Sadly, crime is part of life in South Africa and almost every day we hear horror stories about burglaries, murders, hijackings and even horrific crimes against children. Since we are bombarded by these stories almost on a daily basis, we tend to become numb to the crimes that are being committed and rather than seeing the people as being victims of crimes, we often view them as just being another statistic and we continue with our lives.
Children, who have enquiring minds, are very often seriously affected by the horrific tales but because we’ve become so accustomed to them, we don’t usually think how the news reports on crime affects our children and how we can make it a little easier for them to deal with the shocking stories. Unless we move our families onto a deserted island, there is no way that we can avoid the world and the seemingly endless atrocities that are being committed. Even if we only choose to listen to the radio, we’re bound to hear news broadcasts about the latest criminal acts and activities.
Making kids feel safe
All parents have the same common goal, and that is to keep their children safe. Even though our society is riddled with crime, parents should try not to make children feel paranoid. It goes without saying that parents should warn their kids of the possible dangers that may exist, but kids will feel extremely unsafe and vulnerable if they are told tales of things that could happen to them. For instance, rather than saying -make sure that your door is locked when you’re driving in the car because we could be hijacked instead just make sure that before you drive off that all the car doors are locked. Drawing a child’s attention to the possibility of something going wrong will spark a child’s imagination and they will immediately think the worst.
Most homes are fitted with burglar bars or alarms and for the most part, kids are used to this way of life. However, once again don’t draw attention to the fact that you have these measures in place to keep out the baddies. Crime is unfortunately part of our lives, but if we encourage kids to live a normal and happy life, we can reduce the impact that crime has and we can also help to make them feel more secure.
Too much information
Children already have active imaginations and when they hear a story about a really bad man who has just escaped from a local prison, it will play on their minds and they will think the worst. Although we want our children to be aware of the dangers that are in the world, we don’t want to make them paranoid and terrified individuals who are constantly looking over their shoulder and wondering when something will go wrong. There’s no reason for children to know the ins and outs about the criminal activities in the country. As adults we tend to comment on the weekly news, discussing the latest events.
Parents should try to avoid having these conversations in front of their children. If a child happens to see or hear a report and ask questions about it, don’t go into full detail and discuss at length what happened. Be honest with your child but try to convey the information in such a way that the child won’t be left wondering when the bad man who has escaped will come to their home (or be hiding under their bed). Also be sure to tell your child that the police are working hard to find the man and you’re sure that it will all be okay. Reassuring a child will help them to forget their fears.
Kids who are victims of crime
Most families have in some way or other been affected by crime. Whether it’s been a housebreaking or a robbery, most SA families have been victims of some type of crime. For an adult the experience is terrifying, traumatic and confusing and the same applies to a child. By nature, children are trusting and they usually find it very difficult to comprehend why a nasty man with a gun or knife is threatening their mom or dad. After experiencing a crime, it’s natural for children to become frightened in certain situations or to act up or become withdrawn.
Parents will certainly understand the changes as being a natural reaction to a very traumatic experience. One of the most effective methods to deal with the experience is to encourage children to talk about their feelings and their fears. If parents find that it’s too difficult to relive the experience, a trained counsellor will be able to help children to open up and express themselves, and they will also be instrumental in assisting both children and parents to put the traumatic experience behind them.
When a family has been involved in a traumatic experience, it’s beneficial for the entire family to attend regular counselling sessions and be given a platform where they can address and talk about their feelings and their fears.
Post traumatic stress disorder
PTSD or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is commonly suffered by children who have been exposed to traumatic experiences. Crimes that are life-threatening, such as a hijacking, leave children (as well as adults) feeling helpless and terrified. PTSD is a serious disorder and if not treated, it can have a long-term impact on the child and the child will be forced to relive and deal with the experience for many years to come.
Even though we live in a country with a high crime rate, the last thing we want to do is to raise children who are fearful. We do however want our children to be streetwise and alert but we also want them to enjoy a happy and carefree childhood.