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Words Mean Something, So Please Stop Saying That You Want To Kill Someone

Words can be violent, too. Morguefile photo

Words can be violent, too. Morguefile photo

By Amy L. Hatch

As a writer I should know better and as a parent, it is critical: Words are meaningful and when we use violent language to describe our feelings we are contributing to a culture that is numb to the effects of killing.

Since Dec. 14 when a madman entered an elementary school intent on slaughter, I’ve become hyper-aware of the permeation of violence all around me and my kids. Last week, my 8-year-old was innocently playing an app on her iPod that involves fairies and magic potions while we drove from one place to another, and she asked me if she could “buy a gun to kill some people” in her game.

I replied maybe a little more vehemently than I intended to and opened up a discussion with her about guns and killing and violence that I probably could have handled with a little more parenting aplomb. I’m here to tell you that talking to your kids about guns and violence is a lot harder than telling them where babies come from.

In other words, if she wants to talk about sex I’m ready. If she wants to know why she can’t pretend to kill a bad fairy with an animated musket, I’m all thumbs.

However, we stumbled through a short conversation about why guns were invented, how responsible people use them and how some guns just aren’t good and are meant for just one thing and that’s to kill people. Afterward, I spent about an hour berating myself and then I spent another hour researching and thinking about how better to explain to her that I want to create an atmosphere in our home of love and kindness for all, and that means not engaging in violent play.

For me, I realized after some soul searching, it also means being aware of what I do and say in order to set that example.

I can’t keep saying that I want to kill people, or shoot myself or ask anyone else to kill me.

No, I don’t really want to kill people. I don’t want to kill myself, nor do I want anyone else to kill me. But I say those things all the time, without a thought. If I’m staring down the barrel of a long day, I’ve been known to quip, “Someone, please kill me.”

If I’m in the car and I don’t like someone’s driving, I have been known to shout, “Ugh, I could kill someone today!”

And so on, and so forth.

My kids have watched shows that include maybe a little too much violence, cartoon or otherwise. I let it slide because hey! We watched Wile E. Coyote die a thousand deaths and we’re OK, right?

But no, we aren’t OK. And no, Wile E. Coyote isn’t to blame. But we do exist in a society that is absolutely saturated with violent games, language, movies, TV shows, books…the list goes on and on.

Yes, violence exists in the real world. Yes, violence has a place in literature and film. Yes, we have to cope with violence because it is in our nature to commit these acts against one another.

However, I will do my best to no longer contribute to the culture of death that circles around my kids. I don’t want to kill anyone, ever. I know from personal experience what death looks like up close and personal, and death leaves grief and destruction in its wake for the living for the rest of their lives.

Loss hurts, loss destroys.

Just as language can lift us up and inspire us, language can debase us, make us less than, words can dehumanize us and we can dehumanize one another when we threaten violence in our everyday slang. As someone who spends her days on the Internet, I say with authority that people are careless with words like “war,” “kill,” “throat-punch,” and so much more.

I’m not going to say I want to kill you anymore. I hope you don’t want to kill me for saying that.

 

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Comments

  1. Spot on! Wonderful post with a powerful message. Just because game/app developers and writers/producers have discovered cute, animated ways to stage violence (of varying degrees) doesn’t mean it’s a harmless thing for our children to watch. Whether they see the action, or hear the words (regarding violence or name-calling!), kids soak it up and take it to the playgrounds. Don’t get me wrong, I joined right in playing GI Joe, the A-Team, and other shoot ‘em up games as a kid, but like you said, it doesn’t mean that’s ok. We can’t prevent it all, and none of us are perfect. But still. I think of all the power-house posts you’ve written, this is my favorite because it’s just so right on (well, so are the others) and packs a punch in the gut. Wait, I meant to say it’s totally wicked.

  2. amy, you are so right! a well-written essay and a timely reminder to watch our words and model what we want our kids to learn.

  3. Betsy Crocker says:

    Amy, I’ll trade you on the sex/guns talk! A desire to hurt someone, real or imaginary, is something I can discuss pretty easily.

    It is better to watch our language, but if you say, “I wanted to kill that guy,” and everyone around you knows that this is a way of expressing frustration, not anything approaching an actual desire–it’s OK!!

    Finally, I’ll comment that Europeans seem to be surprised at Americans’ willingness to be exposed to violence but not sex–just look at how movie ratings are affected: “Babies” is PG, not G.

  4. Here here! I don’t allow that language in my house. And allow my kids to call me on it, albeit respectfully, when I remark “Just shoot me now!” I also do not allow other people’s children to say such things in my house. I explain that we only say what mean in our house and if that’s what you truly mean, which it surely isn’t, you are not welcome. Oddly enough my house is (over ? Lol) filled with neighborhood kids every weekend.

    Bravo Amy Hatch!

  5. Amen, Amy. I’ve been having the same type of internal conversation with myself. I always said the “shoot me now” joke when I had to do things I didn’t want to do. But since Sandy Hook am trying not to. Excellent post.

  6. Amy,

    I caught your cross-post on Huffington Post. You are correct that words mean something and violent words sent the wrong message to our children. Adults talk about hurting or killing others all too often in casual conversation. We then compound the problem by casually killing rodents, snakes, insects, spiders and other pests. We teach not to hurt others, then we speak and act just the opposite without giving any sort of meaningful explanation. Have you noticed that these pests are often the protagonists in the stories we read to them – think Beatrice Potter here – or the songs we sing to them, such as the “Incy Wincy Spider?”

    At the same time, we try, usually unsuccessfully, to hide “real death” – the death of a relative or a pet – from them. We justify it by saying that “they wouldn’t understand.”

    As a result, many children only understand death from what they see on television. They see the same actor die again and again, each time as a different character on a different show. As adults, we do not notice the actors who portray the “extras” on our favorite shows, but young children do. To suburban children, death often is not real.

    As children grow into adults, layers of learning grow on top of the early lessons that parents laid down so many years before. They do not unlearn these early lessons. I saw that quite graphically when, as a young adult, some of my high school buddies came home from Vietnam “to be laid to rest ‘neath the green, green grass of home.” There were quite a few who “just couldn’t handle it.” They were confused, incredulous, lost and all sorts of other emotions – this was the first funeral they had ever attended. He was someone they knew and the finality of the farewell was crushing them.

    I believe that, as parents, we need to teach not only respect for life, but for the full cycle of life, including death. It is the philosophy my wife and I have followed in raising our children and we are pleased and proud of the way each handles the adversity and loss that comes their way – much better than either I or my wife did at their ages.

    As you said, words matter, but that is only one part. We, as parents, must teach them clearly regarding matters of life, growth, aging and death.

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