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Identifying Students At Risk for Violent Behavior

by Mark D. Lerner, Ph.D.

Chairman, The National Center for Emotional Wellness

Violence continues to impact our educational institutions and, in a sense, we should consider all members of the school, college or university family “at-risk.” The following practical information will assist university personnel in identifying individuals who are at greater risk for engaging in violent behavior.

The following checklist of “early warning signs” will facilitate identification of people who may be in need of intervention. The greater the number of items that are checked, the greater the potential for violent acting-out behavior. For help, turn to individuals who regularly work with at-risk people—professionals in the fields of education, law enforcement, social services, medicine, mental health, etc.

Individuals at greatest risk may:

❏ express self-destructive or homicidal ideation

❏ express feelings of hopelessness

❏ have a history of self-destructive behavior

❏ give away possessions

❏ articulate specific plans to harm self and/or others

❏ appear withdrawn

❏ engage in excessive alcohol use

❏ engage in “bullying” others

❏ evidence significant changes in mood

❏ have a history of violent behavior

❏ have difficulty with impulse control

❏ experience sleep and eating disturbances

❏ evidence significant changes in behavior

❏ have experienced prior trauma/tragedy

❏ engage in substance use

❏ have been/are victims of abuse

❏ become involved with gangs

❏ have experienced a significant loss

❏ have been tormented and/or teased by others

❏ evidence a preoccupation with fighting

❏ evidence a preoccupation with violent television programs

❏ have a history of antisocial behavior

❏ watch movies with violent themes

❏ evidence a low tolerance for frustration

❏ evidence a preoccupation with games with violent themes

❏ externalize blame for their difficulties

❏ evidence a preoccupation with guns and other weapons

❏ have harmed animals

❏ have access to a firearm

❏ have engaged in fire-setting

❏ have brought a weapon to school

❏ evidence frequent disciplinary problems

❏ appear/acknowledge feeling depressed

❏ exhibit poor academic performance

❏ talk about not being around

❏ have been frequently truant from courses


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