Pupils left traumatised after school screenings of violent films

According to a media report, a former Fish Hoek Primary pupil has been left traumatised after a school viewing of MacBeth.

The grade 7 learner received several trauma counselling sessions, but has since withdrawn from the school and is now home-schooled. 

Her father is reported as saying that "disturbing, harmful, age-inappropriate, violent audiovisuals" were shown to pupils in her class at school, and that his 13 year old daughter became "tearful and anxious" after watching it. 

'Extremely violent', 'unsettling' and 'very dark'

Despite winning Best Film in 1972, Roman Polanski's R-rated adaptation of MacBeth has been called 'extremely violent', 'unsettling' and 'very dark' by various critics since it's first showing. Which perhaps ought to have been enough to give pause to any teacher thinking of showing it to a class of 12 and 13 year-olds. 

In addition to this version of Macbeth, the pupils where also shown scenes from the R-rated American historical drama Amistad, which is based on events that took place on the slave ship La Amistad in 1839.

Her father told the Times: "The scene that still sticks out most for my child is that of the captured slave woman giving birth at the bottom of a slave ship and then dying."

Parent24 called the school, and Principle Neill Kinkead-Weekes said with regard to the content shown, the children were not shown the full movie of Macbeth or Amistad

"The class was fully prepared" 

"In the case of MacBeth, only short clips were shown as an introduction to Shakespeare, which the High Schools study in detail.  A short clip was shown from Amistad to show conditions on the slave ships, which is part of the Grade 7 History syllabus," he explained.

He says that before any audio-visual material was shown, the class was fully prepared as to what was to be seen and a discussion was held after each showing. "The material shown was not assessed and the children were given the freedom to leave the class if they so desired," he said.

Kinkead-Weekes says that the WCED investigated this matter and was given all the audio-visual material shown, and they communicated to the school that they found the material to be acceptable.  

The school fully supports the professional judgement of the staff, he added.

The article also mentions that parents of pupils from Wynberg Boys High, near Cape Town, "have lodged complaints with the provincial education department after their children were shown a video on the Rwandan genocide". We were unable to confirm this though.

As parents, what can you do in this situation?

If your child is exposed to violent film scenes in the name of education, what can you as a parent do?

We spoke to Joburg-based emotional wellness expert Kate Rowe, founder of Explorare, who says the first thing parents must do when they hear of trauma like this experienced by their children is to "absolutely engage. Don't leave it: have the conversation."

Next, find a way to process the emotion, like drawing or putting on some loud music and dancing the feeling out, or going for a walk.

It is important to "feel through the emotion" she says, and to also go slowly. As the parent be clear to keep the child from getting into too much of an overwhelmed state.


Also read: How parents can help their children deal with scary media

She suggests parents say something along the lines of "I know this happened at school, and it was a really horrible thing to watch and it made you feel a lot of really big things. Let's set the timer for two minutes and you can tell me how you feel, and then we'll stop and take a break. Then we'll come back to these feelings for another two minutes."

Once the emotion is felt through and the child is calm again, get to the message: what is this emotion telling you? For example, watching that was not okay for me.

Lastly, come up with a plan they can use if it happens again. 

For example, the Fish Hoek school pupil expressed a fear of "losing marks" if she stepped out of the class during the screening, so it is important to stress that this isn't the case.

See more from Kate on emotionally resilient children here:

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