We behave in our civic and political lives as though anything goes, so long as it fits our side of the issues. And we are endlessly surprised when our children show themselves to be heartless teasers, graceless winners, bitter losers, self-centered jerks – and occasionally killers. William Raspberry
One way to help our troubled youth is to begin looking at their disruptive actions. School violence is a microcosm of disturbances in society. What bothers us, bothers our children.
Violence occurs whenever anyone inflicts or threatens to inflict physical or emotional injury or discomfort upon another person’s body, feelings or possessions. (Violence in Schools: The Enabling Factor by Carole Remboldt)
Remboldt claims aggression is so prevalent in our society, as seen in the news, video games and movies, that we do not convey strongly enough that it is not an acceptable form of expression. Her book was published in 1994. The problems of today have roots that go back decades, probably longer. She states that while educators know what is going on in their schools, they often feel powerless to act. Tolerance and lack of action may be viewed as permission to be violent. This perceived consent encourages unintentional enabling.
Think about that and reread the quotation at the beginning of this piece. Do we as a society or individuals enable violence?
There is often a well-defined group of students involved in starting fights and threatening others. We know which kids in schools or at home are continually in trouble and creating problems. Too often bullying in the classroom, on the playground, or on social media is ignored. Whatever the reason, the result is the same – condoning violence.
We also know which kids are the outsiders that are picked on and ostracized. Their anger can escalate. It may not be the bully who is fighting or shooting, but the victim. We have seen this play out in recent shootings. While victims should stand up for themselves, have we failed to provide an effective way for them to do that?
The caution is to be aware of the potential for cruelty and not dismiss incidents for fear of getting involved or thinking “Oh, that’s just the way kids act.” All such acts or threats are serious.
Harming another or damaging someone’s property is an act of violence. But ridiculing someone is the same. Free speech is an important right but not an excuse for hurting another. What if we enforce this intolerance in our schools, in our homes and on social media?
Individuals must learn personal responsibility and understand the consequences of their actions. Knowing that schools and parents will impose those consequences is critical. If there is no commitment to enforcing a policy, the atmosphere is one of encouraging hostility. We know the policy of “If you see something, say something.” Let’s add “If you hear something, say something.” What if we taught our youth that any threat or ridicule in school, at home, or on social media is unacceptable?
We can be role models by avoiding any physical or emotional aggression ourselves and by refusing to ignore such activities in others, especially in our children. Each one of us has a personal responsibility to do that.
This material is revised from Chapter 2 of my book, Don’t Fall Off the Bicycle: Balancing Chaos and Order in our Lives (2002).