In September, the mother of a 17-year-old College Place High School student discovered her son in the process of planning a terrorist attack on his high school. The student intended on carrying out the attack in commemoration of the 21st anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting.
September also found six high school students in Santa Clarita, California — the same district of today’s fatal shootings — detained for felony criminal threats when a William S. Hart Union School District staff member alerted authorities to their alarming social media posts alluding to potential on-campus acts of violence.
Part of what prompted the College Place, Washington-based mother to call in the police were the detailed plans she uncovered in her son’s room indicating how he planned to carry out the attack, as well as instructions for creating explosives and other weapons. The school district staff member in Santa Clarita encountered social media discussions of potential acts of violence being committed at a district high school. For other parents, the signs their teens plan to carry out similar attacks may not be as clear.
It can be hard for parents of teens to know what’s going on in their child’s mind a lot of the time, but in an increasingly digital world where many kids share their innermost thoughts on the internet, experts say there are some clear cut things to look out for in kids’ online behavior.
Websites to Watch
Carole Lieberman MD, media psychiatrist and bestselling author of Lions and Tigers and Terrorists, Oh My! How to Protect Your Child in a Time of Terror, tells Parentology parents should be aware of both what their children are posting online, and the sites they’re visiting.
“If your teen is preoccupied with websites or online activity that relates to guns, violence, or crimes, it’s not healthy,” she explains. Lieberman adds there’s an increased risk this curiosity may become something your child decides to act out for themselves someday. Sites that glorify violence or show graphic images should be especially concerning to parents.
Jennifer Bohr-Cuevas, a licensed clinical social worker and disaster mental health worker, tells Parentology parents should consider unannounced “spot checks” on all of their teens’ social media accounts and text messages.
“Many times, prior to a mass school shooting, the perpetrator communicated to a peer that they were going to do something violent,” Bohr-Cuevas says. Often, she notes, that information went unchecked. “If parents are actively monitoring their [child’s] social media, they might see this type of communication and intercept it.”
Parents should always watch out for direct and targeted threats, Lieberman says. “If your teen posts red flags on social media, like threats to others, hate speech, pictures of guns, admiration for killers — real or fantasy — take it very seriously.”
While it may be tempting to ignore some posts as “kids being kids,” she advises against it. “It’s not safe to ignore anything that makes you wonder whether it’s a red flag or not.” Even if your child is only posting inflammatory material for attention, or as a cry for help, you need to step in.
Online signs your kid’s a mass shooter, or a cause for concern:
- Posting about depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation
- Expressing an interest/obsession with guns and weapons
- Posting about being persecuted/paranoia, or sharing other posts with a similar theme
- Interest/Obsession with previous mass shootings and their perpetrators
- Hatred/disdain for certain individuals/groups of people.
- Any overt threats in pictures using either pictures of directly written
- Warnings to certain kids to stay away from school/venue on a certain day/time
- Posting about homicidal ideation
Talking to Your Teen
If your teen’s activity is causing concern, talk to them about what they’re posting online. Lieberman suggests bringing your teen to a therapist, as it may be easier for them to open up to a professional.
Bohr-Cuevas agrees, adding that often social workers and psychologists working with your child through their public school aren’t adequately trained to do threat assessments or mental health diagnostics. She recommends parents reach out to private clinicians with formal training in these matters. “A well-trained clinician will conduct a threat assessment to measure how much of a potential danger [your teen] presents with.”
Online Signs Your Kid’s a Mass Shooter: Sources
Jennifer Bohr-Cuevas, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and disaster mental health worker
Carole Lieberman MD, media psychiatrist and bestselling author of Lions and Tigers and Terrorists, Oh My! How to Protect Your Child in a Time of Terror
Los Angeles Times: Six Santa Clarita students are detained for online threats, officials say