Sunday Reflections: That time I had to explain to The Tween why a kid at her school was beaten to death by a parent, reflections on violence
The Tween was in the second grade when she came home and told me about a Kindergartner at her school that had died. His father, she said, beat him to death. She said she heard the older kids talking about it at school so I searched online to find out if it was true. Sadly, it was. As she asked me about this, asked how it could happen, I didn’t have a lot of good answers. It was one of the hardest conversations I had to have with my daughter.
|Three lives, all touched by abuse|
When The Mr. and I first got married, like most young marrieds, we lived in an apartment. Sometimes at night I could hear what sounded like violence through the walls in the apartment next door. There was a young couple that lived there with two small children. After this happened a few times, one night, it was late and the sounds were scary, I called the police. I fretted over whether or not it was the right thing to do, I didn’t want to make things worse for this woman that I did not know, and I wasn’t 100% sure of what was going on, but I was young and scared for her and I couldn’t in good conscience just ignore what I feared may be happening. Months later that family moved away and the apartment complex manager told me what that newly empty apartment looked like inside with holes in walls and doors ripped off hinges.
I have a friend who has adopted four children from foster care. At 18 months old one of the children had 22 broken bones. Another had 24.
|Tish reveals secrets in a school journal|
Violence has been in the news a lot this week. Violence against a partner. Violence against children.
So much violence.
Years ago, NPR ran a piece about how Americans are so squeamish about sex but so accepting of violence. Sex will get you an R rating, but movies with incredibly high body counts are often only PG-13.
We want to protect our children from sex, so much so that we often don’t even give them the information they need to make healthy sexual decisions and to keep themselves safe.
But we start exposing them to violence at such a young age and with so little second thoughts, often pulling up chairs and handing out big bowls of popcorn with supersized sodas. Violence can flood our daily dose of family entertainment.
This phenomenon, however, is not new. Last night as I watched the movie Pompeii I was reminded of how ancient it all is, this idea of watching people kill each other for sport and entertainment. I was also reminded as I watched the Romans call the gladiators “savages” how much considering others as less than you is a part of the formula. It’s so much easier to abuse those that you consider somehow unworthy or less than you.
|Caitlin dates a boy who turns out to be dangerous|
We used to have a saying, “children should be seen and not heard.” It’s this idea that children are somehow less than adults, a nuisance. When people talk about taking care of children they talk about doing so because “one day they will be adults”, with the implication being that one day they will be adults and thus they will matter. And as the parent of a strong willed child, some of the parenting books talk about needing to “break the will” or “break the spirit” of these type of children. I don’t want to break my child, I want her to learn to respect and value who she is; to nurture all that makes her uniquely her, while also teaching her how to function in a society made of millions of people. We must learn to honor ourselves while honoring each other, that’s what living in society in all about.
It’s a journey we’re all on, learning to honor ourselves while honoring each other. Sometimes we all mess it up, and that’s okay. None of us are perfect. But most of us manage to mess it up without physically hurting another. It’s true, words can cause tremendous pain. Words can cut in ways that leave gaping, festering wounds. But living in constant fear of a flying fist if you say the wrong thing . . .
|Matt & his sisters live w/an abusive mother|
In the aftermath of the Ray Rice news, people asked over and over again why his wife would stay. The emotional and psychological dynamics of abuse are complex. And it’s important that we remember that one of the highest unemployed and underpaid groups are single mothers. The quickest path into poverty, and into social derision, is to be a single mom, which is one of the reasons why a lot of women choose to stay in abusive relationships. And as we become a world where more and more we pull the away social safety nets, it becomes harder and harder for those in dangerous situations to find shelter from the storm.
There is violence all around us behind closed doors that we never even know about. 1 in every 4 women will experience some kind of domestic violence in their lifetime. Men also are the victims of domestic violence. The United States has one of the worst rates of childhood abuse, with over 3 million reports involving over 6 million children filed year.
Later that year The Tween’s elementary school had a memorial service for that little 5-year-old who was beat to death by his dad. They planted a tree in his honor. They sang songs. They hugged and they cried. And every kid in that school was changed that year, because they learned that violence isn’t a cartoon cat hitting a cartoon mouse over the head with a sledgehammer only to keep playing their game of chase. No, they learned that violence is real, that children can die at the hands of the parents who are supposed to care for them, and that many of their friends went home to houses ruled by fear and anger.
I have been upset by some of the ways people have talked this week about domestic violence and childhood abuse in the same way it can be upsetting to talk about the victims of sexual violence. We still want to blame the victim, we still want to minimize the guilt of the person who loses control, we still want to find a way to make it easier for ourselves to live with the stark realities of this world. But there is nothing easy about violence and we are a nation that seems to be in mourning every day it seems for the violence of our lives. Maybe we should start talking honestly about that, maybe if we did we could change it. I think we could all agree that a less violence in our world is a good goal.
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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