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I am sure, like me, it took you some time to pick your jaw off the floor when you realised that Will Smith hitting Chris Rock in the face on live television was not a joke. This act of violence was televised across the globe.
In the aftermath, many people have taken to social media to discuss the most talked about event of the Oscars this year. Many have sided with Will Smith and have defended his action, while others have rebuked it entirely. Others are still stunned. They are not sure what to think of the display of violence. Many, too, are disappointed in Will Smith. His act of violence is out of character for an actor who constantly talks about positivity and love.
However, it does not matter where you find yourself on the spectrum of this debate, Will Smith hitting Chris Rock was wrong, and we should not defend such actions. More importantly, how can we use this moment to teach children about violence?
Indeed, Will Smith apologised to Chris Rock and noted that his act of violence was not consistent with who he wanted to be as a person. I think we can accept Will Smith’s apology and use this as a teachable moment.
What Can We Teach Our Children About Violence?
1. Violence is not The Answer
All forms of violence are wrong. It was wrong for Will Smith to hit Chris Rock.
Imagine if we could smack somebody in the face every time they said something we did not like. Or made a joke that we did not find funny? What do you think the consequences of such liberal actions would be?
I am sure there were many times that we felt the need to “bitch slap” someone for being fresh, or as we in Jamaica call it, “passing their place” with us, but we do not. Instead, we gathered ourselves, probably walked away, or uttered some choice words. We, however, do not often hit someone in retaliation for hurting our feelings.
That is what children do when they have no other way of expressing their feelings. And in those moments when a child hits us out of frustration or anger, we reprimand them and tell them that their action was inappropriate.
2. Will Smith’s Act of Violence Is Illegal
Will Smith hitting Chris Rock at the Oscars yesterday was not only inappropriate, but it was illegal. According to Cornell Law School, physically harming someone is defined by law as battery, while assault is causing someone to reasonably fear that they will be harmed.
Any ordinary person who had done what Will Smith had done would have been arrested on the spot, let alone allowed to stay for the remainder of the ceremony.
At the time of writing this article, it was reported that Chris Rock had declined to press charges against Will Smith.
3. Will Smith’s Act of Violence Sets a Bad Example for Children
Whether or not celebrities want to be thought of as role models, the fact is, they are. This is especially the case for Will Smith. His work in the entertainment industry is family-friendly, and many children have seen his movies. Consequently, they look up to him as a role model.
Additionally, along with his wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, Will Smith has positioned himself as a well-being, motivational and positivity personality. However, this act of violence is contrary what his public persona and sets a bad example for many of his young fans.
While many will argue that celebrities should not be role models for children, this is not the reality. Children often have people in and outside of their families that they look up to and admire, and this is especially true if the person the children look up to shares their race, background, culture and circumstance.
Children having role models is healthy and a normal part of their development. In today’s celebrity-driven culture, it is more likely that your child will have a major celebrity like Will Smith as a role model than any other figure.
4. We Should not be Normalising Violent Behaviour
We are living in dangerous times. Violence is everywhere, and our children are exposed to it. It is commonplace to use violence to settle scores and end disputes. In my native Jamaica, you can lose your life for “dissing” someone or someone’s woman. Indeed, many would be looking at the Will Smith/Chris Rock fiasco and noting that Chris was lucky to get off with just a slap.
However, violence in Jamaica and many parts of the world is getting out of control. Our murder rate in Jamaica is at an all-time high. Disputes are not settled with words but with guns and other weapons. And our children are the ones who suffer the most.
Even in the virtual space, violence is commonplace. Verbal assaults and death threats are directed at people for their opinions. We just cannot seem to agree to disagree anymore.
So, one of the biggest stars in Hollywood has hit another person in his face on live television. What message does that send to our children? I wonder what conversations parents had with their children in the aftermath of the slap that was felt across the world.
Can we honestly, as responsible adults, tell our children that Will Smith’s behaviour was a normal response to hurt feelings and would we encourage them to do the same?
We have, at some point in our lives, encountered a Chris Rock and will likely do so in the future, should we resort to the same type of violence as Will Smith if and when we do? Should our children model that behaviour? Or should we teach them how to regulate their emotions and develop effective conflict-resolution skills?
I vote for the latter. The violence is getting out of control, and we should not normalise Will Smith’s behaviour.
Will Smith’s act of violence was wrong. He apologised. Let us use this as a teachable moment about violence for our children.