Children are displaying lack of empathy and it is important to understand the cause of their behaviour.
“When you’ve seen the absence of empathy and the inability to feel, that behaviour is saying something very important to us,” said Sr Julie Marie Peters SSM, Director of the Franciscan Institute for Personal & Family Development as she gave the feature address at a Peer Mediation Symposium, National Academy for the Performing Arts South Campus (SAPA) last Tuesday.
The symposium aimed to provide information to students and others of the value which can be attained by the implementation of a peer mediation programme and had as its theme Changing behaviour patterns through peace-building among youth. It was hosted by Community Peacemakers, a voluntary professional mediation service of the Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish, San Fernando.
Sr Julie Marie, a trained psychologist and certified trauma therapist dealt with the topic, ‘What issues do our youth face today?’. Discussing trauma, she said teachers need to be more prepared and efficient. Isolation, anxiety and poor concentration are some of the problems associated with this experience. Sr Julie Marie highlighted the change in many homes where families do not sit together for a meal. She noted that it is in this setting family values and traditions can be passed on.
In her interactions with students she tried to find out what is sabotaging their lives because they are unable to have “empathy kick in” when they see pain. Sr Julie Marie mentioned a lack of emotional intelligence among school students which inhibits the development of core skills needed to succeed such as social skills, self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation and empathy.
Another concern is the inability to take “no” for an answer, displayed especially by young teenagers in whom certain lobes of the brain are not well developed. “If you can’t take no for an answer, you have violence immediately,” she said.
Sharing some examples from her own life, Sr Julie Marie shared the good news that a traumatic past does not have to lead to violence but can be healed and “new pathways can be developed”. She recommended helping persons in the survival flight or fight mode to feel an ‘I am safe’ state of the brain so that they can move to a stage of deducing what can be learnt from experiences.
“We really have to take seriously treating trauma if we are to do serious peace work…try to create trauma-sensitive schools and environments so children do not always react but respond,” Sr Julie Marie said.
Archbishop Joseph Harris said the symposium “is the best thing I have seen or heard happening in Trinidad for the last five years”. Speaking with the Catholic News after delivering opening remarks, he said the focus must be on the young people of the country and “the future of the country depends on the young people”. The function of the Church, he added, is to be the pointer to harmony in the society.
There was a large turnout of secondary school students and their teachers. Jeremy Rodriguez, President of the Anti-Bullying Association of Trinidad and Tobago, and Hanif Benjamin discussed issues affecting students. The other panellists speaking on meaningful interventions that build capacity for conflict management and resolution were Louris Martin Lee-Sing and Amanda Ackberali-Ramdial. Moderators were Ambika Harrikissoon, Candy Roget and Kirk Nancoo.
Focused discussion was followed by student presentations and open discussions on peer mediation and the way forward. Also present at the symposium were Gregory Prevatt, Chairman of Community Peacemakers, and Justice Vasheist Kokaram, Chairman of the Mediation Board of Trinidad and Tobago. – EH