“The more that we choose not to talk about domestic violence, the more we shy away from the issue, the more we lose”- Russell Wilson
Early this year I became a Board Member of Between Friends, a non profit focused on preventing domestic violence in Chicago area. Our non profit works with kids from 6th to 12th grade and we are present in 40 schools in Chicago. Our programs are tailored to help kids recognize the warning signs of abuse and understand healthy relationships. By educating our children and making them aware of domestic violence we believe we are investing in a safe community for our future generations by taking an important step towards preventing and ending domestic violence.
As a new board member I am required to observe some of our programs. The School program is our biggest one and so I decided to observe a session. Our Program director met with me and walked me through the details including how many kids we have reached etc. Later I went to class where two of our instructors were going to educate 7th graders. When the kids walked in I wasn’t sure if they were the right age to understand complex topics such as abuse, healthy relationships, warning signs etc. The kids seemed playful, chatty, some shy and quiet.
But the instructors skill fully got everyone’s attention. I was really impressed how they started having a conversation with them about their weekend to make the kids feel comfortable and then slowly opened up the discussion to more serious subject of dating violence. The activity required the kids to imagine they were in a relationship with a person of their choice in their mind . The instructors picked a gender neutral name so there would be no judgement if the kids chose to have a relationship with same sex partner.
Then they were given different scenarios where their partner would treat them a certain way and the children had to decide to “stay” or “go”. Rules were – They had to make their own choices, and not be influenced by what their friends said or did. Each kid had a safe space to make their choices and not be judged or ridiculed by others. As each scenario was read out I saw these playful kids suddenly faced with choices like adults. Although at the beginning of the activity they were still giggling and smiling, I saw their playfulness shift to a more serious mood when their imaginary partner started crossing the line. I watched in awe as each one of them made a choice to stay or go.
During Q & A most of the kids clearly identified warning signs of abuse including the cycle of abuse and shared their views without any fear of judgement on their imaginary partners unhealthy behavior. Often times we dismiss kids as being too young to understand complex human emotions or circumstances. But these kids opened my eyes and I realized I had underestimated their emotional intelligence.
When the class ended I felt proud of these kids and I realized that by engaging them in such discussions early on we were empowering them to build their lives and communities free of abuse.
Developing healthy attitudes and behaviors are the key to reducing violence. I am glad and grateful that I am part of the effort to create safe communities for our future generations.
Copyright Vani Murthy 2017