Study Reveals Conflict with Teachers is a Risk Factor for School Shootings

A teacher's relationship with a student may play a role in school shootings.
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The highly publicized school shootings over the decade has left people around the world wondering what would drive a young person to commit such violence. Experts have been scrambling to find the answers so that future acts of violence may be prevented. Now, new research published in the International Journal of Developmental Science indicates that conflict with teachers may be a major risk factor in school shootings.

Previous Research on Risk Factors for School Shootings

The FBI has made it clear that there isn’t a “school shooter profile.” There are many different factors that seem to motivate teens to behave violently and no two cases are the same.

So caution should be taken before trying to identify students who may be “at risk” simply because they seem to share a few characteristics similar to other offenders. While there may be quite a few students who may seem like probable candidates to commit violence, fortunately, the vast majority of students never do.

Several issues have made school shootings difficult to study. For one, many researchers can’t agree on what counts as a “school shooting.” While some scientists only review cases that involve several casualties, others include attempted shootings. 

Often, immediate family members of perpetrators decline to participate in research studies. This has led some researchers to rely on information gained from the media, and media reports about a student’s behavior, mental health problems, or lifestyle haven’t always been factual.

Previous research indicated that bullying has played a role in many of the school shootings. Being considered a “social outcast” has been another main factor cited in several studies. This most recent research study however, has uncovered some findings that say those things may not necessarily be accurate.

Student-Teacher Conflict

Researchers from Berlin studied 126 different school shootings in 13 countries to look for commonalities among the perpetrators. Their findings show that conflict with teachers seems to be the decisive factor in school shootings.

In reviewing past incidents of school shootings, researchers discovered that 88% of perpetrators had experienced problems and conflicts in their social lives.

Only about 30% had been victims of physical bullying by peers. Almost 54% had experienced some sort of rejection in the school environment. These statistics were lower than in previous reports.

Interestingly, about 13% of the perpetrators had reportedly bullied other students before the shooting took place. And almost one-third of the offenders reported some sort of rejection in a romantic relationship just prior to the shooting.

The biggest surprise to researchers was that 43% of the perpetrators had experienced problems with teachers or school officials just prior to the shooting spree. Although the researchers were already aware that this had been a factor in seven German school shootings, this factor had not been previously discovered in studies that researched shootings in the United States.

This study found less evidence that perpetrators are usually “loners.” About 43% of the offenders had friends and were not as socially isolated as had been previously reported by other studies. Many of the perpetrators felt as though all of their peers were social outcasts.

No Two Cases are Alike

Ultimately, researchers are yet to identify a single red flag or group of warning signs that indicates a that a troubled teen is likely to commit a school shooting. Instead, each case is slightly different and what drives one teen to commit a horrible act of violence may not motivate another to do the same.

Clearly, more research is needed and it’s important for schools to have safety plans in place. This latest study however, points to the importance of taking teacher and student conflicts seriously as an incident where a student feels anger toward a teacher may be enough to put a an at-risk teen over the edge.

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