By Heather Teater, See the Triumph Contributor
Children today can be impacted by many different types of violence – intimate partner violence between their parents, direct abuse from family members, bullying at school, terrorism and violence in the news, dating violence in their own relationships – the list goes on and on. One area of violence that has been particularly on my mind since beginning my work with students has been the violence that occurs in schools. And I’m not just talking about the tragedies that we see in the news in the form of mass shootings – no one can deny that these experiences are traumatizing, even for those who were not directly involved. The violence that I think about most often is much more commonplace. Children who experience, witness, or participate in bullying, fights, and dating violence need our attention as well.
Putting an end to violence in schools is often seen as the responsibility of the school system, and to a large extent this is true. However, in order for true change to happen parents need to be involved in violence-prevention as well. Asking parents to take responsibility for violence in their children’s schools may seem ambitious, silly, even unreasonable, but if every single parent would help their own child(ren) understand the impact and consequences of violence, who would be left to perpetrate or perpetuate the violence? I know this is idealistic and that it is unlikely that we could get every parent to do anything, but why not take responsibility for your part? For those of you who are willing to try, here are a few concrete examples of how to prevent violence in your child’s school:
1) Try to keep your home violence-free.
This seems like a suggestion loaded with controversy. I’m not saying that you have to keep your children from watching superheroes in Saturday morning cartoons, but they need to understand the difference between violence on television and violence in real life – a distinction that can be difficult, particularly for young kids. Keeping the discussion about the effects of real violence will be key in deciding whether or not your children are ready to handle watching violence on television.
More controversial is the audacity to suggest that anyone chooses to stay in a house of violence - but that’s not what I’m suggesting. I realize that families can be stuck in a situation with domestic violence with no safe option to escape. In those situations it is important to keep a running discussion with your children to let them know that violence is not the answer, even if one parent seems to be demonstrating that to be so.
What I am also trying to say is: don’t take violence lightly in your household – don’t punch each other in the arm as a “playful” gesture or spank someone as you walk by. We want our children to understand that being aggressive toward others is not okay in any situation - whether serious or playful.
2) Talk to your children about violence.
Let your children know that it’s okay to ask questions or talk about things that they have witnessed/experienced at school. Talking to your kids about bullying and aggressive behaviors that they see at school can be a helpful way to get them talking about what they can do to stop the violence at school.
3) Don’t encourage your children to “fight back” when bullied.
The last thing that any of us want is to see those we love being bullied. It can be so easy to fall into the trap of telling your children to defend themselves, especially when we feel that teachers and administrators are not doing enough to prevent/address bullying going on in their schools. But teaching our kids to fight back is teaching them that violence can sometimes be the answer, and we don’t want that kind of gray area in their lives.
4) Seek professional help when your child has any part (the victim or the perpetrator) in school violence.
Though we don’t want your children physically fighting back against bullies, we do want to make sure that they are getting the support that they need. Being bullied can be very harmful to your child’s sense of self-worth and bullying others can be a sign of a deeper emotional hurt going on with your child.
5) Encourage other parents to do the same.
Talk to the parents of your children’s friends - see what they are doing to help prevent violence in school and bounce some ideas off of each other. If they haven’t thought at all about violence-prevention, give them some suggestions and let them know the importance of helping their kids be a part of the solution.
6) Talk to your local school districts to see how you can be involved in preventing violence in your schools.
Some schools already have initiatives in place to help prevent and eliminate violence. See if your school districts need help implementing or continuing these initiatives. If they don’t have any programs in place, see how you can help them develop one!
Preventing violence in schools is no easy task, but if we all band together and do our part we can feel safe sending our kids to school once again.
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