Monday, 14 January 2013

Violent language towards children

This is in no way an attack towards Italian society as I have heard and seen nasty things in the UK too, it's just that I'm here right now and have heard in the last couple of days some things that took me back to my childhood (bad bits from my childhood) and made me very sad.

Yesterday we were in front of the Zoo in Rome and were choosing snacks from a street vendor, a group of about 6 children came running towards us and before they even had a change to get to the stall (full of sweets and toys as well as sandwiches and drinks) one of the women looking after them forcefully said: "This is just a warning but anyone who touches anything will have their hands nailed to the stall", the children seemed not to notice, they continued laughing and running but none of them actually touched anything.
Then, just a few minutes ago, I was queuing in a children's shop waiting to pay for some art materials, two girls in front of me were talking sweetly about their children and how much they would love their new crayons, then one told the other how she had come home from the gym yesterday, found lots of juice spilled on the floor and smacked her toddler, she added it could also have been her daughter so she smacked them both. Her friend replied that of course that's what you do, just in case...

These two exchanges have a lot in common, not just the violence present in the language and the act but in the normalisation of the principle. The children at the zoo must have heard these threats so many times they didn't consciously pick up on the nastiness of that single one, and probably the woman herself had no real intention of nailing anyone's hands down. The girls in the shop never for a moment doubted that smacking is normal and necessary, I saw their faces, they would've been horrified had I said anything.

I wasn't too shocked to hear these things as both occurrences were commonplace for me growing up in Rome in the 70s, I was saddened that parents don't question the way they were brought up and continue making the same mistakes. As what are these things telling the children? Consciously they might not even notice anymore (although smacking is never pleasant), even joke about it, but it must foster a lot of anger inside, a sense of helplessness, a feeling that the world is not a kind and safe place and parents can turn against their own children very quickly, that no one is loved unconditionally, that aggression and depression (I felt both as a consequence of this sort of discipline or violence masquerading as love) are normal parts of being human.

I do notice a difference between the boys and a lot of other children we meet, they certainly are not obedient and they do touch toys and sweets on stalls, they do occasionally spill their juice (so do I!!), argue with me and generally have a mind of their own, and that is ok, it might not be very convenient (for me) but it means that when we are happy together, when we are all running around the woods or making something or cooking, going to the theatre, reading, travelling, even tidying up together, it is because they truly want to, we are truly united, we are not scared of each other.

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