What have we learned from columbine: The impact of the self-system on suicidal and violent ideation among adolescents

Susan Harter, Sabina M. Low, Nancy R. Whitesell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations


This study first examined a model of the predictors and mediators of both suicidal ideation and violent ideation, particularly since both types of ideation were highly correlated (r =.55) among our young adolescent participants. The variables in the model were those identified in media accounts of the histories of the 10 high-profile school shooting cases, and that have also been included in our earlier model of the predictors of suicidal ideation, which we expanded to include violent ideation. Perceptions of competence or adequacy and social support from peers and parents predicted two mediators in the model, an adjustment/depression composite (self-esteem, hope to hopelessness, and affect, along a continuum from cheerful to depressed) and anger-induced physical aggression. These variables, in turn, predicted both suicidal and violent ideation. Secondly, we examined adolescents’ reactions to vignettes that described harassing events, at the hands of peers and teachers simulating the type of audience-observed ridicule experienced by the school shooters. We were particularly interested in the emotional reaction of humiliation, an effect that has received surprisingly little attention in the emotion literature. Humiliation was related to other emotions such as anger and depression, consistent with the co-occurrence of internalizing and externalizing symptoms demonstrated in the overall model. Next we compared those who reported that they would respond violently to the events in vignettes compared to those reporting nonviolent reactions. Examining the variables in the general model, those who reported violent ideation reported markedly lower perceptions of adequacy, lower levels of social support, lower self-esteem, greater hopelessness, depressed affect, and anger-induced aggression. The violent ideators also reported higher levels of both homicidal and suicidal ideation. Discussion focused on the fact that thoughts of violence toward others as well as toward the self have similar psychosocial origins that should be considered in prevention and intervention efforts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1015-1017
Number of pages3
JournalJournal of School Violence
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2003
Externally publishedYes


  • Adolescents
  • Columbine
  • Hopelessness
  • Self-esteemx
  • Suicide
  • Violent ideation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Safety, Risk, Reliability and Quality


Dive into the research topics of 'What have we learned from columbine: The impact of the self-system on suicidal and violent ideation among adolescents'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this