Violence and Conflict: Thinking of the children

Violence and Conflict

From our earliest days, humans have had to live a life of violence and conflict. Whether we were hunting for food, defending a tribe or village, or marching to war, violence and conflict were there. We are, as a species, adaptable and violent. And we always have been.

In our modern world, conflict comes in many different varieties. Sometimes we argue with words, or through digital devices we send hateful messages that we would be frightened to speak aloud in the presence of the person we wish to chastise. Violence and conflict are found in the person yelling at and demeaning their spouse, in the cyber bully who taunts a child ever closer to suicide, and the drunken Uncle who starts smacking his nephew

because he wants to “see some of that karate you’re learning”, as well as the more obvious examples of spousal abuse, rape and murder.

The subject is mind-boggling and so vast that it cannot be covered completely by any one person.

So in this presentation I am going to look at a small section of violence and conflict, specifically that which is now hidden from children. There are a few issues I see as contributing to what is becoming a huge problem. I will discuss those issues and try to piece this together.

Problem→ Solution→ New Problem

Most of the really big screw-ups that we see today that make us scratch our head and ask why are things like this? can be traced to the common process of Problem→ Solution→ New Problem. People see a situation they don’t like, and set out to “fix it”. This is exactly what has been going on for a very long time as people try to come up with ways to make violence “go away”. The very attempt to make violence go away is ignorance of what humans are, but I will save that for another day.

Gun laws, laws dictating the blade length of a knife that you are allowed to carry, and so on are examples of the result of this mentality. The real issue that people don’t like to face is that the people who promote this mindset are essentially legislating what type of violence is legal through the very act of making other types illegal. Disarming the entire world would not stop violence because there will always be rocks and people with arms strong enough to throw those rocks.

But people feel the need to “do something”, even if that something doesn’t do anything. Or, as we are about to explore, even if what you do makes things much worse.

In order to better grasp the issue, we are going to first travel back in time.

The year was 1982. I was in the 8th grade, and while I was not really having the time of my life, things were not as bad as I thought they were, and as my real hard times were still a couple of years away, I was blissfully ignorant.

In PE class, Coach Broadhurst decided the boys would be allowed to wrestle. I was excited about that. I was a wrestling fan to the core, and while I had never really wrestled much except for tying my little brother up in knots, I was sure I could make a name for myself.

Yes sir, I was about to reinvent my entire image that day.

That was the plan anyway. I was really not very athletic back then. My opponent was. And while I knew the names of a lot of moves and holds, he knew how to get a person into those moves and holds, and as it turned out, I couldn’t get out of any of them! It didn’t take long until I was the one tied up in a knot.

Things went from competitive, to very rough in short order. I was not very liked by my opponent. And some advantage was being liberally taken. Then out of nowhere – the sleeper-hold! You young pups call it a rear naked choke these days, but back then we all knew it as the Sleeper and we knew it was Goodnight Irene once that was applied. I couldn’t get out, and the Coach stepped in and that was that. I was already pretty low on the social food chain at the time, so losing face wouldn’t have mattered much, but because of the way the coach stepped in, after letting things progress to an all but decided finish, no one lost face. I didn’t lose face because an authority figure stepped in and stopped everything before I passed out and pooh-poohed in my pants. My opponent didn’t lose face either through not getting pooh-poohed on, as well as through not having an authority figure chastising him for being too rough. Nobody lost anything, and we got to play rough like boys are supposed to play.

It wasn’t that bad. Boys were boys, no big deal.

Now let us return to our present time.

Prevention of small scale conflict between children by parents

Today we have parents who may or may not have been bullied as a child, who have gone to great lengths to prevent all small scale conflict for their child from the first time the kid is around other kids. There are parenting manuals to teach parents how to do this. We have “sports leagues” where points are not counted because it makes the losing team feel bad. Gone are the days of coaches naming two team captains who select their team one at a time, because the last kid picked might feel bad.

Speaking as the kid who was almost always picked last, kids are pretty resilient critters. I got over it! I got over it the moment the game started. Every time!

Conflict and feeling less than perfect or not being fully accepted by our peers is an important part of childhood learning that is being missed by generations in our country due to parental meddling. In an effort to pad the falls and sand the rough edges of life, our children are growing up without many of the essential life skills we earned through the experience. I  don’t want my kids picked last in sports, or to have another kid steal from them or push them down, but you can bet that if that happens I have experience to advise my kids on what to do. And my actions are not going to involve threatening to sue a school or yelling at a teacher. When this current crop has kids, they won’t know how to handle it, and neither will the kid.

Far too overlooked; there are many consequences to hiding conflict from our children. The consequences were not anticipated, and are currently ignored. The list that follows is from my own observation, and as such is probably incomplete. But here is my list:

Increased sense of panic about conflict

Panic in any situation is usually traced to inexperience or negative previous experiences. Children are supposed to learn about many things and adults prevent much of their learning out of stupidity. For example; a child will stare at people in different situations, especially when the people the child is staring at are doing something strange or new to the child’s experience, such as arguing, flying a kite or performing Tai Chi.

When a child is staring, they are taking it all in, they are learning. Adults will tell the child not to stare. This is because adults stare for an entirely different reason. When an adult is staring, it is perceived as a threat. This is why I teach adults to notice the gangster, but never stare at him. All well and good, but adults tell the kid to stop staring and in doing so they interfere with the learning of the child. The same thing happens when an adult steps in and prevents an argument, disagreement or other conflict for their child, instead of letting the kid solve the problem.

When the adult prevents the child from ever experiencing conflict, the child is stuck with an entirely new situation when conflict or physical violence does occur. The child is likely to panic, and will undeniably experience stress.

Loss of ability to identify conflict early enough to avoid, or resolve if extrication is no longer possible

In the lower levels of conflict and if we want to use the term, violence, the child learns what it looks like, and how it starts. There are many subtle clues that an alarming number of adults just don’t see, and this might be connected to parents cutting off conflict for the child instead of allowing the child to solve it him or herself.

You really want your kid to be safe?

Then your kid needs to be armed with the ability to identify conflict before it becomes unavoidable. This requires knowledge and experience, so some of the minor conflicts in your kid’s life are going to have to be allowed to run their course. You cannot baby them forever and still end up producing a healthy and well-adjusted adult. You just end up producing a thirty or forty-year old baby, and there are already enough of those out there.

Loss of ability to appropriately give a response to match the situation

This lack of experience has other problems as well.

From my perspective, the children brought up like this have no clue as to what is and is not an appropriate response in many various situations.

How could they? They have zero experience.

This is how we end up with kids who are insulted, and respond through murder or suicide. A girl rejects a boy, and he reacts by raping or killing her. Pure stupidity. Or he turns into a stalker because no one has ever told him ‘no’ in his life, or else he was brought to an understanding that his own wants are all that matter. More stupidity!

An ounce of prevention

When a kid has never been taught or experienced that people push other people around, you could well end up with a kid who gets pushed around and responds with over the top violence. As a reflex habit we look to place blame:society, mental illness, what have you. Blame is a deflection of responsibility. Blame allows us to wash our hands of the situation and move on.

Remember the old saying, An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure? Well, we have a similar situation here, and blame may make us feel better, but it also gives rise to the poorly thought out “remedies” which get paraded around as if they make even a small difference.

Our current society has become so squeamish over conflict that they no longer see that is does have a value. Childhood conflict especially. We have more than a generation out there right now who have no clue at all what to do when things go bad, and they are just as unprepared for what to do when they don’t get their way.

I don’t want to be seen as advocating youth violence as an answer. That would be even more stupid that the situation I am trying to address. Rather, I would like to offer up the idea that not everything that makes us uncomfortable is by definition bad. Discomfort can lead to growth.

Going back in time again, just a few years this time; I remember watching my youngest daughter as she was trying to learn to stand and walk. Every fiber of my being wanted to go help her to stand up and to start walking, but any such effort would have delayed her ability to both stand and walk. I hated seeing her fall, but it is a part of the process. Sometimes it might be best to stand back and let our kids figure some things out on their own.