In the United States, one in four women and one in seven men have experienced severe physical injury as a result of domestic or intimate partner violence.
Hold out your thumb and your pointer finger. Turn your hand so your thumb points up and your palm is perpendicular to the ground. Congratulations, you are now the proud owner of a toy gun. Every day, we see children making this seemingly innocuous gesture. Running around recess pretending to storm the castle and save the princess; punishing the bad guys for trying to take over the world; stopping a bank robbery and putting the robbers in jail, all while holding their toy guns.
Violence restores balance to the universe. But when kids grow up and are faced with problems in their relationships, we admonish them for using the problem-solving mechanism our culture has taught them to believe saves the day.
This conflicting message contributes to the epidemic of domestic and intimate partner violence in our culture. In the United States, one in four women and one in seven men has experienced severe physical injury as a result of domestic or intimate partner violence. (1) According to the U.S. Department of Justice, domestic violence in one of the most underreported crimes in the country. (2) This means the aforementioned statistics likely do not capture the true amount of people who suffer from domestic and intimate partner violence in their lifetimes. Many, if not most, of the people involved in these relationships grew up in this culture which taught them violence solves problems. The abusers believe they are restoring balance to the universe, and the victims believe assault is an appropriate punishment for their behavior.
Changing the culture of violence in our country begins with one group of people: those children with their toy guns. If we change the way children view violence, we will be able to change the rates of domestic violence in our culture years from now. So how do we accomplish these goals?
As adults, we can model diplomatic behavior for children by showing them how to talk things out when adults have disagreements with one another. We can encourage children to talk about their issues with one another, instead of using their fists. We can engage kids in imaginative play that doesn’t involve the fake gun. When those kids turn into adults, they will be more likely to use relational skills with their partner instead of their fists.
So open your hands, reach out to others, and teach children around you to do the same. Help us work against violence.
Ryan E. Morris is a Community Outreach Specialist with the YWCA of Richmond where she combines her passions for youth development and violence prevention working on teen outreach. Ryan graduated from the College of William and Mary with a degree in Women’s Studies, and from Virginia Commonwealth University with her Master of Social Work.