Lakeshore News Tonight

This article underwritten by: Renetta DuBose

Generation Z Talks Child Abuse

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The roles reversed for a group of parents and students.  A panel of young people from the Gary Youth Services Bureau talked with Community HealthNet staff members and parents about what people their age, categorized as Generation Z, deal with when it comes to child abuse. 

Fantasa Smith, who begins her Senior year at West Side Leadership Academy in the fall, revealed how a friend was being beaten by her mother’s boyfriend because of her sexual orientation.

“I told my mom about it and she said did she try to call the social worker about it and I said she doesn’t want anybody to call because she doesn’t want to lose her mother.”

There were similar stories from the panel of teenagers who operate as the Gary Youth Leadership Council.  The event gave the daring dozen a chance to tell doctors and medical staff members firsthand what it is like to be physically and verbally abused and how they deal with the nightmare.

Dejohn Tharpe, a 2012 graduate of East Chicago Central High School, shared his experience with a childhood friend who was abused.

“He was 11, 10 coming in the house at four o’clock in the morning.  If he didn’t go home he would come to my house because he was hungry.  He went days without eating.  My mom would feed him.  He used to get abused.  He had bruises, the black eyes, the shaggy clothes and everything.  I let him wear some of my clothes just because he was my friend.”

Panel members shared differing opinions on whether children should be hit in response to bad behavior.  17-year-old Niavia Wilson, a rising senior at Wirt-Emerson Visual and Performing Arts High Ability Academy, said if that is the course of action a parent takes, there are limits.

“In my heart I always felt like if a child has bruises, I think that crosses the threshold from discipline to child abuse.”

The teens are led by Gary Youth Services Bureau Director Ken Patrick Barry.  He said the students meet daily in order to help save the lives of their peers.

“I think it was shocking to hear that a lot of the things that we look at today in our culture as abuse worked for them.  A lot of them do receive physical discipline and they embrace it as something that helps them understand the difference between right and wrong.”

The group encouraged their peers to talk with a social worker about being abused or open up to their parents, even though it may be scary.  The teens also advised parents to tell their children to have a good day before school.

“Playing video games without being told.  That’s not something you should discipline, that’s something that you should talk about.  Son, you got school tomorrow, why are you up at two o’clock and three o’clock in the morning playing a game?  That’s what I used to do.  She didn’t whoop me about it.  She used to tell me son you have school tomorrow. Now, if didn’t wake up on time it was a different story,” said Tharpe.

Barry said the Gary Youth Leadership Council is open to children ages 12 and older.

“We believe that the solutions to a lot of our community’s issues lie within the hearts and minds of young people.  If we just give them an opportunity, equip them with the right tools and empower them to actually speak out and give them a platform to reach out to not only their peers, but speak to power and adults in the community then a lot of amazing things can take place,” said Barry.

The panel on child abuse was held in recognition of National Health Centers Week.

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