With every unbearable school shooting, the nation turns its instant emotions to politics, politicians, policy, and anger. Time and time again, those emotions fade and very little changes. Businesses develop tools, sit downs take place at the highest levels within the state, and through it all, the students (while many rally) are really left out of the conversation and the plan of action.
That’s a mistake
Students happen to be the first line of intelligence against crime. Anonymous reporting is a must. Students know the trends and changes in bullying and cyberbullying. They are aware of the newest drugs, drinks, and who is selling what. They are on top of the latest app, chatroom, social media platform, and gaming device — as well as who is being approached online for questionable activity.
Students will tell you who is isolated, who is angry, who is suicidal, who they are worried about, and who they fear could walk down the hallways with a weapon. Students will tell you the easiest way to get into and out of their schools, or which areas feel most secure or exposed.
Knowledge is power
Harvesting the information students possess is critical, and providing them with an anonymous way to share it is an absolute must. Students shouldn’t have to fear retaliation, and so they must be able to share their observations freely. At the other end, those fielding the information need to be seasoned investigators who know both what to ask and how to critically respond.
But there’s a lot that needs to be covered. We talk about not bullying, but often we see parents bullying other parents, frustrated teachers isolating students, school districts not knowing how to deal with it, and adults saying “kids will be kids.”
The reality is we need to take a community-wide approach that has a zero tolerance for bullying. This means taking bullying seriously at the district and school level: we must make sure parents understand it has consequences and that students recognize that engaging in bullying is a lose-lose for all involved.
We also need to have a comprehensive view of untreated mental health as well as the emotional health of students. If we are on the same page in looking out for each other, we will also be able to recognize changes in behaviors that warrant red flags and should be of concern to all.
Parents must remember to have conversations with their kids. Life can get busy and chaotic, and sometimes it’s hard to just stop and talk to our kids. Parents must remember that their child is not entitled to online privacy and they must monitor their child’s online voice, including who is talking to them and what they are publishing online.
Additionally, language used by kids carries civil and criminal liabilities. Threats against a school, posted online or made in jest, are considered terroristic threats actionable by law enforcement. The posts and words matter, regardless of a child’s actual intent.
Know the trends
It’s difficult to stay on top of it all. Today’s child is living in a world layered with and weaved throughout many online platforms parents are often ignorant of. The cyber world poses other threats like human trafficking, where children are being identified, targeted, and groomed strategically by traffickers. They are being photographed, video recorded, or even abducted with caretakers unaware. Know the reality and the signs.
Emergency plans are necessary. Schools need to discuss (in an age-appropriate manner) emergency plans with students, and parents must be aware of them. Students need to think through their own survival plans in a realistic way. Parents need to have a family plan that identifies the point of contact should a disaster strike the child at school. How will you and your child be reunitied in case of an emergency? School is the safest place for your child to be. That said, in this new world of mass shootings, cyber stalking, drugs, trafficking, access, and more, threats to that safety abound. So many dangers can be mitigated and completely thwarted by starting with the students, the first line of intelligence. Invest in them directly, find solutions with them directly, and watch campuses change.
Rania Mankarious, MA, JD, CEO, Crime Stoppers of Houston, [email protected]