By Mary Stennes Wilbourn and Alison Behnke
March 23–27, 2015, is National Youth Violence Prevention Week. Teachers, students, counselors, and others will be doing activities to help kids choose effective ways to reduce or prevent violence. Students will tackle topics like anger management, safety, respect, tolerance, and more. The National Association of Students Against Violence Everywhere (SAVE) has worked with partners like Teaching Tolerance and GLSEN to develop daily activities that all schools can use in discussions about violence and rage. Check out their 2015 Daily Challenges and build some into your own version of violence prevention.
Rage is a powerful emotion—a burst of anger, often overwhelming, that all too often leads to violence. It is ingrained in us as humans, part of the fight or flight response that helped our ancient ancestors survive. Add to that the fact that we are bombarded by images of violence every day: Shootings, wars, fights, and more are depicted equally in fictional TV and on the daily news.
Controlling this burst of anger can be challenging for adults. Teens and younger kids need help understanding that anger and rage are emotions that can be controlled and learning how to channel that emotionally charged energy into constructive responses. This does not come easily, as the following excerpt from the book Rage: True Stories by Teens About Violence shows.
“The Monster Inside” by Griffin K. (pp. 45–55 of Rage)
I’ve lived in eight different places. When I go somewhere new, I have one goal in mind: not to get into any fights. I always seem to fail at that goal, though. I’m not sure why. Everyone has a boiling point, right? My boiling point is low. After years of being abused by my father, and then stuck in residential treatment centers and group homes, I’m angry from the jump. So I flip and lose control.
In all the fights I’ve had, someone gets messed up, and it isn’t me. I feel afraid of myself, of what I’m capable of. If I don’t stop fighting, I won’t be around much longer. I’ll either be locked up or dead.
Last fall, I started at a new high school. I decided to handle myself differently, to just lie low. I was determined not to let history repeat itself. I told myself, “Sometimes it’s cool to look soft. You know what you are, so why care about what someone else thinks about you? Do you, and don’t stop.” . . .
At first I stayed cool while [other people] were messing with me, because I knew that if I were to retaliate I would have given them what they wanted—a fight. I did not want to fight. I don’t get satisfaction from hurting people. But I was getting tired of getting messed with. . . .
[One day] I was late for gym class. So I jetted out of the lunchroom and up the stairs to the second floor. At the gym doors, guess who was on the other side messing with me? The same dude who had smacked me on the back earlier.
I said, “Yo, stop playing.”
He was still standing in front of the doors, playing.
I told him, “Stop playing with me. I’m not the one.”
He said, “Do you want to fight?”
I didn’t answer the question. I attacked him. He hit me a few good times. Then I was choking him, like in slow motion, waiting for the gym staff to come and break up the fight. They weren’t coming, so I punched him in the face. Then the staff came.
The guards took me to the principal’s office. They put the handcuffs on me and took me to their office. I sat and waited for the police officer to come and take me away again. At the police station I was caged for eight hours. It was fair. I did what I did and the school did what they needed to do.
When all this went down, I had no emotions. I felt those guys deserved what they got. I saw no way around it.
But it’s been a year since then. . . .
Looking back, I feel that my actions were unacceptable. I wish I had backed down and taken my own advice to look soft.
When I think about how I had no feelings for so long, I feel like a monster, an animal. What happened in that school I will never forget. It scares me to this day how violently I reacted in those situations. . . .
I know that I need to get under control. I don’t want to hurt anyone anymore. Hurting gave me satisfaction at one point. It made me feel in control. It let my rage out. For a long time, hurting was the only way I knew how to feel like I would survive life.
When I look back, I see that I was always waiting for someone to intervene, someone to stop me—the teachers, my counselor, security, or the police. When I was hurting someone, I was looking around like a child, hoping someone would take control of the monster inside of me.
Now I realize I need to start depending on myself more. I need to feel control by controlling myself, not others. So now I’m back to the beginning. I’m trying to lie low again. I just hope I can take my own advice this time.
During National Youth Violence Prevention Week, stories like Griffin’s can be powerful ways to open discussion with your students. Ask them to look at the news, movies, and more to find stories of people controlling anger and seeking positive outcomes for tense situations. Talk about appropriate ways to express anger. Use the daily challenges from SAVE, or have the group create their own to practice respect, safety, and tolerance. Be sure that your students know what resources are available in their school and community when they need help with rage.
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