The link between bullying and school violence is not spoken about as often as it should be. Instances of violence in schools, including shootings, are frequently connected to bullying in some way. However, it is difficult to determine whether bullying causes violence, or vice versa. Some perpetrators of school shootings are known to have been the targets of harassment, whereas others are widely known to be bullies themselves. Some are both bullies and victims of bullying, making the connection even more complex.

The well-known Columbine High School shooting illustrates this complex relationship. The Columbine shooters frequently harassed other students, but they also considered their violent actions to be the result of bullying directed against them. The suicide note left by one of the shooters expressed feelings of victimhood:

“Your children who have ridiculed me, who have chosen not to accept me, who have treated me like I am not worth their time, are dead.”

The question is whether efforts to limit bullying behavior within the student body may reduce the occurrence of tragic incidents such as this one. With one in five students saying that they feel unsafe in their schools, it’s important for schools to consider the link between harassment and violent action.

Bullying victimhood and acceptance of violence

Recent studies have indicated an alarming trend among students – that of accepting violence as a means of dealing with disagreements, anger and threats. According to the Atlanta Journal, students today are showing a tendency to believe that violence is an acceptable response to challenges from other students. Nearly half of the boys surveyed said that they hit someone out of anger in 2012, with 37 percent of girls admitting the same. A study performed in 2011 showed that 33 percent of high school students participated in a physical fight, and that 20 percent of students were bullied on school grounds.

Bullying doesn’t always come from other students. In some cases, students may be victimized by teachers, siblings and even their parents. Students can learn violent habits from these experiences and then use these same behaviors to deal with issues at school.

Although stopping bullying is a major challenge, it is crucial that schools do all they can to prevent students from harassing one another to the point of violent action. With a fifth of all students saying that they do not feel safe at school, it is clear that much more needs to be done in order to reverse this trend in accepting violence.