Recently, here in the St. Louis Area, we had an incident on a school bus involving anger and violence. Some reported that the incident was racially motivated. I, personally, do not condone excessive expressions of anger or any violence, period. Having stated that, I think, as many have already said, this is a teachable moment. The “incident” involved a white seventeen year-old and a younger black student. The younger black student “beat-up” the older white student while being filmed by a remote video camera on the bus. Some have claimed it is a “bullying” incident. This may be true, but it does have some unusual circumstances for “bullying.” In the video, a black student with many other black students cheering him on, is constantly hitting on a white student. The white student is older than the black student. The white student appears to be a racial minority on that particular bus. I mention all of this for context. At this time (9/22/09) some students have been expelled over the incident and it has been debated locally and to a lesser degree, nationally.
My intent here is not to level blame or debate the issue. I am writing about whether or not we should teach children how to deal with anger. As a parent, grandparent and retired teacher, I have had to deal with many cases of inappropriate expressions of anger and violence. As a teacher, I remember many students justifying their violence by saying their victim(s) made them mad or angry. In other words, they did not feel responsible for their anger, but instead, felt the victim(s) of their violence caused them to be angry and therefore, they had a justifiable right to be violent. It’s this aspect of the thinking behind anger that I feel we should try to turn into a teachable moment.
It’s not a secret that there are a lot of angry people in today’s world. Many adults personally and openly expressed anger to children without any reservation. And the adults who openly express their anger to children via the media, make angry role models for all children observing that media. I think all of us, not just the teachers, parents and grandparents, should be concerned about teaching the children how to deal with anger in nonviolent ways.
Before I go any further, let’s establish what violence is. Besides directing your browser to the hyperlink in the previous sentence, please also consider my definition of violence, which is: any expression of extreme anger that hurts another. For any person who cares about another, violence is an outcome of anger that the person would not want those s/he cared about to experience.
In my experience, I have not found many who really know what to do about the anger and violence. Many simply say, “Don’t treat people this way,” or “Don’t act that way.” But this has little effect unless they actually differentiate between what they feel and how they behave. You see, all of us will have violent feelings now and then, but there is never a time when we should act out, condone or tolerate violent behavior.
It’s important that we, as a society, “buy into” setting a good example. Yes, that means, all of us, all of the time. Our goal, as a civilized society, is to not condone violence. This means our media must also set a good example, since it is part of our society. In my opinion, there is entirely too much violence openly expressed in our society. Many films, plays, games and life-styles are based on violent experiences. Anger is shown as preceding violence and violence is justified by anger. When our children see and experience this, they are naturally in the process of learning. But, what are they learning? They are learning what we are modeling; they are learning that anger leading to violence is normal and to be expected. Somehow, we have lost the “civil” in civilization!
Let’s give the young people good examples of adults who keep their own tempers under control. Let’s set fair, but firm limits on how they can express hostility and violence. Of course, we do need to provide some safe outlets for expressing their hostility. They should be encouraged to “talk it out.” When dealing with someone who is angry, we need to recognize that s/he might want to harm another person. That doesn’t mean we would condone it; it only means that we are empathizing with her/him. We should be firm in that we can’t allow them to hurt someone. Violence is not a “right” thing to do, period! We need to constantly try to channel the negative energy of anger into something more positive such as understanding and compassion.
Finally, I think it’s important to emphasize that we are responsible for our own emotions. No one can make you mad or glad. You make you mad or glad. You have control over your emotions. No one but you can make you angry. I realize it is not always easy to feel this way, but how else can we ask someone to be responsible for their behavior. Are we going to expect people to be responsible for the results and not require them to be responsible for the thinking that caused the results?
Should all in a civilized society teach children how to deal with anger? YES!