Children and School Violence: Maybe, We Can Blame Parents and Television
May 11, 2016
As Whitney Houston so eloquently sung, “I Believe the Children are Our Future”, how do we feel about our future now? I ask you this question after the events that took place just a few weeks ago in a school in Wilmington, Delaware? Thursday, April 21, 2016, started out just like any other day for Amy Inita Francis-Joyner, a 16-year-old Sophomore, at Howard High School of Technology, in Wilmington, Delaware. However, no one would have expected that day to be her last. Amy died Thursday morning, at the A.I. DuPont Children’s Hospital after being attacked by a girl in a bathroom on the main floor of their high school.
Charges were filed today on the three girls who were involved in planning the attack. Video was recorded of the incident that showed only one girl punching Amy. She has been identified as 16-year-old Trinity Carr. Carr has been charged with criminally negligent homicide which can carry up to eight years in prison. The state Attorney General's Office and the Department of Justice will push for her to be tried as an adult. The other two girls involved, Zion Show and Chakeira Wright, have been charged with third-degree criminal conspiracy, punishable by up to one year in prison.
The medical examiner determined that Amy did not die as a result of being punched repeatedly in the head or torso by Carr, but as a result of a pre-existing heart condition that was triggered by the attack. In conclusion, Amy would still be alive is she was not attacked. However, since the girls did not intend to kill Amy, they are not being charged with a greater crime and the charges are the maximum allowed by Delaware law.
Some people feel that the charges are fair, while others feel the the girls are getting a pat on the back. However, we as a community must face some serious facts if we are going to address and hopefully end this type of school violence, no matter if the intent is to bully or kill.
The three girls involved planned this attack twenty hours prior to Amy’s death. On the day of Amy’s death, just hours after she had died, two of the three girls went on social media and bragged about what had just happened to Amy, wow! What were these young ladies thinking? Where were their caregivers? There are so many factors that could have had a role on the attackers’ state of mind during this time. We want to know those factors, but more importantly, as a community, what do we do next?
Fox and CNN will do their duty and report this tragedy. Then they will move on to other stories. We as a community will be left to make sense of this tragedy so that it does not happen again. We must realize that if we keep doing the same things, we can expect the same results in our community. So, what is the first step for change?
Who Is To Blame?
This is usually the first question that is asked when a tragedy happens. However, let us look at it from a positive perspective. The one to blame, has the power to start the change within the community. We all need to take responsibility for our own children. If we don’t, who will? When our children do something positive, we are quick to say, “That’s my baby”. However, when our children make irrational decisions, we are quick to blame the schools. Do we understand that students are bringing their thoughts, beliefs, and their perspectives into the schools from home? Parents and what we allow at home are the number one influencers of a child’s behavior. Therefore, fixing schools is not going to fix much, because schools did not create these problems in the first place. We, as parents, are in control of: what our children watch on TV, who our children connect with on social media, and what values and morals we instill in them.
Television and Social Media
Television viewing and social media following has become a full time job for many children. According to a study on watching television, conducted by Child Trends Data Bank, children ages eight to 18 years-old watch four-and-a-half hours of television per day. If we add other forms of media to this time, it averages to ten hours of exposure squeezed into about seven-and-a-half hours a day, through multi-tasking. In essence, children are in front of a screen more than a 40 hour work week. Can we as parents say that we are spending even half of this amount of quality time with them? How about a quarter of this time, 10 hours? How about an eighth of this time, which is just 5 hours a week actively engaged with our children? The content that our children are regularly viewing can change their perception of the world. When our perception of the world changes, our beliefs can change as well. What if we sat down with our children and watched everything they wanted to watch for a day. What would we see? Would the majority of the shows that they watch be a reflection of who we are raising them to be? Would it support the reality that we want for them? We are insane if we think that hours of repeated television and social media interactions does not change who we are as adults. I ask you, “What do we think it is doing to our children?” Only we have the power to change this!
How Do We Change This?
Let us start with open communication with our children. We have to be able to talk to our children and listen to them as well. High school is not the same as it was 10 years ago, but look at the facts, neither are our home lives. For various reasons, we have more children unaccompanied at home. Unaccompanied children can be children left at home alone, as well as children who are in different rooms from their parents for extended periods of time. I get it, after a long hard day at work many parents just want to sit down and relax, but we have to remember that our children need our time as well. So if we need five or ten minutes to relax right after we get home from work, take it, but then we need to be present with our children. Looking into their eyes, paying attention to their body language, and engaging in conversations with them. When we spend time with our children we know when something is on their mind. We can tell when they are worried, sick, or overly excited about something. They become comfortable talking to us because we actively listen to them and they feel a sense of love and value. If we have not been spending as much quality time with our children as we would like to, we can start today! Some great conversation starters are:
How was school?
Anything interesting happen today?
Did you see that new video by…?
Did you hear what happened to…?
You changed your hair a little, I like it. What exactly did you do?
How is your friend _____ doing?
I love your nail polish, what color is it?
Do you want to go shoot some hoops?
How was basketball practice today?
When we start off with simple conversation it opens the door for them to talk to us about the serious things that are going on in their lives. Before they talk to us about the serious things, we need to remember that children are smart and they will test us to decide how much they will tell us. Therefore, let us pass the test! Always let them finish what they are saying without interrupting. Never respond to what they say out of anger. Be careful not to sound too preachy (I’m still working on this) and consider their feelings when you respond to them. Finally, you always want to make your children feel like they can talk to you about anything!
Tackling Television and Social Media
We need to monitor what are children are watching on television. There are a plethora of parent controls on television that will allow us to control what our children watch based on ratings, language, content, etc. There are timers that we can set so that our children only have a certain amount of time to watch television each day. We can also program it to automatically turn off at the same time each night. Monitoring what our children watch on television helps limit what they are being exposed to.
As my children get older, there are some shows that I allow them to watch now, that I did not allow them to watch when they were younger. However, I watch the shows with them. This gives me the opportunity to talk to them about what is going on in the shows. I am able to find out what they are thinking and how they would handle similar situations. It also gives me the opportunity to help them decide to make different choices, rather than the negative selfish choices that are made on some shows. These are valuable teaching opportunities and I am glad that my children get to experience these situations with me and prepare alternatives, rather than without me. So monitoring content can be done if we are willing to do it.
As for social media, we pay for the phone plans, internet access, iPads, iPods, tablets, etc. They are in our control. There are parental controls for all of these devices if we just invest in the time to learn how to use them. Yes, this is an investment. Possibly saving our children from doing something that they would regret later is an investment.
What Should We Invest In?
Pick up a book. According to a study released by the American Education Research Association and the 2013 National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP), sixty-six percent of all U.S third graders were reading below grade level, by the end of the school year. They also reported that if a student is not reading on grade level by the end of 3rd grade, he/she is 4 times less likely to graduate high school by the age of 19, than a student who reads on grade level by the end of 3rd grade. The statistics for minority students are even worse!
Therefore, pick up a book and read together. Let us help to increase our children’s chances of graduating from high school. One issue that may arise, is that many parents are not comfortable reading with their children. Children will not remember your reading abilities when they are older, but they will remember the quality time you spent with them. That time is priceless! Read books about our history. This builds a sense of pride and belonging in our children. If we are waiting or expecting the public school system to teach our history, it is not going to happen. This is also a good time to find out what our children want to be when they grow up. Then we can read books on those topics. If our children have an interest in technology, read about Gerald A. Lawson, Mark Dean, Roy L. Clay, etc. If our children like to create things, read about entrepreneurship, engineering, or designing. This may help refocus our children’s attention on their future.
Another resource is to look right within our communities. Our local Boys’ and Girls’ Clubs, Parks and Recreations, public libraries, etc., usually offer programs for our children to learn new skills and to be exposed to different cultures. They often have programs for high school students to help develop their leadership skills. Also look into local Sororities and Fraternities for programs. Some of the programs that they offer are designed to support high school students as they transition into adulthood. The Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc. has a program called the Archonette Club. This program is designed to support high school aged females become more well-rounded. The Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. has a program called Delta GEMS. This program is designed to promote college, career planning, and individual growth. The Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Inc. has a program called the Beautillion. It is designed to help males, who are high school juniors and seniors, prepare for college and life. These and other programs like them are available to us, but we have to seek them out.
If you search and cannot find a program to fit the needs of your children, think about starting one yourself! The Boys’ and Girls’ Clubs, Parks and Recreations, public libraries, etc., are always in need of leaders to start new programs for our youth. Share your idea with some friends for support. Then present the idea to a local youth organization. In helping our children, we would be helping our community as well.
I wonder if the girls who are responsible for Amy’s death: spent more quality time with their caregivers, were limited in their access to television and other media outlets, continuously read about how their ancestors made great contributions to society, and if they were involved in community programs, would Amy Francis-Joyner be alive today? I would like to think yes! I would have loved to know where these girls could have been in five or ten years with the above mentioned support. Most likely, not where they will probably end up for the next five or ten years.
Unfortunately, with a decrease in spending time with our children and an increase in unsupervised television and social media usage, more of these horrible acts will continue to unfold in our schools. However, communicating more with our children, limiting television and social media, and providing our children with other outlets, will help them become more focused on dreams and goals; leaving less time and energy to focus on drama!
Our children are our future, whether we like it or not. The rest of the first verse of Whitney’s song the Greatest Love of all says, “Teach them well and let them lead the way”. It is our job to teach them well and invest in them, so that they can lead the way.
Watching Television. City Trends Databank. Child Trends, December 2014. Web. 25 April 2016.
The Nation’s Report Card. 2013 Mathematics and Reading. National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), 2013. Web. 25 April 2016.
Sparks, Sarah D. Study: Third Grade Reading Predicts Later High School Graduations. Education Week, 8 April 2011. Web 25 April 2016.