Does crime make kids anxious?
Is living behind electric fences turning our children into nervous wrecks? Our single parent wonders.
‘As many as one in 4 middle-class children – some as young as 3 – face emotional problems, partly as a result of overexposure to crime and violence.’

This was the claim published in The Sunday Times recently. The article went on to quote psychologists and experts, one of them claiming to treat up to 15 children a day at a private clinic. Child therapist Oril Zaacks says ‘Parents unknowingly are also projecting their fears onto their kids through their own safety concerns.’

Clinical psychologists Colinda Linde warned that parents should not overload their children with too much ‘doom and gloom’.

‘Children observe what we do more than what we say. Parents need to model a realistic way of dealing with trauma rather than showing children that they are overwhelmed.’

Reading the article struck a few nerves, which of-course added to the already daunting list of parental responsibilities we’re faced with daily. Of course us being South Africans, the universe has deemed it necessary that in addition to providing for our kids, making ends meet, ensuring a good education, wiping their noses etc, we also have to ensure that a casual stroll to the shop doesn’t end in kidnapping or death. The stress is real and it’s sickening. The incidents of crime and violence are also sickening and very real.

So what to do? What exactly does Linde mean by a ‘realistic way of dealing with trauma?’

It’s all just a movie...

Should we liken crime in the country to a scene from movie? ‘Dad why is the man being ugly to the child?’

 ‘Well baby, he is a baddy and he’s just playing a role in the film, remember the other film we saw in which the same man was a goody? So you see it’s just a film, it’s not real.’

‘Dad, why are those people dancing around and shouting? And why are the other people carrying a coffin of a man with a long beard who looks like Santa Clause? Well baby, they’re preparing for a play, they’re rehearsing to do a show about some new dance moves and the coffin’s just a prop.’

‘ Oh, like hip hop?’ Yeah. Something like that...

No, I don’t know. And it really is not funny. So what’s the alternative? Block off all news feeds into the home. Insert blocking devices in their ears which bleeps out all bad words or news when it’s heard outside the house? Move to another country (many of us have done this, only to discover other challenges waiting on the other side of the fence).

There is another scenario not mentioned in the article. These statistics are quoted among ‘middle-class’ kids, which is probably relatively small compared to the masses of kids living in far worse conditions in our country. For them, this is their reality and it’s a strange reality to grow up in such abhorrent conditions and believing it to be normal. However, that is the survival technique the mind calls upon to get us through our own particular hell. Some will survive and flourish into well-adjusted adults, others will give new meaning to ‘payback is a bitch’ later in life.

But what are we to do about it as parents? The thought that I might be putting my 3-year-old on the road to Prozac bliss because of stress, just adds to my stress.

How do we spare kids the stress of our crime fears and realities?

Read more by Marlon Abrahams

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