What happened on December 2nd, 1997 at the high school of a little town, West Paducah, Kentucky, is still sending shock waves across the nation. Death walked that day in the Heath High School. Three slain, two paralyzed, and four others were injured. Too many will be emotionally wounded forever, waking up to a world where violence and death can show up anywhere, even in your school.
What happened there? Why the hands that should have been holding a pen, a paintbrush, or dribbling a ball, were holding those deadly weapons? Was it really, "The Basketball Dairies" film that the alleged fourteen year old boy saw that caused him to do this senseless act of violence? I don't think so. The film can be nothing more than a "matchstick" that lighted the fuse of the powder keg. But we have not heard anything about the "stuff" that the powder keg was made of. The stuff, I referred to is what life is made of, the kind of lie a violent child has lived up to the present. People don't suddenly turn into someone totally strange and alien from what they are. They gradually make their way towards a violent solution.
Michael Carneal, a slight, bespectacled boy, charged with the shootings, is reported to have earlier written about feelings of powerlessness. We don't know what he was feeling powerless about. Was there an emotional vacuum in his life that he felt so powerless to fill? Another hint, which suggests that Carneal had a long-standing problem, was his statement after the shooting, "It was like I was in a dream, and I woke up." It is our turn to wake up now to the fact that we are not teaching our kids enough about how to effectively resolve interpersonal tension and conflict peacefully. This teaching has to be both at home and at school.
Teenagers are twice more likely to become victims of violence
as adults. Violence is the number two killer of our youths, car crashes
being number one. One-half of all violence against teenagers occurs
in and around schools. A large number of our youngsters don't know
how to settle their differences or how and when to ask for help when in
pain. For years, with little help from families and others, youngsters
go on feeling isolated, harboring resentment, and seething in anger until
a matchstick is lighted too close to the fuse of their powder keg.
It would be very helpful to teach children, at home and at school, as to how to settle their fights peacefully. We should set it as a goal for every child that he or she learn to resolve conflicts with others by talking rather than fighting. The Carnegie Council on Adolescent Development identifies three abilities each teenager should have: 1. To manage conflicts peacefully. 2. To tolerate and respect others who are different from them. 3. To solve problems and mutually arrive at satisfactory solutions.
How do we teach children the above stated behaviors? Working on lesson plans on conflict resolution in school won't be enough. We adults must practice it ourselves when we have a disagreement with other adults or when we have a problem with our children. We have to first believe ourselves that violence is never a solution, it's a cop out. Violence is a short cut for those who don't know other ways to solve a conflict. We must demonstrate to children, time and again, how we adults sit down and talk out our differences. This way, they can learn the "how-to" of conflict management and problem solution.
When I first heard the phrase, "agreeing to disagree," I had a ho-hum attitude towards it. All I thought of was it was a nice corporate catch phrase. Sometimes, I said to myself, "people say it for the sake of saying it but inside all of us hate the guts of anyone who disagrees with us." That's not a good attitude, I admit. I am learning to accept that other people may exercise their privilege, if they so prefer, to argue their position, opposite to mine. However, I still have a sort of "hot flash" across my forehead, when someone says something in contrast to what I believe to be true. But, I remind myself that their background and experiences and mine are not the same. They are entitled to their thinking just as I am to mine.
There is more than one solution to every problem, but we have to first believe that it is so, and then commit ourselves to keep on keeping on until we find them. We must first resolve to ourselves, that shutting up the faces of those who we don't want to hear, while tempting, is not a workable solution. Instead, let's teach our kids to sit down and talk it out. Teach them that instead of trying to shut up the "opponent," hear him or her out. Instead of trying to shout the other person down, ask him or her to take turns to speak. Teach kids how to set ground rules for discussing their differences before they actually begin to discuss them.
Let kids hear these words of compromise such as, "negotiation,"
"mediation," and "communication." Let these words become a part of
their everyday vocabulary. I am surprised by the number of children
I talk with that have no idea what "negotiation" is about. Parents
would ask me in amusement, "You're asking me to negotiate with my own child.
We are a family based on love." Many of us view negotiation as an
act reserved for businessmen and corporate executives. We think negotiation
can be a wonderful tool for a family when different members have conflict
Respect others who are different from us. Agree to meet and set the ground rules to discuss a conflict. Discuss the conflict and reach mutually agreeable solutions. Where adults have resolved to find nonviolent solutions at all times, children of their homes will never fire a gun to resolve their conflicts. I guarantee it.
Filename: "Children," 12/08/97 index: conflict resolution
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Dr. Vijai Sharma
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