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Helping Our Youth To Cope With Violence

By Gustavo A. Ramirez, Guidance Counselor / Education Consultant

In these current times, violent criminal acts and mass killings are at an all-time high throughout Belize – at the highest rate the country has ever seen. There is a country-wide crisis of senseless shootings and vicious gang-style murders being reported throughout the nation, almost daily, especially in Belize City. Whether or not we realize it, continuous and raw media coverage (television, radio, internet, and newspapers) of these gruesome, traumatic, and violent killings affects our young people, especially students, in very stressful ways. What is far worse, many of our very young people actually witness these violent crimes, and/or are victims themselves. What, though, are we doing today to help our young people, i.e. students from preschool up to university level, to cope and “heal” from all this unwanted stress and trauma that keeps mounting with each new report of violent killings and murders? As I write this article, no official crime statistics have yet been released for Belize in 2012; yet, according to Belize media, during the first 9 days of this year at least 8 violent killings/murders have been reported – that’s almost one per day!

It is a widely established “mental health” fact, and also well-documented by trauma and crisis counselors all over the world, that young people respond in many different ways to traumatic acts of violence that explode around them. Whereas very young people may exhibit many reactions shortly after witnessing or being involved in violent and traumatic events, some teenagers/students may not show any reactions for weeks or even months. BUT, after witnessing, or being a part of, traumatic acts of violence many teenagers will suddenly begin to exhibit extremely troubling and high risk behaviors. Examples include: extreme alcohol and drug use; being extremely disruptive in the classroom; exhibiting aggressive and/or childish behaviors; competing vigorously for attention at home and in school; making up exaggerated stories; and the list could go on. Teachers and administrators in our schools throughout Belize see many of these behaviors at school. While I was a Guidance Counselor at a local high school, 2010 to 2012, I witnessed such behavior and reactions in students many times.

It is very important that we recognize these troubling signs in our children and students, and that we respond appropriately to HELP them — starting from in our preschools all the way up to UB (University of Belize). The greatest mistake that educators make is to respond to these very troubling behaviors in students only as if they were discipline problems. Much of the current and troubling behaviors exhibited by young students (preschool to university) are not mere discipline problems but STRESS reactions! We should deal with these unacceptable behaviors accordingly and professionally – not just by doling out demerits, suspensions and expulsions!

Helping Our Youth To Cope With Violence

Strict disciplinary actions at home and at school will not miraculously erase a traumatized student’s feelings of fright and insecurity; rather, they’ll only “add” to the student’s already confused and traumatized state of mind. So, again, I urge everyone to WAKE UP AND SMELL THE COFFEE! Now, more than ever, we must provide the necessary professional help that our youth desperately need, and help them to cope with all the violence that is exploding around them everyday.

A few months back (August 31, 2012) I offered some suggestions to local educators in an article AGGRESSIVE BEHAVIOR IN STUDENTS. I reminded teachers that they should not take it personal, or as a reflection of poor teaching skills, when/if students constantly “act up” in their classes. Many teenagers today either don’t have the communication skills, simply don’t know how to, or afraid to reach out and say to an adult, “Please, I need help; I don’t know what’s happening to me, or why I am like this!” Therefore, merely treating stress-related, aggressive and unwanted behaviors in students as “discipline” problems is NOT how we can best help students to cope with and heal from all the traumatic violence that is occurring around them and being reported on an almost daily basis now.

At this time, we look to the country’s “Ministry of Education” and “Ministry of Health and Human Services”, and to professional organizations such as the “Belize School Counselors Association” to provide guidance to schools on how to help our young students cope with the many traumatic events such as shootings, bombings, rapes, and senseless violent killings that are happening around them, and being reported on an almost daily basis now. Let us rise above all politics, above restrictive social norms (“this is how it’s always been done”), and bravely show our Belizean Youth more positive, creative, constructive ways to vent, and deal with traumatic stress and frustration caused by so much violence and murders occurring around them! If you have access to a computer, any internet search for “coping with violence and stress” will provide countless links that will provide helpful suggestions from qualified mental health professionals, educators, and from many other sources on how to help young people cope with violence and stress.

Author’s Note:
These articles on Education are not intended to be comprehensive or complete. They are written and contributed in an effort to provide a “starting point” for valuable discussion amongst educators, students, and the community. When we discuss and review students’ learning capabilities and the ways in which we currently try to educate them, we learn from our mistakes as well as success. Here’s to finding the best path to follow, fellow educators!

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