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On Children and Violence

On Children and Violence:

What Parents Need to Consider As We Teach By Example

In the 60’s, when I walked to elementary school each morning, holding the hands of my siblings, my greatest anxiety was whether the teacher would call on me that day. Or whether the boy I liked would talk to me. If I was mad at a friend, or if she was mad at me, I worried about whether we would play with each other at recess, or if I would play alone. Some kids bullied others and it made kids mad. Sometimes there would be physical fights. These would end when a teacher or another student stepped in. Everyone made up by the next day.

In high school in the 70’s, I worried about who I would sit with on the bus, what I was wearing, or whether the girls who liked the boy I was dating would tease me. Conflicts would be about popularity, dating or not getting invited into a social group. Maybe we’d argue. I sometimes witnessed physical fights. Someone might be suspended if the fight resulted in a disruption or a bloody nose.

Yes, kids could resort to physical acts of aggression. But, NEVER, EVER would there be a fear or even a thought of a student killing another student or teacher at school over a conflict.

I remember the worst tragedy during my high school years was of a female student being killed as she walked home from school by a mentally ill adult who had been stalking her. It was chilling and terrifying and people avoided walking home that way for a long time. But kids didn’t bring guns to school and kill people at school. It was unthinkable.

How do we comprehend the World of School today?

With this most recent school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas last week, we are all trying to digest the horror of children and teens murdering innocent classmates and teachers on average of 1 incident each week in the US since the beginning of 2018. Parents, grandparents, children, Americans of all ages, walks of life, races, and social groups are reeling in grief and horror! The whole world is in disbelief.

What?? Why?? How?? No! This can’t be happening! What has gone so horribly wrong in the life experience of children and teens in the last 20 years? Does the tragedy of 9/11 mark the beginning of this spiral into death and destruction, violence and hatred? We’re begging for answers, explanations to wrap our brains around these nightmarish and senseless tragedies. Who can stop this? How can we stop this? Many questions, complicated answers. One thing we all agree on is that IT MUST STOP!

August 1, 1966 was the date of the first mass public shooting on a college campus in the US at the University of Texas in Austin when a student, Charles Whitman, took 14 lives, wounding 31, as he opened fire from the university’s Main Tower. He had earlier killed his wife and mother; and his behavior was blamed on narcotics abuse and health, family and legal problems.

I actually came face to face with this horror when my daughter, Alex, was attending her sophomore year at University of Texas in Austin. It was October 2, 2010 and I was sitting in my Dr.’s waiting room when CNN began reporting on a shooter on the UT campus. Within minutes, I received a text from Alex saying, “Mom, our dorm in on lock down because there’s a shooter on campus. I’m ok and we are told to stay where we are while the police handle the shooter. I love you and I’ll call you as soon as I can.” Students were panicked and urged to remain indoors with their doors locked. Parents getting texts were in complete shock and fear.

OH MY GOD! A parent’s worst nightmare! A sophomore, Colton Tooley, described as quiet, shy and smart, from a good home, opened fire near the very site of the 1966 shooting. Luckily, he killed no one but himself inside the Library. My daughter’s dorm was right in the vicinity. It’s a situation that is indescribable. There was no warning, no apparent motive other than a student “wanting some notoriety.” But why does an otherwise “normal” college student seek recognition through an act of violence and death?

As we grapple with this and other questions, many of us find ourselves on Facebook expressing our views. These Facebook conversations are engaging, passionate and enlightening, sometimes getting to raw, vulnerable emotion. There are many reasons offered as to how children and teens have become murderers of other children and adults. All possible explanations have validity. Ultimately, we want to take a meaningful stand against violence and murder committed by and against children and teens in our schools.

This morning, I was involved in one such Facebook conversation. The dialogue that emerged about this urgent social and spiritual crisis is worth sharing. If you are a parent or caretaker of school aged children, I hope this will inspire you to teach the children in your care by your example. It’s about the best we can do in hopes of influencing our youth to value their own and other’s lives.

How can you be as in tune as possible to your child and their life experience? Their moods and behavior changes? How can you teach love and compassion? Valuing, protecting and honoring LIFE? ALL LIFE! How can you spend time with children in healthy, creative ways? Activities in which you are fully engaged in meaningful human connection and not with technological devices or “games” in which killing is the only motive and the end result. How can you teach about God, respect for life and peaceful, constructive ways to resolve conflict? 

Here’s an excerpt from today’s Facebook conversation on children and violence:

Audrey: Yep it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out why kids today are shooting each other up in schools. Sad.

(And there’s a link comparing the video games kids watched decades ago, like Pac Man, when there were zero elementary and high school shootings, to the video games kids have watched over the past 15 – 20 years, which are violent, killing based “games,” and the resulting 46 mass school shootings in 2018)

Mary Ellen: It’s so true! I saw this coming in my practice about 15 years ago when I talked to kids who told me, “I could kill and be killed and then pop back up and play another round” when they talked about the “games” they were playing. I saw them losing their ability to value life.

And now we see the long term effects of this loss of their souls. Troubled children today have brains and hearts that are disconnected from their souls. And ultimately, from life itself. Those kids I saw 15 and 20 years ago are young parents today. These adults are addicted to this violent “gaming.” They play with their children. My daily prayer is that restored Love for humanity will be the result of our national tragedies against our children. Our hearts are blown wide open in grief. We must all unite in prayer and teach all of our children compassion and the value of life. This violent “gaming” culture has to stop!

Jennifer: I don’t think we can point to any one thing and say this is why kids are killing each other. Because of that, I don’t think any one thing will solve the problem. I think the solution needs to be a combination of things, including mental health care, support for kids who are falling through the cracks, stronger gun control measures in some cases, limiting young kids’ exposure to violence in movies and video games, strengthening of the family and/or church in children’s lives, a focus on compassion, compromise, and caring rather than divisiveness, true connections rather than the relative anonymity of social media, etc.  Most of this does not have to be legislated. We can each make a difference in our own little corner of the world. Touching just one life can have a ripple effect.

Mary Ellen: Absolutely and well said Jennifer! Such an important conversation.

Jennifer: Thank you, Mary Ellen, for doing what you do to make a difference.

Audrey: I completely agree with both of your statements. I just saw this post and thought wow, growing up continually playing such violent games has to have some negative effect on a young person’s thinking.

Although no family was or is perfect, just about everyone I grew up with had a Mom and Dad at home. There was a lot more respect for God, parents, teachers, authority etc. I know at least for me, I never wanted to disappoint my parents or suffer the consequences of bad behavior. I don’t know what has happened to change America’s youth but something sure has in such a big way that these children continue committing mass murders at the levels we see today.

Jennifer: Audrey, our generation raised the next generation who are raising our grandchildren. It’s hard for me to blame society when we are society. Whatever the reasons, we need to do what we can to help turn things around. Not by preaching or trying to force others to change, but by doing what we can to be part of what is good in this world. At least that’s how I see it.

Mary Ellen: Jennifer, any spiritual practice where you raise the positive vibration of your own consciousness contributes to raising the positive vibration of the collective consciousness of humanity and the planet. This is what I’m committed to do in addition to my work as a therapist.

Many Human souls are wounded and open to the vulnerabilities of violence and hatred. But there are so many more human souls on the planet that are embracing and reaching for love and compassion in everyday living.

Because everything in our world is energy and vibration, every ripple affects us all. So, every day, reaching for the highest good we can, through love and positivity does make a difference. And any acts of kindness paid forward will affect the lives of others.

The greatest spiritual masters from Jesus to Buddha have all said the same thing, there are but two forces in nature, love and fear. Everything stems from these two. And the greatest and most powerful is LOVE!

Thanks for the conversation Jennifer and Audrey! Love to you both and to all you touch!

Audrey: My heart just goes out to any of these families whose children have been senselessly murdered. Praying that something changes soon as I fear for my little grandson, Anthony, and all children who have to go to school and participate in “active shooter” drills in addition to fire drills. No 5 year old should have to do this -not ever! It’s like a page out of a science fiction novel.

Mary Ellen: Audrey, I know. We never could have ever imagined a day when this would be our reality! More parents will be home schooling. I know I would strongly consider it.

Maybe you’ve also been involved in conversations like these. Please let me hear from you about your thoughts on this urgent subject of Children and Violence. Respond below in the comments section.

And thank you for doing your part to change the world for all of us and especially our children, their future and the future of humanity!

In closing, I leave you with the wisdom of the classic poem by Dorothy Law Nolte,

Children Learn What They Live

If children live with criticism, they learn to condemn.
If children live with hostility, they learn to fight.
If children live with fear, they learn to be apprehensive.
If children live with pity, they learn to feel sorry for themselves.
If children live with ridicule, they learn to feel shy.
If children live with jealousy, they learn to feel envy.
If children live with shame, they learn to feel guilty.
If children live with encouragement, they learn confidence.
If children live with tolerance, they learn patience.
If children live with praise, they learn appreciation.
If children live with acceptance, they learn to love.
If children live with approval, they learn to like themselves.
If children live with recognition, they learn it is good to have a goal.
If children live with sharing, they learn generosity.
If children live with honesty, they learn truthfulness.
If children live with fairness, they learn justice.
If children live with kindness and consideration, they learn respect.
If children live with security, they learn to have faith in themselves and in those about them.
If children live with friendliness, they learn the world is a nice place in which to live.

Poem Copyright © 1972 by Dorothy Law Nolte

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