Why did the FBI miss tips that could have prevented the Florida school shooting that claimed the lives of 17 this past week?
Are the nation's gun laws sufficient?
How can a troubled teen legally buy an AR-15?
Is there too much focus on guns and not enough on mental health in shooting tragedies?
If not through the use of guns, would people such as the Florida shooter find other ways to kill, such as a bomb?
Should schools become hardened targets with much more security, including arming administrators and teachers?
So many questions. And they are being asked all too frequently.
Thus the overriding question: What can be done to stop mass killings at schools?
Beyond passing laws, Elizabeth Englander, professor of psychology and the director of the Massachusetts Aggression Reduction Center at Bridgewater State University, offers some answers. Writing for the theconversation.com, she cites 10 actions for schools, communities and parents:
1. Teach social and emotional skills. Children learn social skills from everyday interactions with each other. Today, frequent social media use and a decrease in free play time have reduced children’s opportunities to learn basic social skills. They can – and should – be taught in school as a way to prevent student violence.
2. Hire more counselors and school resource officers. Due to budget cuts, many schools have few or no trained school psychologists, social workers or adjustment counselors on staff. These mental health professionals are society’s first line of defense against troubled students. School resource officers – trained police officers who work with children – are also helpful for students. They are on hand to respond quickly if crime or violence erupts.
3. Use technology to identify troubled students. Technology may challenge kids’ social development, but it can also be harnessed for good. Anonymous reporting systems – perhaps text-message based – can make it easier for parents and students to alert law enforcement and school counselors to kids who seem disconnected or disturbed.
4. Doctors should conduct standard mental health screenings. Extreme violence is almost always preceded by certain behavioral problems. Doctors could detect these problems early on with a standardized screening at health checkups.
5. Enlist social media companies in the effort to detect threats. Most young people today use social media to express their feelings and aspirations. In the case of school shooters, these posts are often violent. Companies like Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat can create algorithms that identify repeated online threats and automatically alert local law enforcement.
6. Think critically about a child’s social media use. From virtual war games to cruel trolls, the internet is full of violence. Parents must assess how well a child handles it. If a child is drawn to violent games and tends to be aggressive or troubled, discuss the situation with a pediatrician or school counselor.
7. Consider what a child is missing out on. Is your child sleeping properly? Do your kids socialize with other young people? These two behaviors are linked to mental health in children, and excessive screen time can reduce or diminish the quality of both.
8. Assess your child’s relationships. Like adults, children need confidants to feel invested in and connected with their community. For children who struggle to make friends and build relationships, there are programs that can help them learn how.
9. Fret productively about screen time. Rather than just fret over screen time, focus instead on how children can benefit from a variety of activities. Evidence shows children who experience different pursuits over the course of their day – from sports and music to an after-school job – are happier and healthier for it.
10. Talk with your child. This is both the easiest and hardest way to make sure kids are doing OK. Children, especially teenagers, don’t always want to talk about how life is going. Ask anyway.