Editorials

A culture of violence 

The streets of New Providence have in some areas become killing fields with reports of murders occurring with increased frequency in recent weeks.

In many communities, a culture of violence has taken hold.

Many Bahamians have become numb to these crimes with gruesome videos of victims being frequently shared on social media. In some of those videos, children can be seen watching murdered victims lying in the road.

Those victims, or the alleged perpetrators, are often young people.

The reality is that before many children in The Bahamas learn their ABCs and 123s, the lesson consistently taught to them is that of violence, and the classroom is the home.

A report by the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) on the impact of domestic violence on children, stated that as many as 275 million children worldwide are exposed to violence in the home.

UNICEF said, “This range is a conservative estimate based on the limitations of the available data. In actuality, millions more children may be affected by violence in the home.”

“Witnessing Domestic Violence: The Effect on Children”, a 2002 article published in American Family Physician noted, “Children who witness violence in the home and children who are abused may display many similar psychologic effects.

“These children are at greater risk for internalized behaviors such as anxiety and depression, and for externalized behaviors such as fighting, bullying, lying, or cheating.”

And a 2009 United States Department of Justice study showed that “more than 60 percent of the children surveyed were exposed to violence within the past year, either directly or indirectly”.

“Children’s exposure to violence, whether as victims or witnesses, is often associated with long-term physical, psychological and emotional harm. Children exposed to violence are also at a higher risk of engaging in criminal behavior later in life and becoming part of a cycle of violence.”

Violence in the context of human relationships not only comes about through the use of a weapon or a fist, but also in words and actions that wound the psyche and imbrue the soul with lasting pain and damage to self-worth and self-esteem.

English philosopher and physician John Locke once said, “Parents wonder why the streams are bitter, when they themselves have poisoned the fountain,” and as was poignantly elucidated by a popular African proverb, “The child who is not embraced by the village, will burn it down to feel its warmth.”

In a society where many still ascribe to the axiom that children ought to be seen and not heard, there is little wonder why so many youngsters in our country are frustrated, longing to be heard and acknowledged, and knowing few ways to get recognition beyond acting out, often with aggression.

When we as parents insult, demean, degrade and devalue our children, through the words we speak to them, we are engaging in a kind of violence whose scars can last long after physical wounds heal.

When we withhold affirmation, encouragement, guidance and support, because our child has displeased us, this, too, is a form of violence.

The result is often brokenness that morphs into all manner of dysfunction.

Research indicates that emotional and physical pain activate the same parts of the brain, and, while humans can tell the difference between the two, children are less capable of managing their emotions.

This is especially the case for young males who are socialized to withhold or mask their emotions, which hampers their ability to manage thoughts and feelings that can invariably manifest as aggression toward self or others.

A progressive breakdown in the family unit and in relations between parents is leaving boys and girls throughout the country feeling unwanted, making them vulnerable to predators and to the lure of gangs that offer a misguided sense of belonging.

Gangs also provide an aura of protection and family that ought to be enjoyed in the home at the hands of stable, attentive and loving parents, but that is missing in too many households.

Popular television shows and music that normalize violence as a means of handling conflicts, further teach impressionable youngsters that throwing hands is the answer to all things.

Too many children are learning pain in their homes and are hurting each other as a consequence.

The result is a worsening culture of violence. As we have heard many times, the government and police cannot on their own successfully address this crime crisis.

The home must cease to be the classroom where violence is taught.

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