Sudden changes in behavior. Loneliness and isolation. Quickness to anger. If your students saw these behaviors in their friends or classmates, would they recognize them as warning signs of potential violence? I’m guessing that most wouldn’t, and it’s increasingly clear that we as educators must explicitly teach them. Because empowering our students with the skills for both how to spot warning signs and how to “say something” is a huge step toward making our school communities safer.
What are the warning signs of potential violence?
The following warning signs are taught in Sandy Hook Promise’s Say Something program. This list is not exhaustive, nor does exhibiting one of these signs necessarily mean there’s an immediate threat. However, sharing these warning signs with your students will go a long way toward helping them recognize when their classmates may be in danger or need help.
1. Suddenly withdrawing from friends, family, and activities (including online/via social media).
2. Bullying, especially if targeted toward differences in race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation.
3. Excessive irritability, lack of patience, or becoming angry quickly.
4. Experiencing chronic loneliness or social isolation.
5. Expressing persistent thoughts of harming themselves or someone else.
6. Making direct threats toward a place, another person, or themselves.
7. Bragging about access to guns or weapons.
8. Recruiting accomplices or audiences for an attack.
9. Directly expressing a threat as a plan.
10. Cruelty to animals.
Can your students spot the warning signs of potential violence?
Gun violence is preventable when you “know the signs.” Watch this award-winning Public Service Announcement (PSA), “Evan,” which follows a student who begins a new relationship. Did you see the signs?
What should students do when they see warning signs?
It’s one thing to know the warning signs and another to know what to do about it. First, students need to take warning signs seriously and act immediately. Students who witness troubling behaviors should tell a Trusted Adult or use an anonymous reporting system. If the threat is imminent, they should call 911.
How do I teach the warning signs and what to do?
More than 18 million people have participated in the Know the Signs programs in schools and community organizations nationwide. The “Evan” PSA is one of the most popular curriculum options for helping identify the warning signs. Sandy Hook Promise offers a free curriculum guide for middle and high school classrooms to teach it.
Sandy Hook Promise’s Say Something program has a variety of resources for teaching this content to students in grades K–12. Here are some of our favorites:
- Say Something Self-Led Training Video: This is the core training for middle and high school students about the warning signs of someone at risk of hurting themselves or others and when and how to speak up to a Trusted Adult.
- Say Something: Elementary Animated Series: It’s never too early to learn the warning signs, and this age-appropriate training is designed specifically for the younger set (K-5). It includes a slideshow, interactive storybook, videos, lessons, and activities designed to grow a community of Upstanders.
- Trusted Adult Triangle: In this activity, students identify a Trusted Adult in three settings: during school, after school, and on the weekends or when school is not in session.
- Warning Sign Scenario Cards: Students read through different scenarios and sort them into scenarios that indicate they should talk to a Trusted Adult immediately, scenarios that don’t contain warning signs, and scenarios they’re unsure about. Then they role-play one of the scenarios in their Trusted-Adult pile.
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