Psychologistssay not all loners are threats

A 17-year-old charged with attempted murder in a hammer attack on a female classmate two weeks ago had no previous record of violent behavior that the school was aware of, School Psychologists Dr. Sheila Siegel  and Luba Bek said. The most telling indicator that a student will commit an act of violence is previous violent acts and threats of violence, Siegel said.

“Any professional will tell you can’t predict violence,” Siegel said. “There’s no therapist who’s willing to predict violence, at least not anyone who’s good at what they do.”

After two students at Columbine High School in Colorado went on a deadly rampage in 1999, counselors taught students to reach out to somebody who is isolated and alone so that they can avoid this type of thing happening, Siegel said. But  isolation may not necessarily be an indicator of a troubled child, Siegel said.

“Some people are introverted, more introverted than others, and our society usually looks for extroverted people, social butterflies. If a person doesn’t fit in right away, society can label him or her a loner, but this does not make him violent at all. Being a loner is not a symptom of violence,” Bek said.
“It is important to distinguish between a kid who is unhappy being a loner and a student who is satisfied being a loner,” Bek said. “There are some introspective artists who are absolutely fine being on their own and aren’t very social. It’s also about how the person feels about himself or herself.”

A drastic change in lifestyle can also be evidence that there is something wrong with a student, especially if they have caused some sort of rift with the people around them.

“There has to be a change,” Bek said. “A student who used to hang out with his friends, and doesn’t anymore. A student who all of a sudden cuts all ties with the community. If he or she is disturbed or people around him or her are disturbed because of the behavior, that’s the finishing line that I usually go over when I decide whether I’m going to see the kid or not.”

Bek and Siegel keep an eye on students about whom faculty, friends of family have expressed concern. Bek and Siegel will err on the side of caution and sometimes call in students who could be absolutely fine. After talking to a student who they feel is a loner, Bek and Siegel will try to motivate that student to take part in school related activities.

“We ask them to join peer support and student clubs,” Bek said. “Eventually they find their niche and they prosper at this school.”