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In the last section, we discussed five aspects of weak or mixed signals that can interfere with the ability to identify children at risk within the school system. These five aspects are masters of disguise, fragmentation, "just laugh it off," perceived overreactions, and the perception that teachers cannot do anything. Questions concerning breaking the confidentiality boundary to uphold the Tarasoff mandate "to protect" were also posed.
In this section, we will discuss six cultural scripts that influence a shooter’s decision to commit a violent act. These six scripts are changing social status through performance, independence from adults, living with it, running away or suicide, violent fantasies, and threats.
As you know, one of the problem solving strategies available to these troubled youths is the employment of cultural scripts. Analyses of shooters like Michael have revealed that these troubled youth are locked into a pattern of escalating, more radical, and still unsuccessful scripts.
♦ Script # 1 - Changing Social Status Through Performance
In Michael’s case, his desperate and wild attempts at being the class clown in fact opened him up to more social marginalization. As you know, social marginalization refers to a student being pushed by other students into the position of an unpopular social outsider in the outer margins of social acceptance.
♦ Script # 2 - Independence from Adults
♦ Script # 3 - Living with It
♦ Script # 4 - Running Away or Suicide
By leaving police no choice but to shoot, a troubled youth can, in his or her mind, effectively commit "suicide by cop," achieving the desired end while holding to a code of strength or masculinity. This point of view is summed up in the words of Bethel, Alaska school shooter Evan Ramsey, who indicated his initial intention was merely to scare people and then kill himself. Ramsey ended up not killing himself and stated later he ultimately decided he wanted to "go out with a bang."
♦ Script # 5 - Violent Fantasies
Mitchell and his partner Andrew Golden apparently fantasized together for months about how violent actions could change the way they were perceived in the school social system. However, Michael and other shooters soon found that no amount of this fantasizing could change or alleviate what seemed to them an unbearable reality of marginalization and bullying.
♦ Script # 6 - Threats
Had this been successful, this may have obviated the perceived "need" for the shootings. However, the boys were not taken seriously. Mitchell and Andrew found themselves under enormous pressure to follow through on their threats. This was largely motivated by the cultural script of masculinity that dictates that failing to follow through is a sign of weakness and "being a wimp," which could further erode an already tenuous social position.
In Michael Carneal’s case, the morning of the shooting, several individuals Michael had boasted to of his plans to do "something big" gathered at the prayer circle. When it appeared briefly that Michael would not carry out his threats, they appeared to lose interest, which frustrated Michael and appears to have strengthened his resolve to carry out his threat.
Reflecting on the Tarasoff "duty to warn" case, how do you feel these cultural scripts interact with the duty to protect? Should an awareness of these social scripts be included in a risk assessment analysis of a troubled youth?
Ellen, 16, was close friends with her cousin, Billy, age 14. Billy had had difficulty adjusting to high school, and was not very popular. Ellen stated, "Last week during gym, Billy put blue dye in Mark’s hair gel. Mark’s really popular, and I guess Billy was trying to be funny.
♦ Technique: Active Listening Without Words
In this section, we have discussed six cultural scripts that influence a shooter’s decision to commit a violent act. These six scripts are changing social status through performance, independence from adults, living with it, running away or suicide, violent fantasies, and threats.
In the next section, we will discuss three factors that may prevent children from reporting threats from another student to adults. These three factors are violent language and the presumption of innocence, the adolescent code, and perceptual frames.
Vieselmeyer, J., Holguin, J., & Mezulis, A. (2017). The role of resilience and gratitude in posttraumatic stress and growth following a campus shooting. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy, 9(1), 62–69.
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