The old paradigm of school violence was characterized by schools with widespread bullying and other aggressive and hostile behavior. This paradigm was also defined by school violence prevention programs that showed little success. 

Simply put, the old paradigm didn’t work well. But there’s a new paradigm that, if implemented correctly, can prove far more successful, offering several rays of hope where few existed before. 

The fact that very few school violence prevention programs work is evident, as bullying continues at an unprecedented rate. In 2001, about 5 percent of students reported being bullied. This climbed to 31 percent in 2008. Now, at many schools, more than 50 percent of students report being bullied or cyberbullied.  

Historically, bullying has tended to decline after the middle school years or the first year of high school. However, the peak risk period for bullying has been extended, with violent behavior among teenage boys now peaking around age 19. This helps to account for outbreaks of physical fights on high school campuses, many of which are the result of bullying.  

There are numerous ramifications of school violence, including the mental and physical suffering of victims, and sometimes even bullycide (suicide as a result of bullying). Violent schools are often low-performing schools. Many victims experience high absenteeism and do not perform well academically, while verbal and physical aggression against students and teachers casts a pall over campus life.

Violent schools also are crucibles of future violence. If unchecked, bullying is predictive of adult bullying in the home and the workplace, as well as criminal behavior. Also, it is important to note that many rampage school shooters were the victims of chronic bullying.

Ineffective Legislation

The old paradigm is riddled with debates about the causes of the escalation of school violence. Much of this debate centers on the influence of violent entertainment media and violent video games. The old paradigm is governed by ineffective legislation and regulations. Effective legislation has been confounded by the electronic entertainment and violent-video-game industries initiating numerous multimillion-dollar lobbying campaigns. 

The new paradigm recognizes that schools are the crucibles of the future and that effective school-violence prevention programs play an essential role in creating a future that is more peaceful and generative. This new perspective realizes that, in a very real way, school administrators are guardians of the future. 

This new paradigm also acknowledges the powerful influence of violent entertainment media and violent video games. For decades, researchers, policymakers, and the violent entertainment and violent-video-game industries have been debating the influence of this entertainment. 

Causal Relationship with Violent Media, Video Games

In recent years, however, psychological and neuroscientific research conclusively demonstrates that there is a causal relationship between violent entertainment media and video games and aggressive and violent behavior in the short term, as well as over time. The research also shows that the more violent video games a person plays, the more aggressive that person is, and that an aggressive personality can develop over time. The research also shows that heavy involvement in these media inhibits academic performance.

The neuroscientific research is especially compelling because it points to a connection between combat first-person shooter games and rampage school shootings. This is further evidenced by most rampage shooters being heavily involved in combat video games, utilizing military rampage tactics, and wearing military combat gear during the shootings.

The meta-analyses conducted by prestigious research organizations reinforce the validity of such conclusions. The American Psychiatric Association, for example, issued a statement concluding that the debate about the influence of violent electronic media and games is over. During a U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary hearing, a spokesperson for the American Psychological Association (APA) succinctly stated: “To argue against it is like arguing against gravity.” 

In keeping with this, in 2015, the APA updated and reissued a resolution about media and video game violence. The group resolved to promote public education and disseminate research findings to parents, teachers, judges, and other professionals who work with children. The APA also resolved to support funding research to address gaps in knowledge about the effects of violent-video-game use, such as negative outcomes for preschool-age children. 

Less Academically Proficient 

Recent research also shows that the more a student plays video games, the less academically proficient he or she is. A recent study by Brad Bushman, a pre-eminent violent-video-game researcher and professor of communication and psychology at The Ohio State University, Columbus, OH, shows that a gamer’s life chances of success in career and personal relationships are more limited with heavier video game playing.

This paradigm shift helps us realize that we cannot hope for peace in our communities and world if we do not have peace in our schools. School culture can teach violence, or it can be a culture that promotes and sustains peaceful and respectful relations.

The paradigm shift also recognizes that creating peaceful and productive schools requires taking into account the tremendous influence of violent entertainment and video games. Many other industrialized countries have enacted legislation and implemented policies that limit the amount of electronic entertainment violence available and restrict children’s accessibility to this violence. 

Germany, which does not recognize video games as art, is having public policy debates to ban violent video games for all children and, in the meantime, enforces an index of products that cannot be sold or marketed to minors. If an entity sells “Mortal Kombat” to a minor, for example, jail time is a possibility.

Develop a Plan 

Secondary school principals can take a leadership role in creating peaceful schools. Here’s what you can do: 

#1: Educate yourself about media literacy and become media literate. Media literacy sparks critical thinking by providing insight and the ability to deconstruct images, messages, and portrayals of events.

#2: Promote media literacy among faculty and staff. Provide media literacy resources and training to teachers and staff, including the school psychologist, counselor, and nurse. Provide classroom media literacy resources and material (much of which is free or inexpensive). Encourage teachers to incorporate media literacy in curricula across a range of subjects. Provide resources for students to create their own media, which is very engaging and empowering. Ask the school psychologist and counselor to screen for exposure to violent video games and refer students and their families to family media literacy training. 

#3. Facilitate teachers and students creating media literacy training for other students, as well as for their own families. 

#4: Enable media-literate teachers and students to make educational presentations to the parent-teacher association (PTA) or other such groups.

#5. Encourage faculty, staff, parents, students, and the PTA to become involved in organizations that advocate for effective legislation and regulation. In addition, media-literate educators, students, and parents can educate legislators and policymakers.

Media literacy is a necessary component of an effective school-violence prevention effort. However, it alone is not sufficient. In order for any school-​violence prevention program to really take effect, the laws and unenforced regulations in the United States need to be corrected. Media literacy is integral to this process. It raises consciousness and inspires advocacy. When people become more aware of the causes and the magnitude of the problem, they are motivated to join with others to take action for effective legislation. 

Marianna King is an adjunct professor of sociology at Colorado State University and author of School Violence-Crisis and Opportunity.