Saturday, December 02, 2006

Question of the Week #17: Domestic Violence and Young People

I recently heard a news item on a local radio station that reported the assignment of two police officers to focus on domestic violence in my community. The newscast included a quote from a police representative, who said: "We have to teach young people about inappropriate behaviors in relationships that can lead to domestic violence."

Such an announcement is a clear indication that this problem is widespread and severe enough that police officers are involved on a regular basis. I find this sad, but I am intrigued by the idea that intervening with young people might be able to make a difference.

Young men tend to be interested in the conquest. They are driven by powerful physical urges and often lack the degree of understanding and empathy they may develop later in life. Young women live the life of the pursued. They wait to be asked out and their self-esteem can take repeated hits when the phone doesn't ring. Viewed in this context, a date often consists of two needy people seeking validation from the other. Guys need to curb their natural aggressiveness and girls need to ignore that little voice that says, "I better put up with whatever he does or he won't like me." I can see how this combination can lead to dysfunctional patterns, even to the point of violence.

What do you think? Have you experienced the sorts of pressures I described? Can you verify that these or other factors can lead to domestic violence? How do you think we could educate young people, both guys and girls, to help prevent this problem?

I'll post my favorite response next week (or perhaps even a few of the responses), with a link to the winner's blog.


  1. Anonymous11:10 AM

    I think the propensity toward domestic violence is twofold. It relates directly to the environment that the person was raised in (i.e. what they consider the norm), and the persons' feelings of self worth. If a person was raised in an abusive (physical, verbal OR emotional) environment, and also has low self-esteem, I think they would be much more likely to either lash out or be a target. If they were raised in a safe nurturing environment, and have a solid foundation and good self esteem, the likelihood of enacting or tolerating violence is much less.

    I think early intervention with teens is a good idea. It is the time when our self esteem is most vulnerable. It's important for kids to learn that their worthiness does not hinge on whether they can control someone else (abuser), or whether everyone else likes them (abused).

    A small anecdote, if I may: I was raised in a household where violence was not tolerated (other than corporal punishment...go figure). My dad told us to avoid physical confrontations in any way possible. I never saw my parents fight or argue. Later in life, my mom told me that when they did disagree (and they did, I just never knew it), they let it drop until they cooled off and could discuss it calmly. In all truth, seeing any kind of physical violence kind of freaks me out.

    When my first marriage was getting rocky, my then-husband and I were having a loud argument. At one point, he pushed me, and I fell back to sit on the couch. It was just a push, nothing more. But silence ensued. After a moment of stunned wide-eyed silence, I picked up my toddler daughter, and walked out of the house, barefoot. I did not stop or look back. He eventually caught up with me a couple of blocks down the road, and was crying and begging me to come back. I made it clear that physical violence of any kind would NEVER happen in my house again. I was dead serious when I walked out that door, and he knew it. Eventually the constant arguing would lead us to the realization that we were not going to work it out, and that was no environment to raise a child, and we divorced. But, he never raised a hand toward me again. The moral to my story is that I had the upbringing and the self-esteem to not tolerate physical violence.

    Now, I know that not every situation is like mine was, and it isn't always possible to just walk away. I just strongly believe that if we teach our children that violence is wrong, and that they are valued and loved, then domestic violence need not ever happen for them.

    Sorry that got so long. Hope you get something useful out of my rambling.

  2. Klynn: What a powerful message! Thank you. And I wouldn't shorten it by a single word.

  3. Anonymous1:53 PM

    I think there is more, much more.
    In today’s world there is a lot of emphasis on more.
    More work
    More money
    More aggressive work ethics, got to get this done now so I can do that.
    Commissions fuel aggressive work habits and the adrenaline gets pumped up.
    This fits for both sexes in today’s work force.
    With all the pressures of work and then to bring it home is almost like a soldier coming straight home after a big battle and expecting them to just sit down like nothing happened and be calm.
    Then with the more part comes more cars toys houses and the bills the come alone for the ride.
    The pressure of today’s society along with our natural aggressiveness, create a volatile mixture that ends up in violence even though it wasn’t the goal but the lid had to come off.
    I would also like to disagree as for the young part.
    Older couples experience the same thing but in many cases the one being abused has gotten used to it over the years and suffers in silence now.
    I think in order to get the whole problem under control, society has to slow down and go with our flow and not at its speed.
    There is no excuse for domestic violence but I think there is more to the causes than just what is seen.

    Have a nice weekend

  4. Anonymous2:05 PM

    Ok, I have to comment as I was not raised in an abusive or demeaning environment and my self-esteem is fine-where it needs to be. I am a very strong person and hard-headed sometimes.
    Now, the situation. My husband did everything that I did not grow up with. Drank, drugs, (not when I met him) was demeaning towards women, foul-mouthed, terrible childhood, everything.
    The attraction was instant and I won't say we didn't go through our fair share of good fights, we did, but he has only hit me one time and he knew that was it. (he was drunk and punched me in the stomach) He changed after that to keep his marriage and he's never looked back.
    He was raised in the environment that taught him to be the way he was. So, agree somewhat with that, but now he is a better person because he knows what it's like to be raised like that and refuses to raise his children like he was.
    I know it took my patience, love, forgiveness, and understanding to help him change, but he changed on his own. It was his decision. And knowing where he came from has helped him to decide where he wants to go.

  5. As young children, my siblings and I witnessed violence between our parents before they separated. As we got older, my father taught us how to fight, how to defend ourselves and often encouraged my siblings and I to "spar". There were a few punishments dealt by my father's hands that were abusive.

    At almost 15, I was primarily responsible for the wife/mother duties of the household and toward my younger brother. I was overwhelmed and started to take my frustrations out on my brother in physical and mentally abusive ways. Although I didn't like who I had become or what I was doing, I felt powerless to stop. I fell into a deep depression and any self-worth I did manage to have in my childhood reduced to nothing.

    I had called the Kids Help Line, but they were trying to get me to think that it was okay, to excuse away the behaviour because I was young and because I was under a lot of stress, but I did not think either excuses warranted my actions. I wanted to stop and I wanted to be accountable for my actions and was hoping they would provide me with coping tools to respond with my situation in more acceptable ways, they did not. To avoid hurting my brother further, I withdrew from everything and everybody for about six months.

    At age 15.5, I moved out of my father's house, leaving but a note on my bed to explain my decision and where I would be, so he would not worry. I underwent some counseling as well, which was more supportive and enlightening than the phone call to the Kids Help Line.

    Leaving truly saved my life. It has taken me several years to gain enough self-esteem and self-worth to find balance in all of the areas of my life. It was a goal that I had to set for myself and work out ways to achieve on my own.

    Although I acknowledge that our past can influence who we are, at the end of the day, when we become adults, we have the power of choice and need to take responsibility in our actions and beliefs. If WE do not like who we are, we can work at changing those parts in us that make it difficult for us to look in the mirror. If it is diffucult for us to achieve on our own, then we need to seek out supportive help to guide us through it.

    At some point, you have to stop thinking about what everyone else thinks about you and just live your own life, with the knowledge of right and wrong guiding you along the way.

    Despite some of the harm received and given in my past, I made a decision that I would not allow myself to lose control and be the same person who committed those acts against my brother. At the same time, I knew that I would never allow anyone to treat me in a way that made me feel less than who I was, through control, power, violence or constant beratement.

    There is a powerful quote from "The Princess Diaries", that says: "Noone can make you feel inferior, unless you allow them to".

    I think it is not so much what we are exposed to, but how we cope with it and what our core beliefs are, that allows us to stand up against someone else's violence against us and to refrain from using violence in our pursuit for what we desire.

    If we focus on building our children's self-esteem and educating them about the various forms of abuse through discussion, the media, etc., then they will certainly have a good foundation of information to avoid falling into abusive relationships.

    As with anything else, we must also MODEL good behaviour in front of them. We also have to MODEL healthy conflict resolution in front of them. They have to know that conflict exists (we cannot hide that from them) but they also have to see through our actions, that it can be resolved without violence to the body, mind or spirit of ourselves or another.

  6. Anonymous7:24 PM

    Oh, I'm with Misty that modeling nonviolent (physically, verbally, and emotionally) behaviors is essential.

    My parents didn't hit, yell at, or lie to us, or to each other, and we always knew we could trust them. We weren't allowed to watch violent TV shows or play violent games. We were also close to both of our parents so we were used to interacting with adults of the opposite gender in positive, respectful ways. I wasn't raised to think it was either normal or desirable for a man to be controlling or violent, and my brother wasn't raised to think he was expected to act that way.

    I'm not even sure how it all worked out because I've managed to avoid violent men in my adult life, apparently without trying. Maybe I just don't gravitate toward people with that sort of anger[?], but I've been blessed with a family and circle of friends full of really great men and self-respecting women.

  7. I'm both a young person and an introvert, but I don't know any particular cases. However, I think when this happens it shows a lack of priorities. I think violence is always the fault of the aggressor, and if the person is mentally fit--and there's no guarantee he is--then he needs to be held accountable. It shows that his conscience is not speaking loud enough to him if he is giving into urges or the desire to feel power. All people need to spend more time reflecting on what they believe is right moral conduct, and parents need to talk to their kids more to motivate it.

  8. Andrew, I came over to your site from Dragonflyfilly's blogsite.

    By way of introduction, I am Belizean by birth and have lived all my life in the tropics, specifically Belize City, Belize.

    There is a locally produced program that has been airing lately which deals with this same topic which carries a powerful message.

    Most young women are seeking love outside of their home either because they have reached a certain age and it is trendy to do so and/or because they have no validation of worthiness within their own homes and they look for this validation elsewhere, oftentimes in the arms of young men on the make.

    The end result is often abuse as neither party is fully prepared for relationship stress. In at least two instances, young women were stabbed in the back leaving one permanently crippled and the other with permanently ugly scars and a lifetime of painful memories.

    This program airs at least once a week here in an effort to educate viewers on the dangers of entering into relationships at too early an age and the danger this poses to both young men and women.

  9. Anonymous11:18 PM

    I grew up in a household that CLAIMED to be non-violent (as kids, we werent allowed to watch certain cartoons because they were too violent) but meanwhile supported extreme corporal punishment. I was regularly shaken and hit, as a child.. at 22, I still am. When I was younger, I always swore that when I was a grown up, I would never put up with this kind of behaviour. Now, however, I find myself lashing out violently in anger quite frequently. Never against a person, but many a glass bottle has been smashed by me in the midst of a violent rage. I also crave a certain degree of violence to be used against me. In relationships, for example, I have ASKED to be slapped across the face (in non-sexual situations) to be kept in line. Quite honestly, it horrifies me that I am perpetuating any form of violence. Logically, I know that no victim of domestic violence is at fault in any way. However, it makes me wonder: are we, as young women, socially and culturally conditioned to believe that men are "allowed" to behave aggressively? That it's not only something we have to tolerate, but something that we need?

  10. There are two ways to raise a man who is violent and controlling of women. One is for his father to be dominating. In that situation, the boy grows up thinking that is normal. The other way is for the mother to be the controlling force in the family. Then the boy grows up thinking that no woman is going to run him. This boy also has contempt for his father, whom he perceives as weak. The only way to raise a boy who has respect for women is for both his parents to have an equal say in the running of the family, and in the raising of the kids.

    Violence must be discouraged, and fighting not allowed.

    I used to pick my son up from middle school, and I would see the high school boys there picking up their girlfriends. Now what possible reason could a high school boy have for dating a middle school girl? Control, that's what. Those girls thought it ws so "cool" to be "dating" a high school boy that they would do anything to keep him (and his car). The boys know this, and take advantage.

    We need much better sex ed in schools. We need to teach these boys and girls that the call of their hormones can be overwhelming, and teach techniques to avoid giving in to such urges. Like, a friend's mom told her, if she was ever at a party, and things were going on that made her uncomfortable, she should act like she was going to throw up, and then the other kids would be glad to have her call her mom to come and get her. I told my kids that, and it worked. Now why can't they teach stuff like that at school? They say that kids have to say "no" to sex, drugs and violence, but they don't tell them how.

    Teens are huge bundles of angst and hormones. It's a wonder any of them survive.

    Some things for girls to look out for:

    If their boyfriend wants them to do things like dye their hair,

    If he badmouths their friends and parents,

    If he tries to get her to do things he knows are against her family's rules, like drink, or stay out past curfew,

    If he pushes her around, even in fun,

    If he sets "rules," or gets angry,

    If he wants her to withdraw from school activities, like choir or cheerleading,

    If he wants her to date him exclusively,

    Any or all of these things are Red Flags.

    Above all, girls need to remember that whatever he says or does, the behaviour will escalate.

    Most girls don't realize how serious this behaviour can and WILL get.

    Sometimes kids from families where this sort of dynamic does not exist will get involved in this behaviour. I don't know why. I just want to grab them and say, "Don't do it!"

  11. Also, women who feel that they need to be in a relationship in order to be happy or fulfilled tend to attract abusers. For grown women, I would suggest visualizing your life alone. Think about it down the years until you can see yourself as an old lady, alone. Now tweak your scenario until you like it. Maybe just in a studio apartment with a cat and your hobbies and friends. Maybe owning your own home. Maybe sharing a home with a room mate. Tweak it until you like it, and then set out to make it happen. There are much worse things than being alone.

    All of a sudden you will start to attract men who respect and admire you for your self-confidence, rather than those who would control you.

    It worked for me.

  12. Anonymous9:20 AM

    In regards to educating the young, I think it boils down to live what you want your children to learn. Speaking honestly with them about violence is imperative. A couple of nights ago my 14 year old son and I were watching a movie together, I was holding his hand. During a commercial I told him he had beautiful hands (which he does) I told them they were expressive, talented, he plays the bass, and loving. I told him some day they will be holding his girlfriends hands, helping someone in need and holding his baby. That his hands should never hurt himself or others and I asked him to promise me, his mother, a woman, that he would never hit a woman. He told me he never could. That he has never seen it in his life and that it would make him sick. As a mother and a woman I was proud.

  13. I believe upbringing is everything.

    I have an acquaintance who has a verbally abusive husband. I suspect he may also get physical, but I doubt she would tell me if he did.

    Unfortunately, she married a man just like "dear old dad." She has been raised to think it's normal to be treated with contempt by men and her husband can (and has) treat her like dirt in front of her family and no one says anything.

    She cannot turn to her mom for help because her mother is just as abused as she is. Her sister acts like nothing is wrong and obviously she can't talk to her dad.

    If she were to finally decide she'd had enough, there would be nowhere to go unless a friend decided to take her in.

    But I doubt she'll ever decided to leave. She has been raised to accept this life. He can abuse her and cheat on her and she'll contiue to act like nothing is wrong, and so will her family. It's so sad.

  14. Lesson in constructive arguments and debate could be helpful and taught to apply in all areas of life. From social, political and in domestic situations.

    I do, however believe that domestic violence is a conditioned and learned dysfunctional behavior. How we as parents argue with one another will reflect upon our children someday. An honest, open discussion of debate can be accomplished without violence or shouting. It can be passionate and emotional. The situation may not be resolved immediately but there is a way to argue where both parties can agree to sit back, sleep on it or chew on things for awhile.

  15. Anonymous2:46 PM

    Anonymous 2:05

    you're fortunate that he changed. Most abusers tend to not change.They try for a while, then they start again..