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Norms and Attitudes about Being an Active Bystander: Support for Telling Adults about Seeing Knives or Guns at School among Greater London Youth

Abstract

A detailed understanding of the factors associated with support among youth for reporting a knife or gun at school to an adult is essential to inform violence prevention initiatives. However, no studies have empirically assessed attitudes about support for reporting among secondary school students in Greater London nor perceived norms about such support among peers. Thus, this study explores whether students misperceive peer norms about support for telling adults about seeing weapons at school. Anonymous surveys were completed by 7401 youth (52% female; 43% White; mean age 11.8 years) in school years 4–11 in 45 school cohorts in a greater London borough between 2007 and 2012. Students reported both personal support about reporting weapons to several categories of adults and whether they perceived most other students at their school to support reporting weapons to adults in each category. Most students (64–78% on average) in most cohorts personally thought that students should report seeing a weapon at school to head teachers, police/security guard, teachers/counselors, and parent/other adult relatives. However, 34–44% of students erroneously thought that the majority of their peers did not support reporting to these adults. Perceived norms predicted personal support for reporting, adjusting for the prevalence of actual support at one’s school and other factors. Pervasive norm misperceptions about reporting may contribute to a less safe environment.

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Acknowledgements

The authors would like to thank Luke Roberts for his extensive collaboration in the collection of local school data for this study.

Authors’ Contributions

J.M.P. conceived of the study, participated in its design, drafted the manuscript, performed statistical analysis, interpreted data, and lead manuscript revisions. H.W.P. conceived of the study, participated in its design, conducted survey administration and coordination, participated in data interpretation and manuscript revisions. D.W.C. conceived of the study, participated in its design, conducted survey administration and coordination, and participated in manuscript revisions. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

Funding

JMP acknowledges salary support from NIH K01MH115811.

Data Sharing Declaration

This manuscript’s data will not be deposited.

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Correspondence to Jessica M. Perkins.

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All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional research committee (Hobart and William Smith Colleges Institutional Review Board case reference number 12–15) and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Local schools obtained informed consent of parents or guardians for students’ participation in this study in accordance with their standard procedures in the school district.

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Perkins, J.M., Perkins, H.W. & Craig, D.W. Norms and Attitudes about Being an Active Bystander: Support for Telling Adults about Seeing Knives or Guns at School among Greater London Youth. J Youth Adolescence (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10964-019-01127-7

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Keywords

  • Social norms
  • Injunctive norms
  • Peer norms
  • Weapons
  • Violence