School safety has become a primary concern to parents, schools and society at large. The increasing number of students engaging in violent behaviour is not only shocking, but also quite disheartening. Some continue to believe in the worst myth that nothing can be done to prevent violent behaviour. In order to curb such behaviour, the school administration may spend time in implementing punitive measures rather than in preventive measures.
Interplay of various factors
However, such punitive discipline strategies appear to aggravate vandalism, aggression and anti-social behaviour among school students. Creating an unhealthy atmosphere would foster violence and aggression. Is it not the time, then, for parents and teachers to work together to prevent violent behaviour by identifying and treating it? But what causes such extreme behaviours in students, particularly teenagers? Constant exposure to risk factors such as child abuse, poverty, family pressure and conflict, drugs and alcohol during their early development can result in such behavioural pattern. The longer the children witness these, it is likely they will be exposed to harmful developmental consequences.
The development of anti-social behaviour involves a complex interaction between biological and environmental factors such as home, school and society. However, a factor that cuts across all three of these areas is an aversive atmosphere. Various studies indicate that aversive atmosphere promotes anti-social behaviour such as aggression, vandalism and violence. For example, when a parent slaps a child, he or she often goes off and broods alone or responds by hitting a younger sibling or toy.
Parents and teachers often criticise and punish inappropriate behaviour, but fail to reinforce good behaviour in early childhood and being harsh in punishing misbehaviour can lead to anti-social behaviour. Furthermore, teachers who often spend more time focusing on negative behaviours in class may support and even escalate aggressive behaviours in troubled students. Also, children sometimes may engage in such behaviour as to gain attention.
One other major problem is that many teachers and parents do not positively react to the desired social behaviour. Lack of monitoring by adults can be a factor leading to aggressive behaviour in teenagers. Recent research suggests that risk-taking among teenagers is driven by a mismatch in the earlier maturation of subcortical reward centres in relation to the prefrontal cortex, which is essential for cognitive control. Psychologists point to potential warning signs that one can look out for when teenagers commit acts of violence. These include signs such as often refusing to listen to parents and teachers, disregarding the feelings and rights of others, relying on violence to solve problems, believing that life has treated them unfairly, and mistreating others.
Schools can take up various measures to create constructive environment to address the contextual factors within school that would appear to promote anti-social behaviour. Here are some measures that can be implemented:
Consistent rules for conduct: Communicate rules and discipline strategies directly to the students. Fewer problems may occur when students know and understand the rules for conduct. Involve students in the establishment of the rules and state each rules positively to help students know how to behave. Inform parents about the school's rules and review the rules periodically.
Multiple opportunities: Repeatedly experiencing failure in schools can result in more behaviour problems. Schools should create multiple opportunities for success and provide various methods of coaching. Classroom discussions, group study and peer group learning would help students who are falling behind in studies.
Social skills: Many students don't have the social skills necessary to relate to teachers and peers. Hence, they need to be taught how to make requests, negotiate, handle criticism, and how to make appropriate decisions. Very often, students are punished for their misbehaviour rather than being taught the necessary social skills. Hence, students should be taught appropriate social skills in the classroom.
Social support system: Many students are provided with material items but lack a good support system to encourage, appreciate and monitor them. Students need people who listen to them. A student who has good support system would always share the mind mapping and metacognition of his or her world with others.
Respect, value and commitment: Of late, these terms are getting outdated. The value of human life, respect and dignity needs to be taught at home and in schools. Stories of good people, value and commitment of relevant reading materials, and the self-sacrificing mentality can be used in classroom settings for discussion and role play.
Teacher-student relationship: Students who are undervalued at home need much more attention and care from teachers and peers. But teachers limit their interactions with students to suggesting improvements, providing little praise for good performance. Here, teachers are not only missing an opportunity to increase compliance and improve academic achievement, but are also sending a message to students that they are not valued. This can be harmful to children who are already devalued by peers and who have few positive interactions at home.
Intervention programme: There should be some sort of screening system to detect at-risk children as early as possible so that they can benefit from an intensive school-based intervention programme.
A school intervention programme teaches an adaptive pattern of behaviour that is intended to encourage effective parentâ€“child, teacherâ€“student and peer-peer relationships, and facilitates academic growth and personal development. The training of parents and their involvement in the intervention programme is integral as it will help parents join hands with the teachers in helping the child manage the daily hassles.
There are various determinants of anti-social behaviour and most of the evidence suggests that school is a major contributor. Until we address these factors, we will only continue to temporarily suppress students' violence and behaviour problems by relying on punitive measures.
Punitive measures are not the solution and cannot prevent violence in the long-term. Therefore, the contextual factors need to be addressed by the family and school. Significant efforts should be made in the school to build the values and skills necessary for students to enter into society. The success of these efforts may depend upon providing a positive school atmosphere that facilitates the overall development of