As part of coaching for Girls on the Run, I lead workshops with the runners on things like healthy relationships and self-esteem. A big theme is conflict resolution, and we work on strategies like talking one-on-one and using “I feel” statements and hearing the other side. Two of my sixth grade girls brought a story to our meeting one day about an ex-friend who was spreading rumors about them and telling people that all the boys like her better than them and telling people their secrets. As we discussed healthy ways to change the situation, the girls shut down every single idea. “If we tried that, she’d beat us up. She’d get her friends to jump us. She’d get her family to jump our families.” I was incredulous that saying, “I feel like our friendship is in a bad place. What do you think is going on?” was violence-worthy. They were insistent.
I was in the copy room the next day, talking to our school Behavior Interventionist (who is a saint for the work she does and the load she carries for the kids, by the way). She was copying an article about the likely futures of children who exhibit violence toward animals, because a kid pushed a baby bird out of its nest and cut off the mother bird’s leg at recess.
Two weeks before, there was that incident with violence toward a staff member. One day after I was in the copy room, there was the incident with kids assaulting a student and her mother.
Does the context help make it clear why that most recent incident was so devastating to me? I feel like everything has just been building up and violence is everywhere. IT IS NOT ALL, OR EVEN MOST, OF OUR STUDENTS. It is a small percentage, but it’s worse than at any point in these last two years and I don’t know what’s going on. It’s also not the “video games should have stricter ratings because kids think violence is cool” type of thing. It looks more like violence of children who do not understand or have access to any other option or outlet, who feel like hurting someone is the only way to solve their problems (which are often very, very intense). There is something about that which makes it worse for me, because I have no idea how you would even begin to systematically solve that problem. How do you teach people alternatives to violence, in a large-scale, lifelong, non-condescending way? Someone needs to get on that right now, please, because I don’t know what to do and it’s making me feel powerless and it’s breaking my heart.