It's important to listen to kids

May 23, 2000|By Allison Duncan

MORE THAN 150,000 school-age children bring a gun to school each day.

One in six kids between 10 and 17 has seen or knows someone who has been shot. Every 10 seconds a crime occurs in an American school. These statistics are from the Children's Defense Fund.

The causes of violence are very complex. No one cause can be pin-pointed. Therefore, no one particular prevention method will solve the problems. However, there are specific factors that are linked to violence and strategies to reduce its impact.

Violence has invaded much of the media. Children and adolescents are exposed to it daily. According to the American Psychological Association, the average child has watched 8,000 televised murders and 100,000 violent acts before finishing elementary school.

Television, music, newspapers, video games, and the Internet glorify enraged, violent behavior. There are many beneficial alternatives, such as reading, engaging in after-school activities, and performing community service. More laws should also be enacted to keep violence in the media at a minimum,. Preferably, it should be abolished.

Another cause of violence is a lack of belonging and attachment.

People need someone to simply listen to them with genuine care and respect. This can allow the young person to "blow off steam," which diminishes anger.

Of 300 young perpetrators of violence, researcher Malcolm Smith found that 250 had lost a parent through death, divorce or having been sent to foster care. Others had parents who, while in the home, were unavailable because of addictions or work responsibilities.

Everyone needs a sense of belonging and attachment, and children should get this from their families and friends. Children and adolescents will try to attach to anyone, but their misbehavior is a test to determine whether the person will still love them.

Parents need to love and listen to the child, regardless of his or her fearful and angry behavior. Parents must devote their time to children, even doing something as simple as eating together, reading aloud, playing a game of basketball, and having a discussion. While many adolescents will resist this, parents should continue to be creative in communicating.

Many children and adolescents are surrounded by adults who solve problems through violence. These children mav also be victims of child abuse. They see adults engaged in domestic violence, road rage and other harmful expressions of anger.

We must model healthy expressions of our emotions to set an example from which children can learn. Family and community attitudes toward violence and anger will have a major impact on the child's view.

However, it is ultimately the choice of the child how to deal with his or her emotions. Those in authority should teach the child to think before reacting and use words to solve a problem, not fists or guns. This helps the young person to make a change in dealing with his or her feelings.

"If I've learned anything from Cassie's short life," says the mother of Cassie Bernall, who was killed in the shooting at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., last year, "it is that no adolescent, however rebellious, is doomed by fate.

"I am sure that there must be a way to reach even the most alienated, hostile teen before it is too late. With warmth, self-sacrifice and honesty, with the love that ultimately comes from God - every child can be guided and saved. At least I will never give up that hope."

We have great opportunity to make a difference in the lives of young people. We can help young people find alternatives to violent media, or simply listen to them and give them a good example to follow. I hope that we will all seize the chance and make the most of it.

Allison Duncan, 14, is a home-schooled 9th grader from Kingsville. This article won first place in a recent essay contest sponsored by the Baltimore County Medical Association on the subject, "What Can We Do to Stop the Violence."

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