05 September 2008

Parents vs school violence

School violence is on the increase, but the good news is that research shows positive parenting can play a big role in preventing this escalation.

Three out of every 20 learners between grades three and 12 have experienced some form of violence while at school, says a National Schools Violence Study conducted by the Centre for Justice and Crime Prevention.

But schools do not exist in isolation: they reflect the society in which they are situated. The study further found that there were strong links between experiences at school and the environment to which learners were exposed outside of school. There was a strong link between learners who experienced violence at home and had been exposed to violence in their community, and those who had been victims of violence at school.

The Trauma Centre embarked on The Children and Violence Programme (CVP) aimed at minimising aggressive and violent behaviour and increasing pro-social behaviour among at-risk primary school children.

Wonique Dreyer, of the Trauma Centre, presented the key findings of the programme this far at the International Society for Violence and Injury Prevention, Children and Injuries Conference held in Cape Town this week.

Violent past, underlying trauma
South Africa's history is one of violence and force. The majority of today's parents had some traumatic experiences during the years of apartheid, and the effects of these are being transferred onto the next generation. In post-apartheid South Africa violence has become entrenched.

When learners act out violently, their behaviour is often a symptom of underlying trauma.

Rationale of the CVP intervention
Early intervention prevents the entrenchment of patterns of aggression. Schools allow these counsellors and mediators access to large groups of children, parents and educators. Together they can make an effort to break the cycle of violence.

The intervention programme is three-fold: it involves learners, educators and parents.

Learner programmes consist of individual and group counselling, a social skills programme, and educational theatre.

Educator programmes cover the topics of self-care and victim trauma, and trauma awareness.

Parent programmes consist of positive parenting programmes, parent support groups and themed talks.

Parental involvement key
Working in schools highlighted the importance of parental involvement when it came to addressing the emotional needs of children.

However, this was one of the most difficult aspects of the work. Family dysfunction, general apathy and a lack of understanding towards the needs of the children were commonplace.

Parents whose children had difficulties and behavioural problems often failed to participate in programmes. Encouraging parental participation remains a huge challenge.

Educators often feel that parents relinquish the responsibility of parenting to the school. Teachers experience high levels of frustration and helplessness, and often use corporal punishment as a means of discipline in schools. Although corporal punishment has technically been abolished in schools, many educators feel they have no other effective forms of discipline at their disposal.

It became evident that parents who participated in workshops had intergenerational trauma which had an impact on their parenting skills. Parents tend to use shaming as a way of teaching their children, and also used corporal punishment as a way of discipline.

This style of parenting can be traced back to the oppressive system of apartheid and the intergenerational transmission of trauma, shame and helplessness. This results in a new generation of children acting out in violent ways, internalising the hurt of their communities and their parents, and who believe that others are responsible for changing and improving their lives. This perpetuates the cycle of violence and shame.

The aim of parenting workshops is to provide a platform for parents to think about trauma and how this has an impact on their parenting styles. The workshops also aim to empower parents with knowledge and skills to become more effective parents.

Lessons learnt so far
Educators need support and they also need to take care of themselves. In schools where principals bought into the programme, participation increased.

Parents need programmes that provide them with practical assistance. Dreyer recommends that legislation be passed that makes parental involvement compulsory.

These programmes could have a positive impact on the communities, and this could result in a decrease of violence in the communities themselves.

(Leandra Engelbrecht, Health24, September 2008)

- National Schools Violence Study, Centre for Justice and Crime Prevention


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