Exposure to Violence

Barbara Chase


           Is there a way to avoid to exposure of children to violence? If there is, should it be a goal?

            I believe the goal of education should be for children to know the world and to learn to understand it. To exclude knowledge of a portion of the real world is to deceive the child. In today's world it is rarely possible to hide for long any portion of life, either as it exists or as it is imagined.

            Let us look closely at the role of parents and of schools as they relate to a satisfactory environment for encountering violence.

            Parents love their child, work to protect their child from any harm, and hopefully aim not to violate any of the child's needs. The child who is truly loved, cared for in a way that his/her needs are met, and respected for the individual s/he is, can be expected to reject violence as part of his/her living. Education to combat violence in the world begins in each home with attitudes of respect for each individual and of trust of each individual.

            In an environment of respect, trust, and caring, the child is not a victim of fear, and consequently s/he is able to openly integrate all new information and ideas as they come to him/her. That is not to say that the integration will not take time and will not require more questions. However, the absence of fear, together with patience, will prevent stagnation and allow fluidity in learning.

            I find it most curious that much of everyday treatment of children at home is not recognized as constituting violence against them. Here are some examples:

            Interruption of activities: When a young child is happy and totally involved in an activity of his/her own choosing, is that activity respected or is it interrupted for something an adult considers more important? For the older school age child, bells are used or other methods to interrupt one activity after another all day long. Concentration is broken; activity meaningful to the child that requires continuation for completion is not allowed. How better to teach that “concentration is not worthwhile?” How clear the violence toward the inner person and toward any real “learning!”

            Manipulation: This brings about results that someone else desires. Early in the young child's life, he/she is told to say “please,” “thank you,” or dressed in specific clothing in order to display manners pleasing to adults. In school the child is manipulated by a teacher, guiding his/her activities during the day, in order for him/her to learn certain “appropriate” subjects. Again, the violence is toward the inner child, toward that child's personal inclinations, in order to satisfy someone else's inclination.

            Manipulation to follow specific beliefs: When prayers are taught, speaking to a God that the child cannot see, does this not instill a fear and a worry? Doesn't this violate a child's innermost thoughts and the emphasis of a need to develop his/her own belief system?

            Disregard for young children's questions: This is mostly evident when adults do not listen, and consequently do not hear, usually because they are too busy dictating and guiding. This violence is exacerbated when the child accepts rejection and learns his/her questions are unimportant.

            Lack of regard for young children's curiosity: This is manifested not only when overt adult control is the rule of the day, but also when “planned activities” fill most of the day. Such violence, often clothed in benevolence, disregards the child's natural curiosity. By the time a child reaches older school age, s/he may expect to be constantly entertained, dictated to, and guided.

            Judgments adults render: These are the most overt forms of violence used every day against children. These range from reprimands to grades, and to a variety of rewards and punishments for not doing as demanded by others.

            Judgments create “prejudice,” a pre-judging of what is known, what should be known, what is thought. Judgment puts a stop to learning. Judgment creates a chasm between people. Judgment pits one person against another. These are the reasons I feel judgment to be an act of violence against children.

            Let us look at how respect, trust, caring, lack of fear, and patience can be positive influences in the functioning of the family unit. In such an environment, family adults will have a greater sense of freedom for their own personal growth. They will also have more opportunity to be positive role models. They will receive respect from children who are given respect, and thus their words of guidance and opinions will be taken more seriously. Resentment will be less likely. When belief in the child's natural curiosity is supported with trust and patience, there will be a joy of living within the family unit. Cooperation in planning family time together and meals together will be the norm, two-way conversation the rule.

            You may wonder how children become socialized in such an environment. The child is socialized by positive modeling, mutual respect, loving care, and patience. There are many ways in which a child says “thank you” when it comes from a feeling within, such as, “My mother and father will be happy when I tell them how nice you were to me,” or 'That was a really good meal, mom.” This child is also socialized by learning to think, to make choices, and to learn from mistakes, supported by caring adults.

            Another concern you may have is that of passing on your religion. When we think about passing on a specific religion to a child, we must also ask, “Does teaching it mean s/he is learning it?” Is the child understanding what is taught so that there is a sincere feeling for what the religious concepts mean? If parents practice the highest religious teachings of their religion, the child will learn the most important truths being practiced by their modeling.

            I have attempted to allay fears that some of you may have and to show the positive aspects of what can result when violent child rearing practices are replaced with more positive alternatives.

            Schools that are based on trust and respect for the child seek to eliminate fear. They must be staffed by people who care and who give each person time and space. Such schools combat violence and prevent violence as an acceptable component of society. Rules in the school exist to protect individual rights. For example, the Sudbury Valley School judicial system is one of the first things students become aware of, sooner or later have experience with, and learn how to use.

            I recall the impact the judicial system had on me when I first became an adult enrollee in the school in the early 1970's. I had been concerned about many social problems of the day and actively spent time learning and understanding their causes. Leaders of a group I'd been involved with in pursuit of knowledge advocated violence as justifiable in certain situations. I had real difficulty with the thought of violence as a solution. I could not see myself using violence as a means to accomplish my desires or to make changes I thought to be “right” or “better.” My early experience at Sudbury Valley confirmed the “rightness” of my hesitancy. In the school, there were always a variety of views expressed in debate. A solution was always arrived at through debate. No one person was always right. Arriving at a truth or an answer was given time and thought.

            Rather than attempting to avoid the exposure of children to violence, we should be working to provide a satisfactory environment in homes and schools. Parents and teachers who do not manipulate the child are the models by which children learn non-violence and begin to break the pattern of violence prevalent today.

            Given time, and in an environment absent of dictating and guiding, s/he can learn to regard his/her own questions as valid and as joyful.

            Again, given time and safe, supporting environment, s/he can learn to regard his/her own curiosity as valid and even joyful to satisfy.

            Violence is avoided when time and thinking are the order of each day; conflict that does arise is confronted peacefully and thoughtfully.





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