Let it first be said that most threats by youths are never actually carried out. But in this day and age of rising youth violence rates, it is imperative that counselors in all areas of the profession be aware of the warning signs that can help you distinguish between a true threat and an empty one. In determining the legitimacy of a threat, as with anything else, you must consider the threat in the context of the person’s past behavior, personality, and the current stressors leading to the threat.

There are three main threats that should cause you to worry:

1: A person is threatening to or warning that he will kill or hurt someone.
2: A person is threatening to do something dangerous or potentially harmful to him or herself or to others.
3: A person has possession of or access to a weapon.
If a person falls under any of the above, you need to assess your next move by considering how serious the person appears to be, along with everything you know about the person who made the threat.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself to help you assess how seriously you should take the threat of violence:

Does he or she have a specific plan to carry out the threat?
Does he or she have the means to carry out the threat?
Does he or she have a past history of violent or aggressive behavior?
Has he or she ever brought a weapon to school?
Does he or she exhibit a pattern of making threats when angry or aggravated?
Is substance abuse or alcohol an issue for this student?
Is there a history of criminal behavior or destruction of property?
Has he or she ever been cruel to animals or set fires to things?
Is there a history of family conflict or volatility?
Is he or she involved in a gang?