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Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2007 at 5:15 PM
Raising a child is one of the most gratifying jobs you'll ever have and one of the toughest.
Talking With Kids About Violence
a child is one of the most gratifying jobs you'll ever have and one of the
toughest. Try as you might to be the best parent you can, our complex world
challenges you every day with disturbing issues that are difficult for
children to understand and for parents to explain. But explain we must, or we
miss a critical opportunity. Research shows that children, especially those
between the ages of 8 and 12, want their parents to talk with them about
today's toughest issues, including violence. Even when they reach adolescence,
they want to have a caring adult in their lives to talk about these issues. In
fact, those who have early conversations are more likely to continue turning
to their parents as they become teens.
today's world in the media, in our neighborhoods and even in our
schools can make our children feel frightened, unsafe and insecure.
Kids are hearing about and often must cope with tough issues such as
violence at increasingly earlier ages, often before they are ready
to understand all the aspects of complicated situations. Yet, there
is hope. Parents and other caring adults have a unique opportunity
to talk with their children about these issues first, before
everyone else does.
such complex times, parents have the ability to raise healthy,
confident, secure children who know how to resolve conflicts
peacefully and make smart decisions to protect themselves. Parents
should talk with their children to help them learn correct
information and to impart the values they want to instill. Parents
should also be a consistent, reliable, knowledgeable source of
information. Here are some tips on getting started.
Develop open communication
It is important that you talk with your kids openly and honestly.
Use encouragement, support and positive reinforcement so your kids
know that they can ask any question-on any topic-freely and
without fear of consequence. Provide straightforward answers;
otherwise, your child may make up her own explanations that can he
more frightening than any honest response you could offer. If you
don't know the answer, admit it-then find the correct information
and explore it together. Use everyday opportunities to talk as
occasions for discussion. Some of the best talks you'll have with
your child will take place when you least expect them. And
remember that it often takes more than a single talk for children
to grasp all they need to know. So talk, talk and talk again.
Encourage them to talk it out.
Children feel better when they talk about their feelings. It lifts
the burden of having to face their fears alone and offers an
emotional release. If you sense that a violent event (whether real
or fictional) has upset your youngster, you might say something
like, "That TV program we saw seemed pretty scary to me. What did
you think about it?" and see where the conversation leads. If your
child appears constantly depressed, angry or feels persecuted, it
is especially important to reassure him
that you love him and encourage him to talk about his concerns.
And if he has been violent or a victim of violence, it is critical
to give him a safe place to express his feelings.
Monitor the Media
Over the years, many experts have concluded that viewing a lot of
violence in the media can be risky for children. Studies have
shown that watching too much violence-whether on TV, in the
movies, or in video games-can increase the chance that children
will be desensitized to violence, or even act more aggressively
themselves. Pay special attention to the kinds of media your
children play with or watch. Parental advisories for music,
movies, TV, video and computer games can help you choose
age-appropriate media for your children. Try watching TV or
playing video games with your children and talk with them about
the things you see together. Encourage your children to think
about what they are watching, listening to or playing-how would
they handle situations differently? Let them know why violent
movies or games disturb you. For example, you might tell your
nine-year-old, "Violence just isn't funny to me. In real life
people who get shot have families and children, and it's sad when
something bad happens to them." Watching the news and other media
with your child enables you to discuss current events like war and
other conflicts, and can provide an opportunity to reinforce the
consequences of violence.
Parents and other caring adults can help tone down
the effects of these violent messages. Here's how:
•Actively supervise your child's exposure to all forms of media
•Limit TV viewing to those programs you feel are appropriate.
•Be selective about which movies your child sees and which video
and computer game he plays.
•Establish rules about the Internet by going on-line together to
choose sites that are appropriate and fun for your child.
•Consider using monitoring tools for TV and the Internet, like the
v-chip, a new technology that allows parents to block TV programs
they consider inappropriate.
•Take advantage of the ratings system that provides parents with
information about the content of a TV program or movie.
Acknowledge your children's fears and reassure
them of their safety
Children who experience or witness violence, as well as those who
have only seen violent acts on TV or in the movies, often become
anxious and fearful. That's why it's important to reassure a child
that their personal world can remain safe. Try saying something
like this to your 7 or 8-year-old: "I know that you are afraid. I
will do my very best to make sure you are safe." The recent school
tragedies in Colorado and in Georgia have shown that violence can
not only frighten children but can make them feel guilty for not
preventing it. By providing consistent support and an accepting
environment, you can help reduce children's anxieties and fears.
Take a stand
Parents need to be clear and consistent about the values they want
to instill. Don't cave in to your children's assertion that
"everybody else does it (or has seen it)" when it comes to
allowing them to play what you view as an excessively violent game
or to watch an inappropriate movie. You have a right and
responsibility to say, "I don't like the message that game sends.
I know that you play that game at your friend's house, but I don't
want it played in our house."
Control your own behavior
When it comes to learning how to behave, children often follow
their parents' lead, which is why it is important to examine how
you approach conflict. Do you use violence to settle arguments?
When you're angry, do you yell or use physical force? If you want
your child to avoid violence, model the right behavior for her.
Set limits regarding children's actions towards
Let your child know that teasing can become bullying and
roughhousing can get out of control. If you see your child strike
another, impose a "time out" in order for him to calm down, then
ask him to explain why he hit the child. Tell him firmly that
hitting is not allowed and help him figure out a peaceful way to
settle the problem.
Hold family meetings
Regularly scheduled family meetings can provide children-and us-
with an acceptable place to talk about complaints and share
opinions. Just be sure that everyone gets a chance to speak. Use
these meetings to demonstrate effective problem-solving and
negotiation skills. Keep the meetings lively, but well controlled,
so children learn that conflicts can be settled creatively and
Convey strict rules about weapons
Teach your child that real guns and knives are very dangerous and
that they can hurt and kill people. You might say, "I know in the
cartoons you watch and the video and computer games you play, the
characters are always shooting each other. They never get hurt;
they just pop up again later like nothing ever happened. But in
real life, someone who gets shot will be seriously hurt; sometimes
they even die."
Talk about gangs and cliques
Gangs and cliques are often a result of young people looking for
support and belonging. However, they can become dangerous when
acceptance depends upon negative or antisocial behavior. If you
believe your child might be exposed or attracted to a gang, talk
about it together. Look for an opportunity-say you see an ad for a
movie that makes gang life seem glamorous-and say, "You know,
sometimes it seems like joining a gang might be cool. But it's
not. Kids in gangs get hurt. Some even get killed because they try
to solve their problems through violence. Really smart kids choose
friends who are fun to be with and won't put them in any danger."
Many communities have programs that help prevent gang violence.
Talk with other parents
Help give your kids a consistent anti-violence message by speaking
with the parents of your kids' friends about what your children
can and cannot view or play in your homes. Ask other parents if
there's a gun in their home. If there is, talk with them to make
sure they've taken the necessary safety measures. Having this kind
of conversation may seem uncomfortable, but keep in mind that
nearly 40 percent of accidental handgun shootings of children
under 16 occur in the homes of friends and relatives.
Pay particular attention to boys
Most boys love action. But action need not become violence.
Parents must distinguish between the two and help their boys do so
as well. Allow them safe and healthy outlets for their natural
energy. And recognize that talking-especially about violence-is
different for boys than for girls. Boys may feel ashamed to
express their real feelings about violence. Instead of sitting
down for a " talk," initiate the topic while the two of you are
engaged in an activity he enjoys. Provide privacy for these
conversations. And be ready to listen when he's ready to talk,
even if the timing isn't ideal. (Pollack, Real Boys, 1998.)
Ask the schools to get involved
Find out about your school's violence prevention efforts.
Encourage the teaching of conflict-resolution skills and "peer
mediation" programs (where children counsel other children).
Suggest training teachers in de-escalating and preventing
Get additional support and information
We hope you have found this information helpful. If you still want
more information, contact any of these organizations listed or go
to the library or bookstore and check out these books for parents.
There are lots of people you can talk with like doctors, teachers,
members of the clergy or other parents.
What do I do if a kid at school is
picking on me?
A bully usually feels badly about himself and that's why he picks on
people. I know you want to stand up to him, but try hard not to get
mad or let him provoke
you. If you feel like you can handle it, try to stand tall and say,
"I'm not going to fight with you." But remember, you don't have to
handle it on your own. I'm there for you and if you need me to talk
with your teacher or principal, I will.
What do I do if I see someone bring
a gun to school?
If you ever see a gun anywhere, never touch it. It is important that
you tell an adult-like your teacher or us, right away. That way,
you'll stay safe and help make sure no one else gets hurt.
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