Rethinking the way we talk about domestic violence.

October 21, 2015 Published by

The article that received so much attention last week when a hospital worker told a girl who had been punched by a boy “I bet he likes you” is one example of where a well-meaning, possibly completely innocent comment has been given a more sinister interpretation and sensationalised.

Without knowing the context or the intention behind the hospital workers comments, it’s impossible to know for sure.

Whilst it would be completely inappropriate of any adult to say a 4 year old girl about any boy “I bet he LIKES you” with a nod and a wink, it’s completely understandable for someone who sees a young child in distress to try and reassure her that she’s not done anything wrong and there’s nothing about her that gave the boy the right to hit her, and that he probably likes her really and didn’t mean it.

Undoubtedly, the words could have been chosen more carefully but if the intention is to comfort and build child’s self esteem, should we really be putting additional, more adult interpretations on these words? Surely this is the quickest way for the poor young girl to become aware of the nastier side of life and lose her innocence.

1 in 7 children and young people under the age of 18 (the equivalent of 260,400 in London alone) have lived with domestic abuse and one incident of domestic abuse reported every 30 seconds. These are scary figures. The question isn’t whether something needs doing but what.

Will sensationalising a comment made to a four year old address the route cause of domestic violence? No – at best it may get people talking more about it and being more considerate about how they talk to and in front of children. What is more likely to happen is that well-meaning, kind adults are going to be even more reticent to engage with children due to a fear of saying the wrong thing and children will feel even more separated and unsure of adults and the wider society. Creating barriers between children and adults will damage society as a whole as neither group will feel comfortable interacting with each other, resulting in increased social isolation and all the dangers to mental and physical health that come with that.

What this story highlighted to me is the adult-ification of young children – we are increasingly exposing children to a more adult world that they are neither cognitively nor emotionally ready for and this should stop – NOW.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe that we shouldn’t mollycoddle children – they need to be allowed to explore, take risks and have adventures. They need to do these things in order to develop the skills to be able to thrive in an adult world when they need to and cope with the darker side of life when they are faced with it, but not at 4! Putting young children in the middle of this world and making comments about adult issues is not just unfair on the child, it’s dangerous and will result in children being confused and suffering from some of the issues that we want to protect them from. They won’t have the confidence or self-esteem to enable them to take control of their own life, they will define themselves in reference to external, subjective standards such as those set by glamour mags or risqué fashion, and fall victim to perpetrators of the physical and emotional abuse who feed these insecurities.

My plea to parents, the media and anyone in contact with children: let them be kids and protect their innocence; they’ll have enough harsh reality when they are older. Let’s give them the freedom to thrive and develop in safe, non-violent homes without interpreting their actions or conversations through an adult lens.

This media furore about a comment to a four year old could be another case of political correctness gone mad. A lot of these remarks only cause harm if we put adult interpretations on them. Yes, let’s all be a bit more careful about our choice of words when in emotionally sensitive situations, but it would be a shame if the corollary of this was that adults were less likely to speak to children generally for fear of saying the wrong thing.

Let’s get the adults to sort out the adult problems and give children back their childhoods.

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This post was written by Amanda Gummer

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