We Can Head Off Teen Tragedies

When our schools erupt in violence, we're shocked. 

 

Start early

Preventing teen turmoil starts at birth. Parents set examples in the way they interact, express anger, and treat substance abuse, experts say. As children grow, communication is critical.

When your kids are young, talk about peaceful problem solving, the importance of not hurting others, and avoiding drugs and cigarettes. And as your children get older, define clear limits for acceptable behavior.

 

Other suggestions

  • Beginning as soon as your child enters school, develop the habit of dropping in at your child's elementary school—and not just on parents' night. If something doesn't seem right, go to the administration.

  • Talk to your child's or teen's teachers. Ask teachers how your child or teen acts in class. That conduct shouldn't differ vastly from home.

  • Know your child's or teen's friends. Maintain a climate at home that welcomes them.

  • Don't chalk up unusual behavior to a passing phase. Talk with your child or teen and consult professionals, such as pediatricians or counselors.

"Trust your guts and trust your instincts," says Dr. Dolgan. "If something feels wrong, it probably is."

Questions to help teenagers open up

  • What are you happy about?

  • What are you sad about?

  • What are you proud of?

  • If you had three wishes, what would you wish for?

  • If you could change one thing, what would it be?

Danger signals

  • Increased aggression, often toward siblings.

  • Threatening language.

  • Angry, intimidating actions lasting over time.

  • A sudden change in your child's set of friends, especially if you're uncomfortable with the new group.

  • Withdrawal from the family.

  • Substance abuse, which correlates with violence.

  • A sudden drop in grades or rise in truancy.

  • An Internet focus on violent sites, games, or e-mail.

To get help

  • American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry: http://www.aacap.org

  • National Mental Health Association: http://www.nmha.org

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