What Is School Violence?

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What Is School Violence?

School Violence

School violence refers to violence that takes place in a school setting. This includes violence on school property, on the way to or from school, and at school trips and events.

An estimated 246 million children experience school violence every year; however, girls and gender non-conforming people are disproportionately affected.

School violence may be committed by students, teachers, or other members of the school staff; however, violence by fellow students is the most common.

"School violence can be anything that involves a real or implied threat—it can be verbal, sexual, or physical, and perpetrated with or without weapons. If someone is deliberately harming someone or acting in a way that leaves someone feeling threatened, that‘s school violence,” says Aimee Daramus, PsyD, a licensed clinical psychologist and author of “Understanding Bipolar Disorder.”

This article explores the types, causes, and impact of school violence and suggests some steps that can help prevent it.

Types of School Violence

School violence can take many forms. These are some of the types of school violence:

  • Physical violence, which includes any kind of physical aggression, the use of weapons, as well as criminal acts like theft or arson.
  • Psychological violence, which includes emotional and verbal abuse. This may involve insulting, threatening, ignoring, isolating, rejecting, name-calling, humiliating, ridiculing, rumor-mongering, lying, or punishing another person.
  • Sexual violence, which includes sexual harrassment, sexual intimidation, unwanted touching, sexual coercion, and rape.
  • Bullying, which can take physical, psychological, or sexual forms and is characterized by repeated and intentional aggression toward another person.
  • Cyberbullying, which includes sexual or psychological abuse by people connected through school on social media or other online platforms. This may involve posting false information, hurtful comments, malicious rumors, or embarrassing photos or videos online. Cyberbullying can also take the form of excluding someone from online groups or networks.

Causes of School Violence

There often isn’t a simple, straightforward reason why someone engages in school violence. A child may have been bullied or rejected by a peer, may be under a lot of academic pressure, or may be enacting something they’ve seen at home, in their neighborhood, on television, or in a video game.

These are some of the risk factors that can make a child more likely to commit school violence:

  • Poor academic performance
  • Prior history of violence
  • Hyperactive or impulsive personality
  • Mental health conditions
  • Witnessing or being a victim of violence
  • Alcohol, drug, or tobacco use
  • Dysfunctional family dynamic
  • Domestic violence or abuse
  • Access to weapons
  • Delinquent peers
  • Poverty or high crime rates in the community

It’s important to note that the presence of these factors doesn’t necessarily mean that the child will engage in violent behavior.

Impact of School Violence

Below, Dr. Daramus explains how school violence can affect children who commit, experience, and witness it, as well as their parents.

Impact on Children Committing Violence

Children who have been victims of violence or exposed to it in some capacity sometimes believe that becoming violent is the only way they‘ll ever be safe.

When they commit violence, they may experience a sense of satisfaction when their emotional need for strength or safety is satisfied. That‘s short-lived however, because they start to fear punishment or retribution, which triggers anger that can sometimes lead to more violence if they’re scared of what might happen to them if they don’t protect themselves. 

Children need help to try and break the cycle; they need to understand that violence can be temporarily satisfying but that it leads to more problems.

Impact on Children Victimized by School Violence

Victims of school violence may get physically injured and experience cuts, scrapes, bruises, broken bones, gunshot wounds, concussions, physical disability, or death.

Emotionally speaking, the child might experience depression, anxiety, or rage. Their academic performance may suffer because it can be hard to focus in school when all you can think about is how to avoid being hurt again.

School violence is traumatic and can cause considerable psychological distress. Traumatic experiences can be difficult for adults too; however, when someone whose brain is not fully developed yet experiences trauma, especially if it’s over a long time, their brain can switch to survival mode, which can affect their attention, concentration, emotional control, and long-term health. 

According to a 2019 study, children who have experienced school violence are at risk for long-term mental and physical health conditions, including attachment disorders, substance abuse, obesity, diabetes, cancer, heart disease, and respiratory conditions.

The more adverse childhood experiences someone has, the greater the risk to their physical and mental health as an adult.

Impact on Children Who Witness School Violence

Children who witness school violence may feel guilty about seeing it and being too afraid to stop it. They may also feel threatened, and their brain may react in a similar way to a child who has faced school violence.

Additionally, when children experience or witness trauma, their basic beliefs about life and other people are often changed. They no longer believe that the world is safe, which can be damaging to their mental health.

For a child to be able to take care of themselves as they get older, they need to first feel safe and cared for. Learning to cope with threats is an advanced lesson that has to be built on a foundation of feeling safe and self-confident.

Children who have experienced or witnessed school violence can benefit from therapy, which can help them process the trauma, regulate their emotions, and learn coping skills to help them heal.

Impact on Parents

Parents react to school violence in all kinds of ways. Some parents encourage their children to bully others, believing that violence is strength. Some try to teach their children how to act in a way that won’t attract bullying or other violence, but that never works and it may teach the child to blame themselves for being bullied. 

Others are proactive and try to work with the school or challenge the school if necessary, to try and keep their child safe. 

Preventing School Violence

Dr. Daramus shares some steps that can help prevent school violence:

  • Report it to the school: Report any hint of violent behavior to school authorities. Tips can be a huge help in fighting school violence. Many schools allow students to report tips anonymously.
  • Inform adults: Children who witness or experience violence should keep telling adults (parents, teachers, and counselors) until someone does something. If an adult hears complaints about a specific child from multiple people, they may be able to protect other students and possibly help the child engaging in violence to learn different ways.
  • Reach out to people: Reach out to children or other people at the school who seem to be angry or upset, or appear fascinated with violence. Reach out to any child, whether bullied, bullying, or neither, who seems to have anxiety, depression, or trouble managing emotions. Most of the time the child won’t be violent, but you’ll have helped them anyway by being supportive.

Additionally it can be helpful to look out for warning signs of violence, which can include:

  • Talking about or playing with weapons of any kind
  • Harming pets or other animals
  • Threatening or bullying others
  • Talking about violence, violent movies, or violent games
  • Speaking or acting aggressively

It’s important to report these signs to parents, teachers, or school authorities. The child may need help and support, and benefit from intervention.

A Word From Verywell

School violence can be traumatic for everyone involved, particularly children. It’s important to take steps to prevent it because children who witness or experience school violence may suffer physical and mental health consequences that can persist well into adulthood.

7 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Preventing school violence.

  2. UNESCO. School violence and bullying.

  3. UNESCO. What you need to know about school violence and bullying.

  4. Nemours Foundation. School violence: what students can do.

  5. Ehiri JE, Hitchcock LI, Ejere HO, Mytton JA. Primary prevention interventions for reducing school violence. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2017;2017(3):CD006347. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD006347.pub2

  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Understanding school violence.

  7. Ferrara P, Franceschini G, Villani A, Corsello G. Physical, psychological and social impact of school violence on children. Italian Journal of Pediatrics. 2019;45(1):76. doi:10.1186/s13052-019-0669-z

By Sanjana Gupta
Sanjana is a health writer and editor. Her work spans various health-related topics, including mental health, fitness, nutrition, and wellness.