Most school shooting tragedies could have been prevented and were even "stoppable up to the last moment," if only adults would have recognized and acted on the warning signs, argues noted adolescent researcher William Pollack, PhD.
At APA's Annual Convention, Pollack explained that many school shooters have acted out violently in their schools as a "desperate, last-ditch effort at connection" with their peers and families. And school shooters aren't the only teens desperately seeking connections, he cautioned. Bullying and teasing are rampant in schools, and the best way to combat that stress is by building stronger ties among adolescents and their families and communities, said Pollack, a Harvard Medical School psychology professor and director of the Center for Men and Young Men.
"I am not engaging in blame and shame regarding family structure," he added. "This is not to put an onus on the family, but rather to re-empower" families.
"The potency of a loving family relationship is much stronger than even the best--dare I say it--potentially useful antiviolence program and certainly greater than any single-minded, required zero-tolerance curriculum, and more productive and less dramatic than any magnetometer or gun-sniffing dog," he said.
Parents and extended family members are adolescents' "real heroes," Pollack explained. "Kids who have such a connection to a caring adult, share feelings with them and feel loved and understood, will have higher self-esteem, higher success rates and a lower chance of violence."
During his address, part of the APA Presidential Miniconvention "Psychology Builds a Healthy World," Pollack also gave some tips for parents and other concerned adults:
Stay connected with adolescents. Contrary to popular belief, teens don't need or want to separate from their families; they need to develop their own identities with family guidance and reassurance.
Listen, don't lecture. Do an activity together, allowing the teen to talk in a low-pressure environment.
Don't give up because you're not a perfect parent.
Don't go it alone. Reach out to neighbors, clergy, parents, mentors and schools for support for you and your adolescent.