In earlier articles, I explained one basic mental health
category called conduct disorders (C.D.s), the child at
highest risk of extreme violence, and
emphasized how you must work differently with C.D.s
compared to any other kids. Hopefully, I successfully
conveyed how critical it is to thoroughly understand what
makes this kid “tick,” and to work with them differently
than everyone else, or you may find yourself or others
in dangerous situations. In that piece, I devoted
extensive time to teaching you “all” the in’s and out’s
of working with this complex, potentially dangerous youth.
I want to move past the youngster at highest risk of
violence so I can now address the next two groups of
high risk students in this article.(Our web site
has some additional information on conduct disorders
if you need more info on that group now. Visit
http://www.youthchg.com/hottopic.html.)But, remember that
these pointers will be no substitute for
thoroughly updating your skills on such a challenging kid.
Now that you know a bit about C.D.s, the youth at
top risk of violence, let me tell you about the
students who follow next in risk. That is the focus of
** Youth at 2nd and 3rd Risk of Extreme Violence:
These youth are not nearly at as great a risk as the conduct disorder.
We will cover each of these 2 types of youth separately, but must stress
that the risk for both of these 2 groups drops off dramatically
from that posed by conduct disorders. Remember that when any child
appears to be potentially violent, you take that concern seriously,
regardless of whether the child was on our list. This list is meant only to
guide you when you lack any specific events or circumstances that
show you how to apportion your time, supervision and other resources.
** Thought Disorders: The risk posed by thought disordered
children is probably far less than that of the conduct disordered
youth. Although #2 on this list, it is a rather distant second choice.
Part of the explanation is that there are probably a lot more
conduct disordered kids than thought disordered ones. The other
reason that explains the somewhat distant #2 status is that the
thought disordered child may be well-intentioned, kind, and loving
at times. The conduct disorder child really never is able to care
about anyone else. Another reason to explain the distant #2 status is
that often the thought disordered child will act in rather than act out.
They often will pose a harm to self rather than others.
Unless you work in a treatment setting, just a very small fraction of
the children you work with, may have what mental health professionals
call a thought disorder. While the thinking of the conduct disorder is
clear and lucid, that assumption is not always true for the
thought-disordered child. The child who has been diagnosed with this
type of problem by a mental health worker, has very serious problems
with their thinking. The child may hear voices or see visions that no one
else can, for example. The child may believe demons or devils are
governing them. If the voices, for instance, tell the child to hurt
someone, then the child may feel compelled to do it. This is where
potential danger could lie.
The thrust of working with a diagnosed thought disorder is often
on proper medication, although focusing on skill building and structure
are also very important. Perhaps the single most important concern
will be that the child takes any prescribed medication regularly and
properly, because when properly medicated, this child may
function almost normally in many ways. When not correctly medicated,
this child is at the mercy of any demons, visions, voices or upsetting
thoughts that pop into their head.
** Severely Agitated, Depressed Kids: The occurrence of extreme
violence by severely depressed, agitated children probably also
greatly lags behind the risk posed by conduct disorders. This term
refers to a child who has experienced extremely severe problems
with depression, and also struggles mightily at least once with
agitation. Many kids, especially teens, struggle with depression,
but this group endures some of the most prolonged, profound,
deep depression; this should not be confused with typical
adolescent ups and downs. When the severely depressed and
agitated child also abuses substances, the problem can be
magnified greatly depending on the interplay of the substance
and the existing emotional concerns. Crisis, sudden changes and
the usual adolescent successes and failures can quickly
de-stabilize this child who is already seriously struggling;
these events can have the effect of the straw that broke the
Any emotion that a child has trouble managing may get acted out
or acted in. Depression is generally acted in. Many view it as
anger turned inward: the child withdraws, reduces their activities,
may eat less, etc. But, depression can also be acted out. Feeling
cornered, unable to endure any more pain, some children will act
out, sometimes lashing out in very severe ways. All things in nature
strive to come to a conclusion. Storms eventually dissipate, the
rain ultimately gives way to sun, and even the snow will eventually
end. Humans, as part of nature, also tend to move towards resolution.
For some children, extreme violence can be the flash point that
offers that resolution. When there appears to be no hope, perhaps
the child believes that there is nothing left to lose. Depression can be
tough on adults, but couple the depression with a child’s lack of time
concept, lack of perspective, their impulsiveness, immaturity, and
resistance to understanding the link of actions to final outcomes,
extreme violence can be grabbed as perhaps a solution. If this
vulnerable child becomes involved with a conduct disordered
peer, you can see how under certain circumstances, that could
become a deadly combination as the depressed, agitated child may
join in the acting-out.
To help this child, alleviating some of the torment will be critical.
Help to manage anger in socially acceptable ways, tempering the
depression, and alleviating some of the agitation can keep this
child from remaining at the level of extreme discomfort they
currently experience. If this child receives useful aid to vent
the agitation and give some light to the depression, any risk of
extreme violence can be significantly impacted. Of the three
risk categories, this group’s concerns are potentially the most
amenable to intervention by you, and is of the three, the
most hopeful diagnosis. You can have much lasting impact
on this child.
**Appraising the Risk: Now you can look at your class or group
and not just wonder where the where the potential, serious
danger would come from. Now that you have more refined
guesses about which youth potentially pose potential danger,
here is a way to better rank that risk in your mind. A juvenile
court judge in Springfield, Oregon, said after the shooting
there, that so many kids are like “little match sticks waiting
to be lit.” To adapt that image a bit, here is how you can
apply that thinking to the three at-risk groups listed here.
You can imagine that the conduct disorder is already lit;
a flame is burning. Whether that flame becomes smaller,
flares larger, or creates an inferno, is anyone’s guess, but
the flame is burning always, the potential for disaster is
The thought-disordered child may be like a pilot light,
a tiny flame that is always lit, but is fairly unlikely to
inexplicably get massively bigger or out of control. Properly
shepherded and assisted, this light may stay forever just a
benign flicker. Unshepherded or inadequately assisted,
however, this flame can get bigger, even flare out of
The extremely agitated depressed child may be the
unlit match stick that the judge visualized. Outside
factors will likely come into play to incite any flare-up.
Outside forces could include peer pressure, crises, substance
abuse, family woes, or just mounting problems that fuel the
agitation and create a profound, all-encompassing sense of
desperation that leads the child to “spontaneously” combust.
Like the thought-disordered child, the severely agitated
depressed youth can often be so readily aided if the
community can identify them, then consistently care and
** In Summary: If you work with kids, but you are not
a mental health professional, maybe it’s time to at least
learn some of the basics about children’s mental health.
And, no matter what your role with children, please
consider it your obligation to train your kids to be peaceful.
That may be the most important contribution you could
make in a world that so thoroughly ensures that every
child knows so much about extreme violence, and so little
about anything peaceful.
Hopefully, you now have more mental health basics for working
with juveniles who pose extreme classroom management problems.
Remember, if you wish to get more thorough information, click
over to our site for free magazines, strategies, articles and
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and instruct problem and difficult students.