Help Prevent Violence, Teach Kids Respect of Life
By JoAnn Wentzel

"He's just a baby, only a child." Many of us have uttered those words after watching a newscast concerning the recent events in our nation's schoolyards. We search the cherubic face of the 12- year-old in designer jeans to get a clue to what went wrong. One answer to this complicated question may be a failure to instill a respect and love of life in our children.

It's easy to blame the media for encouraging violence by showing killing in an entertaining way but, that cannot diminish our responsibility. Parents can block out offending TV and not allow inappropriate movies in their homes. We must monitor what our kids do, especially what they view. I am against censoring but, a child needs to be protected until they reach an age where they can make decisions concerning objectionable material. We want them to grow up with healthy attitudes about life. Watching the callous way in which the hero takes life desensitizes them. It is not real; therefore, it does not mean anything. The problem is for many children; this philosophy carries over into real life.

Kids kill other kids just to see what it is like. They harm pets or injure siblings. They laugh when someone is abused even when they themselves were victims. They think racial slurs and 'gay bashing' is okay because they do not equate those people with human beings. Where did they learn this?

Sounds pretty pessimistic doesn't it but, there is hope. There are ways to prevent this lack of respect for life. Young children learn best, but it is never too late.

Pets teach responsibility, but also the value of life. Just because Rover cannot talk does not mean he cannot feel. The fluffy cat the little boy just picked up by his tail is still in pain. The dog that is kicked out of the way is abused even though not human.

In my foster home, kids have shown their violent streak by pulling wings and legs off bugs, or blowing up flies in the microwave. "Well, it's only a bug.", you may say. But it was alive and cruelty of any kind should be discouraged. We need to cherish all life and have a reverence for all living things, if we hope to stem the violence overtaking our country.
Show a healthy respect of life by example. Treat pets with consideration and sensitivity. Teach kids the value of every living thing. Never, never, never let them abuse pets. It is only one short step away from harming people.

Siblings fighting is a century old 'entertainment'. Ancient as this institution is, we must not stand by allowing them to hurt each other. When physical harm does occur, require the child to apologize to the injured person. Children must be taught it is unacceptable to hit, kick, and bite. Hurt feelings are harder to monitor but, this is a beginning to physical violence when your child believes it is okay to make someone else feel bad.

Adults have a responsibility to show kids tolerance and to teach a belief that says all men are created equal. Teens and young children must see that concept in real life. That cannot mean all people are created equal except those with dark skins. It cannot exclude those who have different sexual orientations, nor eliminate those with different religious views. These are still people with the right to expect to be safe. Teach kids no living thing deserves to be hurt. This lesson learned at a young age will reduce incidents of violence. Adults who voice opinions as to the inferior quality of certain human beings prepare children to discriminate. Those who attribute animal or inhuman traits to certain groups are doing tremendous harm. Don't do this. A child may develop the very same prejudices. When a member of this group provokes them or just walks by, the child will react.

This is obvious in the gang situation. Kids die because they are wearing the wrong color rag or their shoe laces are laced in a particular way. A rival gang member needs no other reason to be murdered other then he exists. This is crazy. In a pre-gang time, these kids could have been best friends. They may share interests in the same music, games or a love of onion rings. Because they have different affiliations, they will only meet in battle.

Recent killing sprees by children and of children have shocked the world. Why are we so surprised? Didn't you see it coming? We are teaching kids to hate. We are teaching them to hurt. We are teaching them to not respect life.

There are women who get abortions because they made a mistake. We teach kids this is okay. It is only a fetus and some believe even less. Young parents kill their newborns and discard them in a dumpster. What is wrong? Innocent life is destroyed wantonly. We cannot even decide when life starts. To further complicate things, we are unsure when it ends. Must the heart stop, the brain not function, or breath no longer exist. To respect life, we should be able to identify it.

If kids value life, they may be less likely to endanger it. An additional thing we can do for kids is to give them the joy of life. There are reasons to celebrate every single day. Share this concept with children so they remember to look for the good in everything. Life is good. No one will argue that life can be difficult, annoying, sad, too busy, too boring, too scary at times. We can all agree that life is too precious to waste.

Show children the good side of life. Celebrate important events and holidays with flair. Surround yourself with beauty, calm, and grace. Encourage faith in a higher power. All these things will promote an appreciation and respect of life. In teaching your kids the value of life, you may even save one.