The death of 10-year old Joanna Ramos, a Long Beach, California fifth-grader, has been ruled a homicide. The alleged murderer? An 11-year old girl. Weapons? None. The death due to blunt force trauma (possibly a blood clot on her brain) as a result of a scheduled fistfight. Reason? Allegedly, a boy. How does any of this make any sense? And, as adults, we must ask ourselves: Could this happen to my child?

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When a tragedy like this happens, we naturally try to find the reasons, the causes, and mainly, someone to blame. But when the alleged “criminal” is an 11-year old girl, can you really place the blame on her? Can you direct all of your anger against such a vulnerable target? It would be easy to blame her parents for not realizing that their child had “issues.” But the truth is that nowadays it seems increasingly harder to truly understand what it’s like to be your child. Are they depressed because the hormones are kicking in or because they are being bullied?

And yet, as parents we better start focusing really hard on what we can do to make sure our own children don’t become the next headline.

This case hit me particularly hard because Joanna is Hispanic and because as a community we tend to look for others to fix our problems: The school, the government, the politicians, etc. But when it comes to our kids safety, there is a lot we can do ourselves to raise children who are less prone to violence, whether that means being the perpetrators, recipients or passive bystanders of a violent act.

Some of these things include:

  • Help your daughters love and respect their bodies. The constant bombardment of idealized images of women (which subconsciously turn them into objects to be used by men) affects girls’ identities and self esteem. Eugenia Tarzibachi, an Argentine psychologist says: “Unfortunately, these episodes of violence between young girls are becoming more and more common. It’s hard to give an opinion about this particular case without knowing all the details, but many of these fights seems to be a phenomenon of our times related to how to establish your femininity.”
  • Closely monitoring what they do online and how many hours they spend there. I know you’ve heard this before, and that there comes a point when you give up arguing with your kid over putting the electronics away. But you need to persevere. Track their movements online, review comments on their Facebook pages, try to identify early on any possible source of serious discord with classmates.
  • Limit their exposure to violent TV programs, movies and videos for children younger than 12. Such constant exposure numbs their ability to have the normal reactions one would when faced with a violent situation.
  • Teach your kids critical thinking skills from a very young age. If they can reason themselves out of a problem, they won’t feel the need to use their fists or worse.
  • Talk to your kids daily about what happened in school. Don’t only ask about academic stuff but concern yourself with social interactions as well.
  • Encourage your children to have play dates. Invite their friends over for no reason other than to hang out. The sooner and the better you know your kids’ friends, the closer you’ll be to noticing any trouble.

The most important thing you can do for your kids, however is this: Model a peaceful environment. Ask yourself: Do you or your partner often allow your passion to get the best of you and as a result you yell, hit, push, slap your partner, dog, kids? Think again.

Research shows that about 30% of abused or neglected children will become abusers as adults, that 59% are more likely to be arrested as juveniles, and 30% are more likely to commit violent crimes. So ask yourself again. Are you modeling the best possible example for your children at home? If you are not, please take steps today to modify the situation. Whether that means to leave a violent partner, or stop using angry bad words to talk to your kids.

You have the power to substantially diminish your child’s chances of engaging in violent behavior. It’s up to you to use that power.