I took a course on trends in violence as part of my post-grad course on urban youth ministry (through Fuller). In order to research the trends in violence among expatriate youth in Phnom Penh, I interviewed two administrators of international schools in Phnom Penh.
Both schools serve international populations of largely middle to upper class families. In both these discussions the issue of violence was treated in a general sense, including neglect and self harm. One school reported concerns about self-harm among younger girls (13-14 years old). The trends they reported were similar. Overall violent occurrences are rare. While they admitted there are occasional issues, these tend to be isolated and short term.
Some thoughts that came out of these discussions:
- Most violence arises among the boys, often related to aggression that comes up during sporting events. It is therefore important to have men model healthy ways of handling aggression on the sports field.
- Cyber bullying is a larger issue than face-to-face bullying. It’s important to be aware of cyber bullying and teaching media awareness (and the importance of integrity). This includes teaching responses for teens to use if a friend is being cyber bullied.
- Important to be aware of cultural differences – some Asian families would consider “acceptable” what some Western families would consider “neglect”.
- Helping parents network – where discussing challenges would be possible (this may apply more to schools than a youth ministry setting)
I also attempted to gain a better understanding of issues of violence in Khmer families. I spoke to someone familiar with cultural trends contributing to violence within families. Khmer cultural attitudes to be aware of include that boys are expected to get into trouble, while girls should be kept at home. Often in incidents of rape, the woman is held accountable and brings shame on her family. Women have an attitude of “deserving” violence. Better understanding the cultural attitudes towards rape and violence helps me better anticipate some of the identity issues raised in or adopted from Khmer families may deal with.
This conversation brought home to me the importance of understanding trends of violence among youth and differing cultural attitudes towards violence. This knowledge enables me to better serve the teens I work with – it gives me an idea of what they may be struggling with, helping me read between the lines of their stories and predict possible future issues (that I can then help the youth deal with).
All of this shows the importance of fostering relationships with teens where there is safe space for youth to share difficulties.