Question of the Week

March 19, 2007


At some point, everyone has to deal with conflict.

"con-flict ... 1. A state of open, often prolonged fighting; a battle or war. 2. A state of disharmony between incompatible or antithetical persons, ideas, or interests; a clash."

Not everyone will fight a war, but there will always be something or someone with which we don't agree. This is a part of life, and even a part of school.

The problem is not in the conflict, it is in what people do when there is a conflict.

"vi-o-lence ...

  1. swift and intense force: the violence of a storm.
  2. rough or injurious physical force, action, or treatment: to die by violence.
  3. an unjust or unwarranted exertion of force or power, as against rights or laws: to take over a government by violence.
  4. a violent act or proceeding.
  5. rough or immoderate vehemence, as of feeling or language: the violence of his hatred."

When conflicts turn violent, that is when the skills for dealing with conflict have not been effective (or may not exist).

What is considered an acceptable way to deal with a conflict for one person, may be considered violent and objectionable to someone else.

"What are the differences between conflict and violence? If two students are yelling at one another, is that violence? If they are yelling and shoving, is it violence? If they are making threats toward each other, is that violence? The answers are not always clear. Each person, each family, each school, and each community may have a unique definition of conflict and violence. Conflict is a natural part of relating to others. Conflict is also a great teacher. When handled well, it can increase our understanding of ourselves and lay the foundation for creative solutions. However, conflict too often leads to violence. ... When does conflict become violent? Chuck Hibbert [a school district security coordinator] states it succinctly, 'If you have conflict between two individuals that results in physical altercation, that is violence.'"

While many people would consider a "physical altercation" violent, not everyone agrees that there needs to be such an altercation for there to be violence.

"Others see nonphysical acts such as threats, name-calling, harassment, or stalking as violence. Most agree that if one student aims a gun at another student, that student is being violent. Others assert that verbal abuse is violence. Heidi Durig teaches German at an all-girl school. She reports that physical violence is practically non-existent. Instead, she suggests that 'psychological violence' such as '... back-stabbing, name calling, rumor mongoring, tattling, and even stealing other girls' "boyfriends" is more prevalent.'"

While "psychological violence" can be just as damaging as physical violence (with the wounds often taking longer to heal), it is often harder to detect. The scars can be easier to hide, and the line between acceptable and unacceptable can be even fuzzier.

With these gray areas so difficult to navigate, it is often the escalation in physical violence that people choose to notice and deal with.

"Hair-pulling and eye-gouging used to be the norm if and when a disagreement between girls escalated into anything more than name-calling. But no more. Nowadays, girls are just as likely as boys to throw a right hook or land a sucker punch. ... 'They [girls] seem to have taken over areas previously dominated by boys,' said [Shannon Otteson, a juvenile delinquent defense attorney]. 'I first noticed it when they began using foul language that used to be reserved for guys when talking to other guys, then they began to use hand gestures. Their violence then graduated from "girl fighting" - pulling hair, scratching, etc. - to actual punching, hitting, kicking and then to the use of weapons. They appear to have little or no remorse, and a kind of "they deserved it" attitude.' ... 'Now, this is my opinion, but it seems that when there's a girl fight, it's much more violent than guys,' said [Dr. Nick Migliorino, principal]. 'They dig in and don't let go. When guys fight and someone in authority shows up, the fight ends.' Not true with girls, he said."

Schools should be a safe place. It is far more difficult for students to focus on learning when they fear they may be physically or psychologically abused in the halls, at lunch, or even in the classroom. This fear can lead to more than distraction. It can lead to frustration and anger.

"an-ger ... a strong feeling of displeasure and belligerence aroused by a wrong; wrath; ire."

With that anger, the cycle can continue, or a new one can begin. The bullied can become the bully, or the student who cannot control their anger can lash out and end up hurting themselves or someone else. This does not need to be the case.

"When handled in a positive way, anger can help people stand up for themselves and fight injustices. On the other hand, anger can lead to violence and injury when not addressed positively. ... Laws, social norms, and just plain common sense tell us not to lash out physically or verbally every time something irritates us. Otherwise, we could hurt ourselves and others."

While anger CAN be handled in a positive way that leads to good things happening, this is not always what actually happens.

At a very young age, people begin to learn self-control. As children grow older -- and get bigger and stronger -- the hope is that they will have learned how to deal with the intense emotions in a healthy, non-destructive way. Unfortunately, this is not always the case.

"A second-grader in Indiana pulls off his shoe and wields it as a weapon, striking his teacher. A kindergartner in Philadelphia punches a pregnant teacher in the stomach. An 8-year-old in Maryland threatens to burn down his suburban elementary school, plotting where he'll pour the gasoline. Elementary school principals and safety experts say they're seeing more violence and aggression than ever among their youngest students, pointing to what they see as an alarming rise in assaults and threats to classmates and teachers. ... Chuck Hibbert, coordinator of security for the Wayne Township, Ind., schools, where the second-grader wielded his shoe last month, says more primary school students are 'kicking and biting and scratching and hitting' both their classmates and teachers, in many cases bringing police to the schoolhouse door. 'If someone had asked me this 10 years ago: "Chuck, how many primary school students have you responded to?" I would have said, "None." Now it's an all-too-frequent occurrence,' he says."
USA Today

What happens when children who have not learned how to cope with their anger grow up to be teens and adults? What happens when those who bullied and/ or abused try to find something in their world that they can control? Far too often, the cycle of violence continues.

"Teen dating violence, like adult domestic violence, is a pattern of coercive, manipulative behavior that one partner exerts over the other for the purpose of establishing and maintaining power and control. This behavior may take various forms: emotional abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, limiting independence, isolation, threats, intimidation, harassment, minimization, denial and blame. ...

  • 36.4% of teenage girls and 37.1% of boys reported receiving some form of physical aggression from dating partners at least once. ...
  • Females between the ages of 16 and 24 experience the highest rates of domestic violence.
  • Approximately 43% of teen dating violence victims reported that the dating abuse they experienced occurred in a school building or on school grounds.
  • 40% of teenage girls know of someone who has been beaten by a boyfriend.
  • 30% of all murdered teenage girls are killed by a current or former boyfriend."

There will always be conflict in life. There will always be conflict in school. This conflict does not have to cross the line to violence, but in order to keep it from doing so there need to be some changes made.

Questions of the Week:
What changes need to be made to keep conflict from escalating to violence at your school and in your life? What can you do when you see something escalating at your school -- or feel yourself escalating to the point where you might become violent? What can you do if a situation has already become violent (physically or psychologically)? As an adult or teen, what can you do to help younger children learn healthy ways to deal with anger and potentially violent behaviors? How can you tell if friends or family members are a danger to others, or in danger themselves? What can you do to help them break the cycle? What can you do if you need help breaking the cycle in your own life? What can (should?) you do if you see a situation at school that looks potentially violent (physically or psychologically)?

Please email me with any ideas or suggestions. Due to increasing amounts of SPAM sent to this account, please include "QOW" in the subject line when sending me email.

I look forward to reading what you have to say.

Health Community Coordinator
Access Excellence @ the National Health Museum

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