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Teenagers and Adults Differ on Causes, Cures for Columbine-Type Situations

Teenagers and Adults Differ on Causes, Cures for Columbine-Type Situations

New Gallup Youth Survey shows students blame other students


PRINCETON, NJ -- A new Gallup poll shows that America's teenagers put the blame for tragedies such as Columbine and the Thursday shooting outside of Atlanta directly on themselves rather than on parents, gun laws or media violence. The country's youth also suggest that one of the best ways to prevent future such occurrences is to find ways to foster better communication among students, and to break down the barriers that apparently create hostility between groups in today's American high schools.

The findings of a new Gallup Youth Survey, conducted among a random sample of teenagers aged 13-17 on May 5-17, show first and foremost that teens think the blame for school violence, in essence, lies within the social structure that dominates today's school scene. When asked directly to explain why they feel the Columbine tragedy occurred, 40% of teenagers give a response that, in one way or the other, focuses on problems of peer relations and peer pressures. The types of responses grouped in this category include the observations that students are taunted by other students, that they are picked on, that they are made to feel like outcasts, that they feel left out, that they have been pushed too far, and that they are lonely.

The second category of explanations for Columbine, used by 16% of teenagers in the survey, included comments focused on the perpetrators themselves: that they had personal problems, that they are sick, angry, confused, jealous, or "stupid." Another 7% of teenagers talked about the fact that warning signals were ignored by those involved, while 4% mentioned factors relating to the parents.

In short, about two-thirds of American students, when asked to explain the tragedy at Littleton, focus directly on students themselves, with these explanations more likely to be directed at the behavior of the students around the youths who did the shooting, rather than at the shooters per se.

A Gallup poll of adults, conducted several weeks ago, included the same question about the primary cause of the Columbine shootings. The responses given by grown-ups are significantly different from those given by students. Adults first and foremost blame parents and families for the tragedy -- a type of response used by 45% of the adults interviewed. Only 11% of parents mention personal problems relating to the teenagers themselves, followed by 8% who mention the lack of morals and religion in society, and another 6% who mention the prevalence of violence in the media.

In other words, students tend to look within themselves and at their peers, while adults tend to place blame on other adults and society at large.

The recent polling of both adults and youth also included a question asking these groups what can be done to prevent a future Columbine. The question of preventative steps is, of course, the key issue to come out of the Littleton incident, and one that has preoccupied Congress, pundits and experts in the month since the Littleton shooting occurred. These responses also have an increased urgency given the Thursday morning school shooting outside of Atlanta, Georgia.

Mirroring their views on the causes of the tragedy, the number one strategy suggested by adults for preventing future such events is to focus on the parents themselves, mentioned by 32% of those interviewed. Adults next mention tightened security at schools, mentioned by 16%, stricter gun control, and increased counseling and communication.

There is agreement among teens on the importance of school security. Twenty-four percent of teenagers -- the largest single category of responses -- think that better security would be the best way to prevent future such incidents. Following school security in terms of teenagers' suggestions: better communication and counseling, and trying to compel teenagers to get along, stop name-calling, and be nice to one another.

The importance of these preventive measures, underscored by Thursday's Georgia shooting, is apparent in the finding from the Gallup Youth Survey that 36% of all teenagers interviewed said they felt that there were young people in their schools capable of Littleton-type violence. Almost half said there were gangs in their schools capable of perpetrating violent acts.

For results based on the sample of American youth aged 13-17 (N=403) surveyed May 5-17, 1999, the margin of sampling error is ±5 percentage points.

(Teenagers) In your opinion, why did the shooting tragedy at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado happen? [OPEN-ENDED]

Peer Issues 40%
Personal Problems 16
Warning Signs Ignored 7
Parents, Family 4

(Teenagers) In your opinion, what could be done to reduce the likelihood of a situation like this happening at your own school? [OPEN-ENDED]

Better Security 24%
Counseling and Communication 18
Getting Along, Tolerance 18
Awareness 10

For results based on the sample of national adults (N=1,025) surveyed May 7-9, 1999, the margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.

(Adults) In your opinion, what is the single most important thing that could be done to prevent another incidence of school shootings by students, like the one in Littleton? [OPEN-ENDED]

Parental Involvement/Responsibility 32%
More Security at Schools 16
Better Gun Control/Laws/Issues 12
More Counselors/Counseling/Teachers 6

For results based on the sample of national adults (N=1,073) surveyed April 26-27, 1999, the margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.

Next we have some questions about the shooting at the Littleton, Colorado high school where 2 students killed 12 of their classmates and one teacher.

(Adults) First, in your opinion, why did this happen? [OPEN-ENDED]

Parents, Family 45%
Personal Problems 11
Lack of Morals/Religion 8
Media Violence 6

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