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Mental and psychological violence

What is that youth workers are making wrong when dealing with children and young people? It is needless to say, every youth worker knows that physical violence is taboo when it comes to the young people in his care. However, how is it when it comes to psychological and mental violence? This, too, should be taboo. The problem is that this kind of violence is much more subtle and not always easily recognized compared with physical violence. These are mainly actions that hurt the self-esteem of the child or the young person, yet, they too can have drastic consequences.

bullying | ©: shootingankau - Fotolia

Many youth leaders lack the necessary degree of sensitivity when working with children. Consciously or unconsciously – they are passing on their experiences from their childhood that then becomes the parameters of their work.

This includes tactics such as embarrassing or ridiculing the child, which directly impacts on their self-esteem. Insults create guilt that should always be avoided. As a general rule of the thumb: educational and disciplinary actions should never be carried out in front of the group or other people. It is, in particular, this exposing or ridiculing in front of peers which creates the most lasting mental and emotional problems. The “model” of the youth worker is – again consciously or unconsciously – taken up and imitated by the rest of the group. This is bound to lead to more teasing and humiliation, damaging the self-esteem of the young person even more.

I will take this opportunity and talk a little bit about the various ways of teasing, exposing, ridiculing and humiliating. They are all little arrows of mental violence.

Exposing: In front of friends and classmates by teachers, youth workers and parents. A very negative experience for every child or young person. For example, the teacher shares the homework of the student who made the worst mistakes. How is the student supposed to feel? Like a failure! The youth leader calls the kid a “loser” in front of his peers, just because he couldn’t manage something as well as maybe somebody else.

Insult: Unfortunately, insults do happen from time to time. With this, I do not mean those insults that are meant to be a joke. What I mean here are those insults that are fully intended to hurt somebody else. Those insults coming from a teacher or a youth worker weigh very heavily on a child. The child perceives an insult as "not being valued".

Speaking down or judging: no one wants others to think poorly about or even judge him. However, some people who make it their business to let you exactly hear and feel just that, making the child feel "unappreciated".

Imposing guilt: everything the growing person does, receives harsh criticism and negative comments. This behaviour instils guilt "I made a mistake" which paves the way to “fear of failure" for future tasks and situations.

Punishment: Punishment is always controversial. However, penalties in front of others weigh much heavier. The "position of power" imposed by the punisher and the "powerless" of the child a leaves a sense of "helplessness". And it is not uncommon, that sometimes, what had happened was not even the child’s fault, yet, it receives punishment none the less. It gets even more serious if the child receives corporal punishment, or humiliations such as "being sent in the corner", or "to sit on the cold floor", etc.

Humiliations: when a child/young person is "paraded" before anyone else and forced to do humiliating things such as "eating disgusting food", strip naked or has to walk around with a donkey's head, this are the incidents that the child/young person will never forget. Humiliations are actions where a youth worker (or even teachers, educators, etc.) "exerts his power" to teach the child a lesson, to break his spirit.

Mocking: Mocking and scorn are just as insults, condemnations, humiliations, indented to make the young person look like a failure. He will not just look like a failure; he will feel like a failure as well. On top of that he will feel left out as well.

The effects of self-esteem infringing educational actions

Once the self-esteem of a young person is significantly damaged, the chances are that this will lead to long-term consequences.

Note: When you look at all those horrible things kids are often subjected to, calling them educational measurements are almost an additional insult. An abuse of the word education.

Those are the possible consequences for the child or young person:

Withdrawal or isolation: Over time for some people the withdrawal from all social contacts reaches right down to an absolute isolation as the only way to cope. It is not uncommon that this behaviour later in life can lead to relationship problems.

Aggression: For other young people, aggressiveness might be the coping mechanism of choice. These children and young people try to compensate for the lack of self-worth by (supposed) physical strength. Scientific research and studies have shown that an aggressive behaviour towards other children and young people almost always results from a lack of self-esteem in the offender. In this case, the challenge to parents, teacher and youth worker alike is to convey to the young person as much as possible self-confidence. That will help the adolescent in avoiding to demonstrate superiority over weaker peers or even worse validate (false) self-esteem through violent behaviour.

Insecurity: It is not surprising that a child when growing up hearing nothing but, everything he does is wrong; soon he doesn’t trust himself anymore. He becomes more and more insecure. Having internalized this feeling of “I can’t get it right”, may later in life lead, for example, to a situation where the young person goes to an interview and does not demonstrate the necessary confidence trquired for such an important event. Evidently, those "self-esteem infringing conduct" can have unsuspected consequences for the rest his life.

Feelings of losing and failure: It is easy to trace back how feelings of losing and failure have established in the person’s life. Every criticism, every derogatory word about his performance - eventually it breaks the camel's back. Being presented as a failure again and again, to no surprise that one day, the young person feels like a failure.

Dreamworld: the escape into a dream world can be another consequence. This is a world, where the young person finally can be the hero, the chief, the one who holds all the power. This can be expressed, for example, in computer games. Dreams and fantasies and indulging in ideas such as “one day I am going to study to make it big one day”. The reality is faded out. Through the almost non-existent self-confidence the grades at school are poor, studying, therefore, becomes a far off reality. Without professional help, and a lot of “self-confidence building opportunities the young person will stay in his dream world and every dream of a future will remain a dream.

Pursuit of recognition and superiority: In his pursuit to be someone, to be the one in power the youth strives for recognition. This false sense of superiority can manifest as a form of bullying. (I am going to finish him off). Another form would be forcing someone else to daring actions to gain an advantage of the assumed weaker person. The reality of this behaviour though is that no amount of bullying will ever give him a sustainable self-esteem. Whatever little self-esteem this person shows is always at the expense of somebody else.

I certainly do not need to point out that youth workers who violate his code of conduct and, therefore, violates the young people in his care, is misplaced. Besides that, the young people soon will not want to come anymore. It is probably fair to say that youth leaders as such seem to have a mental health problem themselves. All he sees in the young person is the victim, a weaker person on which he can exert his need for power. In my opinion, there is nothing worse than torturing children and young people in such an insidious and covert manner. The long-term damage to the child is vast and can reverberate far into adulthood.

[ © | 2000 Games and Ideas for Youth Work ] - 2000 Games and Ideas for Youth Work
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