Erica Neustadt of Change 4Chalfont
BROWSING in my local supermarket last evening, trying to decide between salt’n’vinegar and plain, all of a sudden I became aware of a diatribe. ‘You’re stupid. You’re really stupid. Stupid. Stupid boy. Really stupid’. On and on it went, this tirade, and around the corner came a 60-something woman with a small boy – maybe he was six.
Now, I don’t know what had happened before, and we have all lost our rag at some point, but it was noticeable that the woman did not seem in the least bit angry. In fact, what really caught my attention, apart from the volume and the lack of self-consciousness, was the atmosphere of power that she generated. She was enjoying a comfort zone of control over her charge.
And he was powerless; he wandered, head bent, after his antagonist, not defending himself, unable to walk away or stop the hectoring voice which now reprised the tired old ‘you wait till I get you home’ routine. Then she noticed that he no longer had the shopping basket with which he had started, and the whole denigrating, grating abuse started again.
Had these people been two children, I would have had no hesitation to call it bullying, and might even have intervened – not to remonstrate with one, but to check, gently, that the other was alright; bullies don’t like to be noticed and this might have been enough to have put a stop. But this was an adult who clearly had care of the child and that made it much harder, and hey, I hate people interfering in my business so shouldn’t I keep my nose out of theirs?
It doesn’t take much research to uncover the documented effects of calling a child stupid; do it enough, and surprise surprise, he or she will start believing you, particularly if you are in a position of perceived authority – and that belief easily becomes hard-wired.
Our society has become very sensitive to abuse of children. In the past, when physical and sexual abuse weren’t spoken about, many people suffered much damage. I feel shocked that yesterday, I witnessed verbal and emotional abuse which might affect a small child’s life, carried out publically and without shame.
Should I, in spite of all my reservations, have intervened?