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Reflections On The Columbine High School Massacre
Dr. Ruth A. Schiller, Board of Directors
Power of One Foundation, Inc.

Tuesday, April 27, 1999 - Regarding the Tragedy in Littleton

As a psychologist, I have spent some sleepless nights since the terrible news of last week’s slaughter in Littleton. All of us want to have something or someone CONCRETE to blame for this tragedy, but answers do not come readily when the behavior could be the result of so many factors.

I do, however, want to add my piece to the puzzle, and my deep concern is with what is going on in our schools among our children. Peers harassing someone who is "different" is an all-too prevalent occurrence that begins in elementary school. By junior high and high school, when adolescents become very concerned about peer acceptance, such behaviors as taunting, shoving, making threats, and vandalism can make the life of a student a living hell.

Most of the time the school has nothing in place to deal with such harassment unless they can tag it as sexual. If the alienated student does not have a few close friends to turn to, or does not have a solid system of support at home, the problem is amplified. I cannot overemphasize the toll this can take on a student’s self esteem and view of life in general.

I am not saying that the boys who committed this terrible act are just victims who are not to be held responsible for their behavior. God forbid we start excusing murder that has been planned for a year! But one of the more robust findings in the field of human development is the relationship between children who are unsociable and who are also actively rejected by their peers. Such children are at high risk for a number of serious emotional and psychological problems as time goes on.

Considering this, harassment by peers takes an ominous turn. It is miserable for anyone who is consistently the target of such abuse. Even young people who are generally well adjusted and have a decent level of family support may end up struggling with self-esteem problems, or with depression.

But young people who are not so well adjusted for any number of reasons may end up responding in a much more radical manner to a long siege of harassment. Unfortunately, those students who already have personal problems to deal with are often the ones labeled "different" and who are consequently the targets of their peers. Such a combination is dynamite.
Parents and schools need to find way to make it clear to youngsters that harassing others who are "different" is not an OK thing to do. Students who are being harassed need to be able to find support somewhere, and if not in their families, at least in their schools.

I have talked to many teachers, and it is clear that most are aware of the cruel ways students can treat each other. It is equally clear that most schools do not know what to do about it. It is time we did some serious thinking and talking about an issue that makes many young people miserable at best and violent at worst.

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