Lethal Violence in Schools
Which Students are Dangerous?

We correlated the raw responses to determine the number and possible identifying characteristics of potentially violent students.

More than 10 percent of the respondents may be inclined toward lethal violence, and more than 2.5 percent could be considered dangerous.

Students were asked two questions that reflect their inclinations toward school shooting:

  • 8 percent of the respondents said they have thought about shooting someone at school.
  • 10 percent said they have thought about how they would go about shooting someone at school if they wanted to.
  • 12 percent agreed with one or both statements; these are the students considered to be inclined toward lethal violence.

Students were asked one question that indicates they have the means to carry out a school shooting if they wanted to:

  • 24 percent said they could "easily get a gun if I wanted one."

We determined that those who had agreed with all three statements, indicating that they had thought about shooting someone at school; had made a plan to do so; and had the means to carry out a shooting - 2.6 percent of the respondents - were the most likely to actually carry out lethal violence in the schools and thus the most dangerous.

When the regressions are conducted by urban city and by geographic region, the same four predictors are usually among the most important. There were some interesting differences, however.

  • For urban students, ethnic orientation became more important, with white students more likely to indicate violent thoughts.
  • For suburban students and those in the South, there seemed to be a negative correlation between helping out in the community and a propensity toward violence, with dangerous students less likely to help out in the community.
  • Rural students were the only ones for whom grades were among the most important predictors. Rural students with poor grades were more likely to express violent thoughts.
    For Midwestern students, both the mother's educational level (often an indictor of socio-economic status) and media usage were important.
  • Students with more educated mothers and students who spent more time involved with electronic media were more likely to say they had dangerous thoughts.

Although students with poorer grades are more likely to say they have thought about shooting someone at school and have thought about how they might carry out a shooting, grades (academic performance) did not predict dangerousness, nor did ethnic orientation and family status.

High media users are likely to be highly-alienated, have a low quality of life index and get poorer grades, but without further analysis, high media use does not appear to correlate with "dangerousness."

Because the pervasiveness of violence in the media is so often blamed for violence in society, we decided to survey students about their media usage habits and to determine if there is a relation between the amount of time spent immersed in electronic media (and therefore the amount of time they might be exposed to simulated violence) and a propensity toward lethal violence in the schools. Students, responding to another section of the survey, told us clearly that they do not consider "Violence on TV, in videos and in computer and video games" as a leading reason for the lethal violence that can sometimes erupt at schools. In looking at the raw data, it appears that media use and attributes that may be associated with a propensity toward violence -low quality of life, high alienation index, and poorer academic performance.

Differences in media usage by various groups:
Means: Hours per wk. On the internet Watching videos Playing video games Playing computer games Visiting chat rooms Looking at websites
Total 13.73 4.76 2.82 3.91 1.47 6.88
Male 15.63 4.46 4.49 4.91 1.43 8.09
Female 11.73 5.07 4.07 2.86 1.51 5.60
Low quality of life 16.00 5.27 3.35 5.22 2.10 7.82
Medium quality of life 12.92 4.34 2.61 3.55 1.30 7.23
High quality of life 12.26 4.69 2.50 2.95 1.00 5.48
High alienation 15.83 5.16 3.35 4.67 2.02 7.90
Meduim alienation 12.75 4.30 2.36 4.14 1.09 5.90
Low alienation 12.70 4.77 2.72 3.10 1.24 6.75
Grades: A's 11.63 3.88 1.94 3.14 1.09 6.31
Grades: B's 14.65 5.05 3.10 4.14 1.58 7.31
Grades: C's 11.24 4.91 3.60 4.44 1.92 4.09

Internet use
Fifteen percent of the students reported spending 25 or more hours a week on the internet. Ten percent spend 10 hours or less; 12 percent spend 11-15 hours a week; 7 percent, 16-20 hours a week and 3 percent, 21-24 hours a week.

  • Among those with a low quality of life and among those who are highly alienated, the percentage jumped to 20 percent who are spending 25 hours or more a week using the internet.
  • Students with poorer grades are less likely to spend a great deal of time on the internet. Among those who receive mostly D's and F's in school, only 8 percent spend 25 hours or more a week on the internet, compared to 14 percent of those who get mostly A's, and 16 percent of those who get mostly B's and C's.

There is a difference, too, in the means of hours spent on the internet.

  • The mean for the total sample was 13.73 hours per week on the internet.
  • Those with a low quality of life and those with who are highly alienated are spending more than two additional hours above the means each week on the internet.
  • Those who get mostly B's and C's are spending more time on the internet (14.65 hours a week) than either those who get mostly A's (11.63 hours) or those who get mostly D's and F's (11.24 hours).

Watching videos
Thirty percent of the respondents spend six or more hours a week watching videos. Girls are more likely than boys to spend six or more hours a week watching videos (33 percent cf. 27 percent).

  • The means for the total of respondents of the number of hours spent watching videos is 4.76 hours a week.
  • Girls spend more time (5.07 hours) watching videos than boys do (4.76 hours). This is the only media category in which the means for girls is higher than the means for boys.
  • Those with a low quality of life and those who are highly alienated spend more time each week watching videos than the means.
  • Those who get mostly A's in school spend less time watching videos than the means; those who get mostly B's and C's and those who get mostly D's and F's spend more time per week than the means.

Playing video games
Twenty-eight percent of the respondents spend more than three hours a week playing video games. Boys are far more likely to spend that much time playing video games than girls are (43 percent cf. 11 percent).

  • Younger students are more likely than older students to spend three or more hours a week playing video games (33 percent cf. 21 percent).
  • The mean number of hours respondents spent playing video games is 2.82 hours a week.
  • The mean for boys is 4.49 hours a week, more than four times that of girls (1.07 hours a week).
  • Those who report a low quality of life spend 3.35 hours a week playing video games, compared to 2.50 hours for those with a high quality of life.
  • Those who are highly alienated spend more time each week playing video games.
  • Those with poorer academic performance spend more time playing video games than those whose academic performance is better.

Playing computer games
Among all respondents, 35 percent spend three hours or more a week playing computer games. Boys are much more likely than girls to spend more than three hours a week (39 percent cf. 29 percent).

  • Younger students are slightly more likely than older students to spend that amount of time.
  • 39 percent of those with a low quality of life spend three or more hours a week on computer games, compared to 30 percent of those with a high quality of life.
  • Those with a medium alienation index are slightly more likely to spend three or more hours a week than those with high alienation indices (38 percent cf. 36 percent) and considerably more likely than those with low alienation indices (30 percent).
  • The overall mean is 3.91 hours a week, with the mean for boys, 4.91 hours a week and for girls, 2.86 hours a week.
  • Those who report a low quality of life spend 5.22 hours a week playing computer games, while those who report a high quality of life spend 2.95 hours a week on computer games.
  • Highly alienated youths spend 4.67 hours a week playing computer games, compared to 3.10 hours a week for those who have low alienation indices.
  • Those who receive grades of mostly D's and F's spend an hour a half more a week on computer games than those who receive mostly A's. (4.44 hours cf. 3.14 hours).

Visiting chat rooms
Chat rooms appear to be the least-used media among teenagers. Only 15 percent of the respondents spend three or more hours a week in chat rooms, and 66 percent reported they spend no time at all in chat rooms.

  • 20 percent of those who are highly alienated, and 19 percent of those with a low quality of life index spend more than three hours a week in chat rooms.
  • Ninth and 10th grade students are more likely than younger or older students to visit chat rooms more than three hours a week.
  • 20 percent of the black students said they spend three or more hours a week in chat rooms.
  • 18 percent of those who live in unsafe neighborhoods and 19 percent of those who say they are not safe at school are in chat rooms three or more hours a week. (The mean number of hours per week spent in chat rooms is 1.47.)
  • Girls are spending slightly more time in chat rooms than boys (1.51 hours a week cf. 1.43 hours).
  • Those with a low quality of life spend twice as much time in chat rooms as those with a high quality of life (2.10 hours a week cf. 1.00 hour a week).
  • Highly-alienated students spend 2.02 hours a week in chat rooms, compared those with a low alienation index, who spend 1.24 hours a week.
  • Students who get mostly D's and F's in school spend 1.92 hours a week in chat rooms. In comparison, those who get mostly A's spend 1.09 hours a week visiting chat rooms.

Looking at web sites
Only 11 percent of the respondents report spending no time in an average week looking at web sites. Forty-three percent said they spend five hours or more each week visiting web sites.

  • 47 percent of those who report a low quality of life spend five or more hours a week visiting web sites, while 38 percent of those with a high quality of life said they spend that much time each week on web sites.
  • 49 percent of those who are highly alienated spend five or more hours a week on websites, but so do 39 percent of those who have a low alienation index.
  • 48 percent of the boys spend five or more hours a week visiting web sites, compared to 38 percent of the girls.
  • Younger teens are less likely (33 percent) to spend that much time on websites than older teens (45 and 47 percent).
  • Those with poorer grades (mostly D's and F's) are less likely (29 percent) to spend five or more hours a week visiting websites than those who get mostly B's and C's (44 percent) and those who get mostly A's (41 percent).
  • The mean number of hours a week spent visiting web sites is 6.88, with boys spend much more time than girls (8.09 hours cf. 5.60 hours a week).
  • Those with a low quality of life index spend more than two hours a week visiting web sites than those with a high quality of life (7.82 cf. 5.48 hours a week).
  • Highly alienated students spend 2.02 hours a week visiting web sites, compared to 1.24 hours a week for those with low alienation indices.
  • Students who get mostly B's and C's spend 7.31 hours a week visiting web sites, compared to 6.31 hours a week for those who get mostly A's and 4.09 hours for those who get mostly D's and F's.

When we looked specifically at the students who might be considered dangerous, we found that they do differ from the other respondents in the number of hours they spend using electronic media.

Dangerous Students
Students
Using Internet 13.62 hrs/wk.
17.46 hrs/wk.
Watching videos 4.70 hrs/wk.
6.78 hrs/wk.
Playing video games 2.80 hrs/wk.
3.46 hrs/wk.
Playing computer games 3.86 hrs/wk.
5.63 hrs/wk.
Visiting web pages 6.82 hrs/wk.
8.64 hrs/wk.

While the means look interesting - especially the internet usage - the correlations between these media variables and the "dangerous student composite" are low. The largest correlation was .119 between internet usage and dangerousness.

What is missing from our survey is a measure of how violent the content of the various media might have been, and how long and how frequently respondents were exposed to violent versus innocuous content. Without knowing more about those variables, it is difficult to definitively conclude that high media usage is a cause of lethal violence in the schools.

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