By Sara Forcella, See the Triumph Contributor
We expect parents to teach children how to walk, talk and read, but do we ever think about what parents’ intimate relationships teach their children? For better or for worse, parents play a large role in teaching their children how to behave and function within the context of intimate relationships.
If you have been following our blogs at See the Triumph, than I am sure by now you know that intimate partner violence (IPV) is a serious, preventable public health concern that affects millions of people around the world. IPV is serious-- it can lead to low self esteem, anxiety, depression, homelessness, physical injuries and even death. However, it can also be prevented!
In order to help prevent IPV we must understand some of its underlying causes. There are many different theories of what fosters the development of intimate partner violence, one of these is the Social Learning Theory. This theory suggests that intimate partner violence is a learned behavior. Children learn violent patterns of behavior at home or from our culture, which models, rewards and supports violence against others (Wolfe & Jaffe, 1999).
In much the same way that children learn language and decision-making skills, they may learn how to abuse others (Wolfe & Jaffe, 1999). Therefore, parents have a major responsibility to teach their children how to act in intimate relationships.
When family members or other role models use abusive behaviors, children begin to model these behaviors. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence states that “witnessing violence between one’s parents or caretakers is the strongest risk factor of transmitting violent behavior from one generation to the next.” Children also learn these behaviors through reinforcement and punishment (Wolfe & Jaffe, 1999). For instance, when a parent slaps their child when he or she does something wrong, this child may learn that it is appropriate to lash out against others to punish them.
Teaching children about IPV is a continuous process. When adolescents begin dating, parents can encourage them to be quality and caring partners. It’s important to teach teens what is and is not acceptable in dating relationships. Teaching children and teens the skills necessary to foster and maintain a healthy, non-violent, intimate relationship is crucial for their well being!
Here are some suggestions for helping to prevent your child from becoming a victim or perpetrator of IPV:
Provide Them with Safe Homes: Children who live in homes where IPV occurs are more likely to become a victim or perpetrator even if they are not being abused. Witnessing a parent being abused is traumatic--it can also teach children that abuse is an acceptable way to deal with partners.
Model Nonviolent Behaviors: Teach your children how to deal with stress and anger. Just as you would show them how to brush their teeth, show them how you handle conflict in constructive ways. Teach them how to communicate with others without using physical, emotional, or verbal abusive. Speak to and treat your partner, children, and others with respect and tolerance.
Fight Gender Stereotypes: In today’s society, children face much pressure to fit into typical gender stereotypes--girls are told to be sensitive and quiet, while boys are told to be aggressive and strong. Gender is socially created; therefore, not all girls and boys will act these specific ways. It’s important for parents to encourage both their boys and girls to be caring, compassionate members of society. Putting strict labels on how young men are expected to act sometimes reinforces the ideal that to be man they have to be aggressive or violent. Ideologies like this reinforce that violence against women is acceptable.
Speak Up: Talk to your children about IPV, and don’t assume that they are too young to understand what it is. Teach your children that abuse is never OK.
Keep Lines Of Communication Open: Make sure that your children feel safe and supported. Encourage them to ask questions and speak to you when they are concerned or confused about something that’s taking place in their or a peer’s relationship.
Be Supportive and Loving: Make your child feel loved and proud of who they are! Support and encourage them to develop into creative, caring, confident and compassionate individuals.
Wolfe, D. A., & Jaffe, P. G. (1999). Emerging Strategies in the Prevention of Domestic Violence (3rd ed., Vol. 9 ).
By Sara Forcella, See the Triumph Contributor
There are a number of concerns for children who are raised where intimate partner violence (IPV) is present. Even if a child is not physically abused, there are typically severe consequences that coincide with witnessing a parent being abused. Children’s brains are continually developing; therefore, being in homes where IPV is present can be cognitively, behaviorally, developmentally and emotionally stunting.
IPV affects children in a multitude of ways; the Child Welfare Information Gateway states that children who deal with violence at home face issues such as increased levels of anger and fear, poor social skills, poor relationships skills and a low self-esteem. Being raised in a home where partner violence is present can even be an indicator for future alcohol/drug abuse as well as juvenile delinquency. Witnessing violence between parents at a young age is also one of the main reasons that violent behavior is passed along from one generation to the next. Children who witness IPV in their homes, especially boys, are also more likely to be abusive to their own partners and children in the future (Source: The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence).
Considering the negative effects that intimate partner violence has on children, our society needs to be aware that 7 million children live in homes where severe domestic violence has occurred (Source: futureswithoutviolence.org). This is an important statistic to remember, considering that 30-60 percent of perpetrators of IPV also abuse their children (Source: The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence). Even if a child is not being physically abused, witnessing the abuse, or simply seeing its aftermath is detrimental to children and is something that no child should have to worry about. All children deserve to live in a safe and healthy environment.
If you suspect that a child is being abused or living in a home where domestic violence is occurring, please take the first step and report it to your local law enforcement or child protective services agency. Simply being aware and raising your voice can save a child’s life.
By Monika Johnson Hostler, Executive Director of the North Carolina Coalition Against Sexual Assault
See the Triumph Guest Blogger
I still remember it like it was yesterday. It was a beautiful May morning, the day the doctor would confirm it was a girl. The moment I knew I was pregnant I also knew it was a girl. When the doctor confirmed it, one tear slipped from the corner of my eye.
I knew that single tear held multiple emotions. I felt sheer joy and elation to be able to give what my mother gave me: the power to be an individual, a strong women. I also realized I was going to give birth to a daughter in a violent world. A world that is not only violent, but silently accepts the violence.
However in the same 60 seconds I also realized I had spent the last ten years dedicated to ending violence again women, girls and our most vulnerable. So yes, I was capable of raising a daughter, and yes, she too could survive and thrive because I still have hope. Hope that we are laying the foundation, building the infrastructure needed for a world of peace, love, and all that good stuff.
As it turns out that was the first of many moments of conflicting emotions about my role as a parent and as a womanist and they still persist today, nine years later. The internal conflict begin as we thought about names, bought clothes, chose paint, you know all the stuff most new parents enjoy. Now, I am not saying I didn't enjoy it, but I am saying doing this work makes most of us hypervigilant about everything.
This experience was sobering in so many ways because all the research I had touted about raising girls and boys with equity and equality included ideologies like: use neutral colors, neutral language and let them choose their own path. That went out the window the first time I saw an adorable pink, ruffled dress that my princess had to have. To most people, this doesn't seem strange but my sisters in the work will understand that pink and blue are gender-prescriptive stereotypes that contribute to beliefs that girls are less than boys and perpetuate violence against girls. I bought the dress and many more like it, but not without the struggle.
In the months to follow that I spent on bed rest, I didn't read any parenting books. Instead, I spent the time in my head. I needed to reconcile what was going on for me, as an advocate who was soon to be a mother. I concluded that as humans, we are complex and multidimensional and can hold many ideologies and beliefs. Being rigid in my beliefs worked when I was only responsible for myself but parenting made it clear to me that I would learn to be flexible. I also recognized there are many roads that lead to ending violence against women and children; not all roads are one-way. The pink dresses were not a one-way road to condoning violence.
Eight and a half years later, I can see the self-evaluation and reconciliation were worth it. I am still a strong passionate advocate that believe we will end violence against women and children. Most importantly, I remember the key is prevention, and that means investing in children. Violence prevention is about culture and norm changes. Making sure ALL children are safe, healthy and loved is an investment in a future without violence.
The moral of the story isn't about my daughter being a princess in pink, but it is about the reality of being a parent. Parenting is challenging and requires constant self-assessment. I still don't have an answer on how we raise children in a world full of messages that perpetuate patriarchy and violence. But, below are a few things that help me in holding both roles while maintaining my sanity.
I can only hope that my daughter will see my decisions as an investment and that she too will be a change agent. Parenting and ending violence against women and children is everyone's responsibility and it begins with PINK: Protecting, Investing and Nurturing ALL Kids.
About the Author: Monika Johnson-Hostler is the Executive Director of the North Carolina Coalition Against Sexual Assault. Prior to coming to NCCASA, Monika worked at the local rape crisis center in Scotland County as the Crisis Intervention Coordinator. Monika has been an activist in the social justice movement for over 15 years. In that time, she has presented on the issue of sexual violence to numerous communities including the Joint Task for the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Military Academy subcommittee. Johnson-Hostler serves as the board chair of the National Alliance Ending Sexual Violence (NAESV), one of the policy entities responsible for the passing of the Violence Against Women Act and securing over $420 million for violence against women work across the country. Monika was appointed by the Obama administration to serve on the National Advisory Committee on Violence Against Women.
By Kris Macomber, PhD
See the Triumph Guest Blogger
As a parent committed to non-violence, I know that the first few years of my son’s life are a special, sacred time. I know that for a brief period of time, he will know only my version of the world—a world where peace, love, safety, and self-freedom overflow. A world where all forms of violence are non-existent and where cultural definitions of “masculinity” are relatively inconsequential for him. I am happy knowing that he will live in this special world, even for just a few years. I know that, eventually, the violent culture he was born into will show him a different version of the world—a world where domestic and sexual violence is normalized and widespread, and where boys and men are socialized to be complicit with it, or at the least, consider it unremarkable.
As a sociologist, I study and teach about things like childhood gender socialization, the construction of “masculinity” and “femininity” in mass media, and gender-based violence (including domestic and sexual violence). Although these may seem like distinct societal trends, it is my job to identify how patterns of daily life connect them. That is, if we place violence against women at the end of a continuum, we would place childhood gender socialization (i.e. telling a boy to “man up,” “stop acting like a girl,” and marketing toy guns to boys) at the beginning of the continuum. Then, from there, we would place many other patterns across the continuum (the sexual objectification of girls and women, victim blaming, the stigmatization of victimization, and homophobia and heterosexism, to name a few).
So, as a parent and as a sociologist, I am tuned-into this continuum and to how Kaden, my son, who is 4 years old, is experiencing and making sense of different parts of it. I am concerned about how he is confronted, again and again, with media images and other forms of consumer culture that depict boys and men as dominant and aggressive, while depicting girls and women as compliant and ornamental. We see this in everything from children’s books, to television shows, to advertisements, to movies, to computer games. This is the world he has inherited.
Raising Full Children
As Kaden navigates the world around him, I am concerned with how narrow gender expectations and the association between “masculinity” and violence will impact how he thinks of himself, of other boys and men, and of girls and women. If he learns that acting “girly” is supposedly one of the worst things he can do, what is he then learning about the worth and contributions of girls and women? Also, what will he think about people who don’t identify with our rigid gender binary? And perhaps the most important question, what is he learning about the relationships and connections between these groups of people?
I want to help my son develop his full human potential, not just the parts of him that match societal assumptions about what it means to be a boy. What does that even mean anyway, to be a “boy?” Shouldn’t we teach our children to strive to be good people, rather than “good boys,” or “good girls?” Doesn’t the latter limit all that they can be?
So, as a parent trying to raise a non-violent child in a violent culture, what do I do?
I do the one thing I can do. I ask questions. That is, I ask Kaden questions, lots and lots of questions. My hope is that by asking him questions, I can help him develop what I call social literacy—the ability to read and interpret the world around him. I ask him questions about the images he views, about the stories we read together, about the toys he plays with, about the interactions he has with people, and about the feelings he feels.
Developing Social Literacy: The Importance of Asking Questions
As parents, we help our children learn to do so many wonderful things. We teach them how to ride a bike, to swim, to read, to write, to count, to be polite and kind to others. We can also teach them how to make sense of the social world they live in, and how to think more critically about it. My hope is that if I keep asking Kaden questions, he will eventually start asking his own questions.
One thing that asking questions can do is help children develop media literacy skills. Right now, Kaden is young enough that I can monitor and control most of the media he consumes. However, this will get harder as he gets older and becomes more independent. He will be exposed to more violent imagery and to ideas that support the use of violence as a way to handle conflict, especially for boys and men. If he learns to ask questions about the media he consumes, and if he learns to see the media through a more critical lens, he might be better able to assess and analyze it, rather than simply accept it for what it. Some questions I have asked him are: “Can girls and women be superhero’s too?” And, “Why do you think the people who make movies always make a “bad guy” character?
Asking questions can also help nurture children’s emotional expression, which for boys is especially important because they will face pressure to suppress their emotions. I frequently ask Kaden questions like, “How does that make you feel?” And, “When she hurt your feelings, what was it that made you feel bad?” Being able to articulate their feelings is critical for children’s emotional development and well-being. It also takes practice. Asking questions is one way to help them practice
I also think it’s important to ask questions that nurture their capacity for empathy, which I try to do by asking him questions about how others might feel. For example, when we were at a playground one afternoon, Kaden was playing with a group of older children and one of the older boys said, “Let’s make a fort, but there’s one rule. No girls allowed.” I asked Kaden afterwards, “If you were a girl, how do you think that rule would make you feel?” He said, “It would hurt my feelings because it’s not very nice.” We talked about it some more and I introduced the concept of fairness to him. I wasn’t sure if he understood what I meant, but it was a start.
A few months later, a similar situation occurred. We were at the same playground and, again, an older boy said, “Come on, let’s go on the merry-go-round! Just the boys.” Kaden said, “That’s not fair. Everyone come on the merry-go-round.” I watched with pride as those children spun around in circles.
By holding space for him to engage his feelings, and by nurturing his capacity for empathy, I hope he continues to develop a vocabulary for discussing his emotions, and the confidence to do so.
Preparing them for the Riptide
When I think about the powerful influence that culture has on our children, especially media culture, the image of a riptide always comes to mind. The better prepared our children are to confront the riptide, the better their chances are of not being carried out to sea. I certainly don’t have all the answers. But, what I do have is a steady supply of questions.
I will continue to ask Kaden questions to help him cultivate good social literacy skills and to help him develop his full, human potential. It is my hope that as he grows older, he matures into the loving, peaceful, and empathetic person he is at this very moment.
Author Bio: Kris Macomber, PhD, is a sociologist who specializes in gender-based violence, childhood victimization, gender in the media, applied and public sociology, and community-based research. Kris earned her PhD from North Carolina State University, where her dissertation research examined men’s growing involvement in the anti-violence against women movement. Kris’s publications span a variety of academic and applied outlets, such as: The Sociology of Katrina: Perspectives on a Modern Catastrophe, Feminist Teacher, The Journal of Popular Culture, and Teaching Sociology. She is a passionate anti-violence activist and educator who loves teaching students about sociology and social justice issues. She is currently an adjunct faculty member in the Department of Sociology at Meredith College, in Raleigh, NC.
Kris gives talks and presentations on the following topics: “Men As Allies: Mobilizing Men to End Violence Against Women,” “Male Privilege in Violence Prevention Work,” “Practitioner-Researcher Collaborations,” “Gender in the Media,” “Gender Inequality,” and “What is ‘Rape Culture?’
You can also visit Kris's Everyday Sociology Facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Everyday-Sociology/245523538906269?ref=hl#
By Maxine Browne, See the Triumph Guest Blogger
Part of our Series on “Parenting Toward Nonviolence”
I got out of a 10 year marriage characterized by extreme control. Although there was almost no physical violence in the relationship, the severe verbal, emotional and psychological abuse was off the charts. I had been erased as a person. I was crushed into dust.
After I left and began rebuilding my life, I had one persistent fear: How could I prevent my (then) 10-year old daughter from marrying someone like her father because this was all she has ever seen?
I did not want to undermine her relationship with her dad. However, I could not allow her to think that his way of doing things was acceptable. So, I began pointing out what healthy behavior looked like whenever unhealthy behavior was present.
When he would call and hang up and call and hang up, screaming into voicemail, demanding that I answer the phone immediately, I would say, “When someone does not answer the phone, you leave a voicemail. When the person is available, they will call you back. What you are seeing is not healthy behavior.”
When he would say horrific things about my side of the family, I would tell her, “Just because Daddy says it doesn’t mean it’s true.” Then, I would bring her around her family as frequently as possible so that exposure to them would in itself dispel his lies.
As she grew, she seemed to figure some things out on her own. She recognized stalking behavior when she saw it and she named it as such. She grew to love her family, in spite of the things he had said. She exhibited healthy behaviors.
As she attended high school, I saw that she now had extracurricular activities and needed a cell phone for communication. So, my new husband and I provided one for her. Her father had a fit and said that he did not want her to use it during the weeks she was in his house. (This happened to be the times when she needed the phone the most because he had her during the school week.) She asked to be able to have the phone anyway and said she would make sure Dad did not find it. We agreed after warning her that this was a risky decision.
Well, a few months into this plan, she used the phone to call home to let her father know that she was getting a ride home from school due to an after-school meeting. When she arrived home, he was furious that she had the cell phone. He demanded she give the phone to him, whereupon he dropped it into a five gallon bucket of water and left it there for 24 hours. She called us to let us know what had happened.
Oh God! Another teaching moment! And this one would require more drastic classroom tactics. I wanted to teach her that no one has the right to destroy your property, especially since she had been raised in a home where her father went through my purse and other belongings and where there were no boundaries when it came to property. This lesson mattered.
I called my ex and explained that we were going out of town for two weeks. When we returned, I expected my daughter to have in her hand a phone of the same model and with the same features as the phone he had destroyed. If he did not replace the phone, I would then call the police and have him arrested for destruction of property.
When we returned from the trip and my child arrived for my visitation weekend, she had the new phone in her possession. I was, however, frustrated by what she said to me. She said, “Why did you do that to Dad?”
I wanted to scream! Instead, I told her, “I did that for you. I was trying to teach you that no one has the right to destroy your property. It is wrong. It is even illegal. The lesson was for you. It really had nothing to do with your father.”
My daughter is now 19 and in her second year of college. There are fewer classes these days, but I still play watchdog. I am determined to break the cycle of domestic violence with me.
One failed marriage and two kids later, Maxine Browne married a man she thought was the answer to her prayers. He turned out to be her worst nightmare. After 10 years of debilitating emotional and psychological control, she found herself contemplating suicide. She left instead and rebuilt her life from nothing. This transformational experience made such an impact on her that she committed her life to empowering others. Maxine Browne uses her inspirational story as a keynote. She facilitates workshops on The Dynamics of Domestic Violence, Rebuilding Your Life after Divorce, and Co-Parenting with Your Crazy Ex. Maxine co-authored the International Best Seller, The Missing Piece compiled by Kate Gardner. She is the author of Years of Tears, the story of her family’s journey through domestic violence and recovery. Contact Maxine to speak at your next event at email@example.com. Visit her website at www.maxinebrowne.com.
By Christine Murray, See the Triumph Co-Founder
I have a confession to make. Despite the fact that I’m a passionate advocate against violence in all forms, I am also a mom who regularly hears exchanges like the following one in my own home:
But still, I struggle as a parent in thinking about how my children view violence and fighting as entertainment. And, to them, it is truly so fun! These play fights are times when they seem to laugh the hardest. They often seem like they could play like this for hours without getting bored. It seems to be one of the greatest ways they bond, too.
One thing I find fascinating is that they seem to have a highly developed set of rules of fair play when it comes to their fighting. For example, they may thrust their swords toward each other, but they rarely actually hit each other, and when they do, the one who was hit usually yells, “No hitting!”
And yet, I cringe every time I hear and see my boys play like this, and in truth this issue is one that I struggle with a lot as a parent. I want my children to grow up to be loving, peaceful, nonviolent individuals. I want them to be free from perpetrating or experiencing violence in any form--physical, emotional, and sexual. I want them to become advocates against violence and abuse, in whatever big or small forms that may take.
Could I stop this? I don’t know! When I was watching my one son practice his ninja moves, I asked him how he learned those moves. He told me he practices them when he’s alone in his room. I can’t conceivably watch every move my kids make every moment of every day, can I?
Believe me, I have tried so hard to not allow violent play to enter their lives. One time, when my older son was in preschool, he and his buddies became fascinated with guns. At that time, I hadn’t allowed any toy guns into my home, and still today that is a type of toy I do my best to avoid. However, he and his friends became highly creative and skilled at making their own “guns” with other objects, and when all else failed, with their fingers. I would say, “We don’t play with guns in our family.” And what I’d always hear back was, “But it’s not a gun.” I heard lots of creative stories about what the not-a-guns really were, the best being a “jelly shooter.” I realized through all of this that I am somewhat limited in what I can do to stop my kids from taking part in play that has violent undertones.
I’ll only touch on my thoughts about how gender factors into all of this here. I don’t buy into the notion that “Boys will be boys” and so somehow they are entitled to violent play. I do think that somehow the fact that they are boys plays into this, but from a parenting perspective, I have no female children of my own to compare them to. One observation I’ve had is that they seem in tune with gender rules around aggression and roughhousing. For example, they typically ask adult males to wrestle and roughhouse, but not females. As their parent, regardless of the fact that they are boys, I want them to be peaceful and learn nonviolent ways of resolving conflict and being entertained.
What can I do? I’m still figuring out the best ways to handle this. I am guessing some people will read this and think I’m overreacting to so-called “normal” boy behavior, or at least perhaps I’m over-thinking it. But, I want to be intentional about helping my boys grow into nonviolent adults, so here are a few of the ways I try to address their violent play.
First, to some extent, I let them learn the natural consequences of fighting and violence. This one still hasn’t quite sunk in for them, but when one of them gets hurt as a result of fighting, I talk with them about how that is what happens when people are rough with each other. I want them to learn that violent behaviors have consequences, whether these consequences are physical, emotional, or damaging to their relationships.
Second, I use their play fights as learning opportunities for all of us. I ask them a lot of questions to try to understand more about why they think this is fun, how they know not to hurt each other, and what it’s like for them when they’re play fighting. We’ve had some great conversations about all of these topics, and it’s helped me to understand why they enjoy this type of play so much.
Third, I try to keep an ongoing conversation with them (at an age-appropriate level, of course) about violent and unhealthy versus safe and healthy relationships in all areas of their lives. This includes the media they watch and use, as well as their experiences with their peers. Recently, we’ve been talking a lot about bullying at school, including various options for responding if bullying occurs.
And finally, I keep a close watch on their behaviors so that I can be certain that their play doesn’t cross over the fine line between play fighting and sibling abuse. I make sure the laughter far, far outweighs the tears. I watch and listen to make sure I don’t see any signs that would alert me that the line has been crossed, such as if one child was pummeling the other all the time, if one child was consistently using more force than the other, and if I noticed any changes in either child’s behavior or mood.
Parenting is the hardest job I’ve ever had. There are few things I want more for my boys than peaceful, loving, safe, and happy relationships throughout their lives. Every day, I can do my best to model that for them and to help them learn how to build that kind of relationship with the important people in their lives.
By Laura Fogarty, See the Triumph Guest Blogger
Secrecy. Lies. Guilt. Shame. These are the cornerstones of any abusive family. It doesn’t really matter the type of abuse, or the severity; the secrets, the lying, the overwhelming guilt and shame are there. In my case, for my childhood, it was sexual abuse that caused the secrets, and the lies, and the guilt and the shame. I hadn’t even acknowledged my own abuse before I had children, but before I ever admitted anything to myself, I knew I wanted things to be different for them.
If you ask my children, they will tell you I never lied to them. Ever. Sometimes, I bet they wished I would have. As they have grown up and grown older, I think it is one of the things they have come to count on: they can trust me. “Is there really such thing as the Easter Bunny?” my then two-year-old asked. My answer, “No. I’m sorry, but no. He is make-believe.” There is probably some appropriate middle ground between the lies and the secrecy of abuse and the honesty that I required of myself, but I couldn’t find the way there and so I made truth the only option, no matter the circumstances. I never kept secrets. I told them anything and everything they wanted to know.
Breaking the cycle is not an insurmountable task, nor is it an easy one. I went to the opposite end of the spectrum for my children. I was young and naïve. I thought if I gave them my time, and my heart, and my honesty that I would have successfully broken the cycle for my children. I believed if I was nice, they would be nice and that was my only rule – “be nice.” Again, there has to be a middle ground between abuse and never showing negative emotions. Thankfully, for my children, my approach worked. They were and are kind, considerate, wonderful people. When they were little, I thought if I was angry it made me a bad person. It took me a long time to realize that I was allowed to be angry. It’s what you do with the anger, or in the midst of it, that makes you either abusive or not. Simply having a negative emotion doesn’t make you horrible; it makes you human.
While my parenting tactics worked for my family, my children, they may or may not work for others. No one way of parenting works for every child or every family, and I certainly don’t claim to know everything, but I do know this – every child deserves a peaceful, safe home, and it doesn’t really matter the reason for creating it for them.
Laura Fogarty writes “AskLala” for the Stop Abuse Campaign and is a certified facilitator for Darkness to Light. She is a mother, an advocate, and the author of two children’s abuse prevention books: I’m the Boss of Me and We Are Just Alike! As a survivor of child sexual abuse, she is dedicated to raising awareness about the culture of abuse in order to prevent it. Laura lives on the beach in Charleston, South Carolina.
By Karen Bean, See the Triumph Contributor
There was a random shooting at a local mall, Concord Mills, recently. Violence of this nature seems to be on the rise and its proximity to my home in north Charlotte makes it somehow even more real and unsettling. How do we raise peace-loving children when violence is all around us? News stations seem to lead with the latest story of violence. Plots of movies, video games, and television programs frequently focus on violence shown in graphic detail.
My sons are adults now and, while we did not have toy guns in the house when they were growing up, they went through phases in which action figures with a host of tiny weapons dominated their play. Today my sons are both pursuing careers in which non-violence is an integral part. I am incredibly proud of them and asked them to reflect on the source of their non-violent natures. They did not provide much detail, but the singular answer was – mom and dad. I wonder - how does this parent/child dynamic really work?
Decades of child development research suggest a relationship between optimal functioning children and parenting behaviors such as being attentive, stimulating, loving, and responsive with infants; and providing continued nurturance combined with warmth and consistent discipline as children grow into teens. It is complicated, though, because parenting does not occur in a vacuum. According to Belsky, influences include: parents’ own upbringing and experiences, the unique characteristics of the child, and the context of support and stress. The interaction of family, home, school, social media, and an instantaneous news cycle in a violent culture all have impacts large and small.
Looking back on the time when my sons were growing up, I can think of many things I wish I had done or said differently. But perhaps the best we can do is to try to honor the value of each and every human being that we interact with each day. It may seem like a small thing, but it could serve as an example for children and, if this approach were embraced by society, the collective affects could take us a long way towards a peaceful world.
Belsky, J. (1984). The determinants of parenting: A process model. Child Dev. 55: 83–96.