It can be hard talking to your child or teenager about school violence, but with threats of school violence up more than 100% nationally, even those that turn out to be fake still carry serious consequences, and it is important kids understand that.
Whether it was said aloud, written in text or posted on social media, the consequences are still severe. Fake threats can lead to suspension or expulsion and up to $10,000 in fines. Making one could land you in prison for 15 years and earn you a felony record. This would also make job-hunting difficult, as you would have to disclose that felony to your potential employer when filling out an application. If the threat was made over a medium like the mail or by telephone, it could even be considered a federal crime, which could give you another 10 years in prison.
Experts say having so many avenues for posting these threats is an easy temptation for vulnerable youth.
“It’s normal for young people to struggle with impulsivity, which means, you know, not always thinking before they do things,” said Dr. Sara Polley, director of the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation’s Youth Continuum. “That’s why, particularly, I think the internet or online can be a dangerous combo for young people, because it kind of combines their own impulsivity with this medium which has some anonymity to it and is easy to use.”
Polley says knowing how to have age-appropriate conversations with your child may prevent them from making decisions with these long-term consequences. You can find resources for these discussions online from the school districts of Collier and Lee counties.
Experts say oftentimes the best way to address this is to help your child identify what they’re feeling and redirect their comments to something that’s more appropriate. Your child may be saying these kinds of things because they want the adults in their life to take their concerns seriously, and they think raising the stakes by saying something scary will get someone’s attention. All they may want is to feel like their feelings are important, so acknowledging their feelings and saying you know they must be frustrated or hurt can give them a lot of the validation they’re looking for.
If your child is older, these conversations can also include talking about what is and isn’t appropriate to put on the internet and explaining how intense the consequences might be. If your child knows something as simple as a rant on Instagram could land them in prison, they might think twice about it.
“Making a statement about wanting to shoot people or wanting to hurt people at school because of things that have happened is a really big deal,” Polley said. “Just express to your child that ‘I don’t ever want you to be in a situation where you’re having really serious consequences because of something that you said that maybe you didn’t even mean.'”
If your child is younger, Polley says supervising their internet and social media use can play a huge role in preventing this type of behavior, as you can help monitor what they’re seeing and who they’re speaking to while they’re at such an impressionable age.