The Violence Epidemic (Against Children)
I know childhood is not the idyllic thing that reminiscing parents think it is. I remember being afraid I could not open the lock to my gym locker unaided in grade seven. I remember fearing the other girls would think I was too fat or too weird. I think I worried about everything except not being smart enough. I was lucky I had that one nailed.
If I work really hard and think back farther, I can remember being afraid of the dark. I got a teddy bear and a prayer book to deal with that one.
My mother spanked me exactly once, when I plucked a flower from a neighbor’s yard. It was wrong, and she explained to me why I got spanked. She never had to spank me again, as I was a rule respecting child.
I cannot remember and can barely understand, even now with my aggressive use of energy psychology, what it is like for a child to be a victim of assault or sexual or physical abuse, or even to live in fear of such abuse. It takes all my empathy to deal with such children as adults.
Recently the results of a study from the United States Department of Justice on the exposure of children to violence have been reported by USA Today.
Basically, more than 60% of children have had either direct or indirect exposure to violence within the last year. There are more detailed results of the study available; most of the real story is at this site.
It seems that the study was actually performed by the folks at a specialized research center at the University of New Hampshire, using national data, and published in the journal “Pediatrics” and the bulletin of the Office of Justice Programs, an organism of the feds.
This study found that more than a third of the children had two or more different kinds of exposures to violence in the past year and 11 percent had five or more such exposures.
Now what is amazing to me is the comments of the folks at the USA Today site, who think this is screwy data that is meant to follow somebody’s political agenda, and wrote one word or one line knee jerk responses.
This study is unique because it included all kinds of violence; observation of violence, being a victim of violence, everything you could think of, while most previous studies seem to have included only one kind of violence. The study was done by serious academic types.
I was super-shocked by what David Finkelhor, the director of the group at University of New Hampshire said about the results.
“Children experience far more violence, abuse and crime than do adults. If life were this dangerous for ordinary grown-ups, we’d never tolerate it.”
There is something very horrible going on. I have no idea of how to compare this data with other generations or other countries. I do know that exposure to violence, and we are not talking fictional or movies or television, has to have some kind of a psychological effect.
I have treated lots of adults who witnessed trauma or were traumatized in childhood. I am fairly hard put to think of anyone I have treated who has NOT had such trauma.
I flash back to a conversation in the living room of a friendly female pharmacist in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. I had told her that I had met a few people who did not like America or Americans, and I could not understand why, since I loved America dearly. She promised to invite her sons’ friends to dinner one night, and me as well. She did not think this was a terribly good idea, but she agreed it might be good for me to know.
Her son was an angry young man, but he explained to me patiently that my nation had been born in a revolution, giving me a heritage of violence, which was now expressed as violence in American cities, as well as a degree of filth and lack of pride (he had travelled American cities and cited many examples) which Canada would never put up with.
He said even our conquering of the West had been accomplished with guns. Canada had no such heritage, for the golden mace of power remained in Parliament, and the love and respect for the Queen meant peace in the land.
I refrained from debating with him, as his mother wished. I did not mention I knew some Canadian families who loved the hunt and even kept firearms over their mantles.
I do not believe violence to have ever been our birthright, nor our heritage. We needed a revolution, I think, as George III was fairly addled from the rare disease porphyria and there simply was not another way for this colony to mature into an independent country, as it had many reasons to do. The founding fathers I believe to have been correct in their deeds and actions.
I am deeply concerned, shaken to my very roots, by the degree of violence to which children are being exposed according to this study.
We need to train their parents. This is deeper than law enforcement, or the “coordination of service agencies” which seems to be the recommendation of the study.
If we required licenses for breeding children, we would only become totalitarian. But maybe we can impart those values which we would impart if we gave licenses. Maybe we can grow responsible adults.
Maybe we can choose curricula that include a module in conflict resolution on the high school level. Maybe we can reframe this mess — and make no mistake, it is a mess — into a way to do something positive to grow better people. Maybe the part about agencies is not irrelevant, as children tend to be marvelously honest, and can tell the truth about others who are giving them a culture of violence. But we need to start with this generation, and work into the next, doing something to make human beings better, perhaps even more resilient.
It starts with simple lessons. It starts with people learning to sit on the same side of the table instead of on opposite sides. It starts with learning to see other people as team members instead of adversaries.