often bullied physically, whereas girls are more often bullied with verbal putdowns about their appearance, clothing, culture and background. However, both sexes can be bullied both physically and verbally.

Parents can be an instrumental force in preventing future acts of violence by youth, and there are several small ways in which they can help keep schools safe.

Parents should set time aside every day to talk to their children about what is going on at school, and how they are being treated by their peers and teachers. Children should feel that their parents will listen to them with a non-judgmental attitude. Parents do not have to insist that they will maintain confidentiality if it is a matter that seems to warrant adult intervention and communication with the school staff, but they can reassure their children that they are there for them and will help protect them.

Being a victim of bullying can have serious psychological consequences. Some kids may develop symptoms of anxiety or depression. They may have trouble sleeping and eating, lose interest in things they previously enjoyed, and even entertain thoughts of wanting to die. They may constantly worry about something happening to themselves or their family, dread going to school, and sometimes voice physical complaints, such as stomach pain and headaches, to get out of going.

Parents should also look for signs that their children might be participating in bullying. If a child has a low tolerance for frustration, angers easily, seems irritable and appears to be in the company of other “bullies,” he or she may be at risk for becoming a bully.

Parents should intervene if they notice any of these signs. Intervention could be in the form of getting their child counseling, speaking to a mental health professional to educate themselves about what course of action to take, and keeping in touch with the school regarding what they’ve observed, making sure members of the staff intervene if the child is being bullied or engaging in bullying.

Parents can work with the school to develop a zero-tolerance policy on bullying or support ways of improving the policy if one already exists. A zero-tolerance policy means that bullying will not be tolerated under any circumstances, and if any staff or student witnesses bullying, the perpetrators may face serious consequences, including expulsion. Staff should be vigilant in addressing any early signs of bullying and administer consequences immediately. This can help maintain a safe environment for children at school.

Parents can ask school officials about the safety and security measures the school has in place to prevent someone from bringing in a weapon or to prevent random individuals from entering the school. Parents can also work with local mental health groups on educating schools to identify and screen children for symptoms of mental illness to help with early intervention when needed–before a tragedy occurs.

Anandhi Narasimhan, M.D. is a Board-Certified Physician, accredited by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology, specializing in Adult, Child, and Adolescent Psychiatry. Dr. Narasimhan currently serves on clinical faculty at Cedars Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, runs a private practice in Los Angeles and serves as a child and adolescent psychiatrist for Aviva Family and Children's Services, a non-profit contract agency with the Department of Mental Health. For more information, visit

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