WHEN ARE THEY SERIOUS?
Several recent tragedies have involved children shooting and killing
individuals after making threats. When this occurs, everyone asks themselves,
"How could this happen?" and "Why didn't we take the threat seriously?"
Most threats made by children or adolescents are not carried out. Many
such threats are the child's way of talking "big" or tough, or getting
attention. Sometimes these threats are a reaction to a perceived hurt,
rejection, or attack.
What threats should be taken seriously?
Examples of potentially dangerous or emergency situations with a child
or adolescent include:
- threats or warnings about hurting or killing someone
- threats or warnings about hurting or killing oneself
- threats to run away from home
- threats to damage or destroy property
Child and adolescent psychiatrists and other mental health professionals
agree that it is very difficult to predict a child's future behavior
with complete accuracy. A person's past behavior, however, is still
one of the best predictors of future behavior. For example, a child
with a history of violent or assaultive behavior is more likely to carry
out his/her threats and be violent.
When is there more risk associated with
threats from children and adolescents?
The presence of one or more of the following increases the risk of violent
or dangerous behavior:
- past violent or aggressive behavior (including uncontrollable angry
- access to guns or other weapons
- bringing a weapon to school
- past suicide attempts or threats
- family history of violent behavior or suicide attempts
- blaming others and/or unwilling to accept responsibility for one's
- recent experience of humiliation, shame, loss, or rejection
- bullying or intimidating peers or younger children
- a pattern of threats
- being a victim of abuse or neglect (physical, sexual, or emotional)
- witnessing abuse or violence in the home
- themes of death or depression evident in conversation, written expressions,
reading selections, or artwork
- preoccupation with themes and acts of violence in TV shows, movies,
music, magazines, comics, books, video games, and Internet sites
- mental illness, such as depression, mania, psychosis, or bipolar
- use of alcohol or illicit drugs
- disciplinary problems at school or in the community (delinquent
- past destruction of property or vandalism
- cruelty to animals
- firesetting behavior
- poor peer relationships and/or social isolation
- involvement with cults or gangs
- little or no supervision or support from parents or other caring
What should be done if parents or others
When a child makes a serious threat it should not be dismissed as just
idle talk. Parents, teachers, or other adults should immediately talk
with the child. If it is determined that the child is at risk and the
child refuses to talk, is argumentative, responds defensively, or continues
to express violent or dangerous thoughts or plans, arrangements should
be made for an immediate evaluation by a mental health professional
with experience evaluating children and adolescents. Evaluation of any
serious threat must be done in the context of the individual child's
past behavior, personality, and current stressors. In an emergency situation
or if the child or family refuses help, it may be necessary to contact
local police for assistance or take the child to the nearest emergency
room for evaluation. Children who have made serious threats must be
carefully supervised while awaiting professional intervention. Immediate
evaluation and appropriate ongoing treatment of youngsters who make
serious threats can help the troubled child and reduce the risk of tragedy.
Daycare.com would like to thank American Academy
of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry for this information in striving
to make daycare and childcare a more productive and efficient service.
You can contact them at: 3615 Wisconsin Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C.
20016-3007 voice: 202-966-7300 fax: 202-966-2891.