The Research Report on the Children's Perception of Violence Project was prepared by Asst. Prof. Zeynep Çatay Çalışkan with master students Merve Özgüle and Çimen Güldöker from Istanbul Bilgi University. Click for the full research report.
As noted in Unicef report in 2010, there is a need for conducting more research about violence against children in Turkey. Especially there are almost no studies regarding children’s experiences and perceptions of violence. This study aimed to fill this gap and focus on how children perceive experience and conceptualize violence by using different expressive modalities. Through analyzing verbal and artistic expressions of children, we observed that children were exposed to different forms of violence in their daily lives. Especially the prevalence of children’s exposure to physical violence at school, neighborhood, home and in the media was striking. As a consequence, these experiences made children feel frightened, frustrated and angry. More specifically, children’s exposure to physical violence at school was overwhelmingly high. Unfortunately, this result showed that teachers and school principals continue to use violence as a discipline method. It should be noted that these experiences of violence is very destructive for children and they may also lead to an increase in bullying behaviors between peers. Children reported that experiencing physical violence make them feel very frightened, and anxious. These intense affects were reflected in disconnected story lines in the stories and powerful negative images in the pictures in addition to disorganization in children’s narratives about their drawings.
This study also showed that psychological violence among peers in the form of teasing and humiliation was very frequent. These experiences were found to be prevalent especially in the schools setting. There were many negative experiences expressed about the school system. Especially, the 13-15 year-old group complained about the overemphasis on exams in the education system, insufficient social activities, discrimination, sexism and restrictions. Children perceived school as an insufficient setting for expressing themselves. They did not feel respected by their teachers. Negative experiences in puberty should be taken seriously as this time period has a key role in the development of adult self and identity. Thus, these negative experiences might be perceived and experienced as a type of violence and they may in turn feed aggressive behaviors in adolescents.
Another important finding of the study was children’s sensitivity about negative experiences in their life spaces that might be defined as environmental violence. Children were very concerned about insufficient infrastructure, dirtiness, lack of security and lack of playgrounds in their neighborhood. Children’s reports were in line with McInyre’s (2000) suggestion that environmental violence should be identified as one of the violence types. Deficiencies in the school and neighborhood environments were observed to lead to feelings of neglect in this group of children.
In general, neighborhood environment was described as a place related with fearful experiences by children. One significant factor was political demonstrations that took place in their neighborhood. Children witnessed many political demonstrations and intense use of tear gas. Issues related with Syrian refugees were also significant for children. It was observed that Syrian children were sometimes perceived as frightening figures by children whereas other times children empathized with Syrians’ difficult conditions.
Children also reported physical, verbal and psychological violence experiences in the home environment. Experiences of physical and verbal violence against children from mothers were reported very frequently. This result suggested that physical punishment is still being used as a prevalent discipline method. Witnessing violence among other family members was also seen to affect children negatively. Another negative experience children mentioned was the expectations from parents about them doing housework. Children reported having difficulty meeting these expectations. In addition, children observed that their parents frequently directed their own stress and frustration onto them as anger and aggression. These experiences reveal that socio-economic difficulties and daily life stress of parents affect their parenting capacities adversely. It also exemplifies how the cycle of violence works in the larger system and reaches to children. Other significant negative experiences related to home environment were feeling restricted, not being able to speak for themselves and lack of care.
In the older age groups, sexual violence examples were mentioned. Especially witnessing sexual violence on the streets, public transportation and in the media was in the agenda of the age group of 13-15 year-olds. Noteworthy, children were having difficulties in defining, expressing and giving meaning to these experiences of sexual violence.
Another important topic mentioned frequently in the age group of 13-15 years was sexual discrimination. Girls in this age group complained about experiencing sexual discrimination in different settings and being restricted in many facets of their daily lives. Housework, social and sport activities were examples of areas in girls’ daily lives that were determined in line with gender norms. On the other hand, boys complained about being labeled as being ‘lazy’ more frequently in comparison to girls and being subjected to physical punishment more easily.
Children were also found to be sensitive about other types of discrimination (disabled, Syrians, and etc.). Being disrespected, not being listened to enough were other negative experiences mentioned by children. Especially in the younger age groups, children stated their negative experiences about unfairness, punishment, being forced to do work and not being able to speak for themselves at school and home.
However, experiencing care and love from their parents and teachers were described as one of the most important positive experiences by children. Doing special activities with teachers, having birthday parties and receiving allowance were other important positive experiences stated by children.
Children were aware of the physical, emotional, and cognitive effects of violence experiences on them. Feelings of anxiety and fear, feelings of being unloved and worthlessness especially in the face of relational violence were frequently mentioned. However, it was observed that children might also see violent behavior as being acceptable in certain circumstances. Especially mothers’ and fathers’ physical and verbal aggression was excused and interpreted as being deserved when children behaved wrongly. In addition, they also excused violence from teachers when children did not act in accordance with teachers’ warning. These results suggested that children have already internalized the view that violence is an appropriate way of problem solving. This result showed the importance of and the need for raising awareness in public about violence.
Hopefully, the age group of 13-15 year-olds did not express any views on seeing violence as acceptable. It appears that with their growing intellectual capabilities adolescents are able to understand these issues in a more comprehensive way.
In children’s stories and drawings, components related with the cycle of violence were apparent. In many stories a character who was first the victim of violence became the perpetrator. In order to break this cycle, children emphasized the importance of being nice to the perpetrator, empathizing with him or her, and explaining the faulty behavior. The presence of a protective adult figure who intervened seemed to have a curative effect. In the stories with protective adult figures, the conflict was able to be resolved and the children’s narratives were observed to be much more coherent and organized. On the other hand, there were other stories where the adult figures failed to behave appropriately and became part of the cycle of violence. These results signify the importance of adult figures in children’s life for emotion regulation and establishing the sense of security. The fact that adults are subject to major difficulties and socio-economic disadvantages create an important vulnerability in this respect. Children were well-aware that their parents directed their own life stress onto them as aggressive interactions. The term of “normal abnormality” by Ignacio Mart ́ın-Baro ́ (1994) captured the essence of our samples’ perception of environment in which people got used to anticipating and living with different kinds of violence. Normalization of violence poses a risk for the majority of our community.
This study revealed the importance and necessity of relevant socio-economic policies along with suitable prevention programs in order to reduce violence in the society as a whole. Programs and studies conducted with children are important in terms of breaking the silence around violence and giving space for verbalizing negative experiences. In addition to verbalization, using art as a method gives the chance of expressing and transforming difficult experiences for children.
During this project it was observed that children had difficulties in conceptualizing certain kinds of violence, setting boundaries and finding a solution to it. It is important that prevention programs that are held should involve elements of empowering and giving voice to children. In addition, these programs should educate the adults about their important role in breaking the cycle of violence for their children. Raising awareness of parents and teachers about the devastating impact of violence, widening their repertoire for positive discipline methods, supporting adults’ emotion regulation and stress management skills are some of the important needs that can be targeted by future projects and programs.