In the face of school violence, what do we default to?

Certainly what all the coverage of the Murrysville, Pennsylvania, school stabbings indicates is a society trying to make sense of a so far inexplicable tragedy, but there is no – zero – sense or accuracy in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s “report” that this is “the latest face of the national epidemic of school violence.” There is no such epidemic. In fact, the latest national data available shows a steep decline in school violence for a long time.

“Between 1992 and 2010 for youth 12-18, school-related violent victimizations declined 74%,” according to a report from the University of New Hampshire’s Crimes Against Children Research Center (CCRC), citing the US Department of Justice’s National Crime Victimization Survey. “The declines were fairly linear during this period, and included a drop of 50% in school-related violence … from 2007 to 2010.”

The same report said bullying – which some news stories speculated was behind 16-year-old Alex Hribal’s attacks – is down too. “Four US national data sets show substantial declines in face-to-face bullying and peer-related victimizations at school from the 1990s to recent years. Some of these are quite large.” As for cyberbullying, the CCRC reported that an increase it cites “is probably best seen simply as growth in the usage of electronic media for all kinds of socialization including its negative forms.”

Selfie of a student hero (& victim)

We don’t think enough about what characterizations like a “national epidemic of school violence” say about our young people. Maybe zooming in on the story of one of the victims better illustrates how unfair it is to rush to negative conclusions – the story of a selfie posted online from the hospital. It was posted on Instagram by Nate Scimio, the student credited with having pulled the fire alarm, “reportedly an action that eventually saved countless other students,” according to a commentary at CNN.com.

“His selfie happened standing in a hospital gown, with loose, Justin Bieberesque hair looking more like he suffered from a soccer injury, not from being the victim of a mass stabbing attack,” wrote commentator Mel Robbins. But sadly “the result of his lighthearted photo has been a trashing and analyzing from observers online about whether that selfie was ‘appropriate.’”

Default to respect!

What’s the deal, people? We need to support our young people! I’m right with Robbins in questioning this seeming reflex on some adults’ part to leap to negative conclusions about young people’s use of digital media. We need to default to respect for kids and open-mindedness toward their media use. Sharing a selfie with peers on Instagram was probably part of Nate’s healing from the trauma he experienced. As Robbins writes, “when he wrote ‘Chillin’ At Children’s’ to his then approximately 200 followers on Instagram, he was letting his friends know that he was OK.”

What better example of how important it is to get on with turning around this tendency to believe the worst about kids and technology. They deserve better!

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