Malaysian Psychiatric Association - click for home
Malaysian Psychiatric Association
    About Us | Join Us | Contact Us
  Home »  Children & Adolescent »
» About MPA
» President's Message
» In the Press
» Misconceptions
» Mental Health
» Mental Disorders
» Children & Adolescent
» Management Guidelines
» Mental Disorders
» List of Psychiatrists
» Support & Caring
» Circle of Care
» Upcoming Events
» Early Career Psychiatrist
» Private Psychiatrists
» List of Hospitals
» Interactive Corner
» Newsletters & Bulletins
» Glossary
» Web Resources & Contacts
» Conferences
» Women MH Chapter
» International Society for Bipolar Disorder
» Gallery
» News & Updates
» MPA e-Newsletters
» Materials for Patients
» Announcements
» CPG & Other Guidelines
» MPA Educational Grant
» Advertisements
» Home

arrow Children & Adolescent

Children's Threats: When Are They Serious?

Date: 8 May 2008

Every year there are tragedies in which children shoot and kill individuals after making threats. When this occurs, everyone asks themselves, "How could this happen?" and "Why didn't we take the threat seriously?"

Most threats made by children or adolescents are not carried out. Many such threats are the child's way of talking "big" or tough, or getting attention. Sometimes these threats are a reaction to a perceived hurt, rejection, or attack.

What threats should be taken seriously?

Examples of potentially dangerous or emergency situations with a child or adolescent include:

threats or warnings about hurting or killing someone
threats or warnings about hurting or killing oneself
threats to run away from home
threats to damage or destroy property

Child and adolescent psychiatrists and other mental health professionals agree that it is very difficult to predict a child's future behavior with complete accuracy. A person's past behavior, however, is still one of the best predictors of future behavior. For example, a child with a history of violent or assaultive behavior is more likely to carry out his/her threats and be violent.

When is there more risk associated with threats from children and adolescents?

The presence of one or more of the following increases the risk of violent or dangerous behavior:

past violent or aggressive behavior (including uncontrollable angry outbursts)
access to guns or other weapons
bringing a weapon to school
past suicide attempts or threats
family history of violent behavior or suicide attempts
blaming others and/or unwilling to accept responsibility for one's own actions
recent experience of humiliation, shame, loss, or rejection
bullying or intimidating peers or younger children
a pattern of threats
being a victim of abuse or neglect (physical, sexual, or emotional)
witnessing abuse or violence in the home
themes of death or depression repeatedly evident in conversation, written expressions, reading selections, or artwork
preoccupation with themes and acts of violence in TV shows, movies, music, magazines, comics, books, video games, and Internet sites
mental illness, such as depression, mania, psychosis, or bipolar disorder
use of alcohol or illicit drugs
disciplinary problems at school or in the community (delinquent behavior)
past destruction of property or vandalism
cruelty to animals
firesetting behavior
poor peer relationships and/or social isolation
involvement with cults or gangs
little or no supervision or support from parents or other caring adult

What should be done if parents or others are concerned?

When a child makes a serious threat it should not be dismissed as just idle talk. Parents, teachers, or other adults should immediately talk with the child. If it is determined that the child is at risk and the child refuses to talk, is argumentative, responds defensively, or continues to express violent or dangerous thoughts or plans, arrangements should be made for an immediate evaluation by a mental health professional with experience evaluating children and adolescents. Evaluation of any serious threat must be done in the context of the individual child's past behavior, personality, and current stressors. In an emergency situation or if the child or family refuses help, it may be necessary to contact local police for assistance or take the child to the nearest emergency room for evaluation. Children who have made serious threats must be carefully supervised while awaiting professional intervention. Immediate evaluation and appropriate ongoing treatment of youngsters who make serious threats can help the troubled child and reduce the risk of tragedy.

  printer Printer-friendly version   printer Send link to a friend

| | | |
©Copyright Malaysian Psychiatric Association   2006 - 2011    All rights reserved.
designed & maintained: mobition