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How the Island’s children are affected by gun violence

School counsellor Anthony Peets with wife Anita, son Ahmani, nine, and daughter Ahmyi, six.

School counsellor Anthony Peets spoke to The Royal Gazette about the effects of gun violence on the children he helps. Father-of-two Mr Peets began his career at St George’s Secondary School, before spending a decade at Clearwater Middle School. He worked at Victor Scott Primary School before moving to Prospect Primary in Devonshire, where he is now. He formed the group Men in Action (MIA) to try to ensure positive outcomes for Bermuda’s young people.The Royal Gazette: In your work as a school counsellor what evidence have you seen of the impact of recent gang violence on students?Anthony Peets: “The shootings are in their neighbourhoods so they talk about them, they speak the words they hear the adults saying who are in their lives. They do express concern about being safe. They do know friends who have lost a relative to gunshots. For many, they sit next to that friend in class. There are expressions that they don’t want this to happen any more. Children are very resilient and they naturally are trusting of adults and are hopeful for a good today and a good tomorrow.”RG: Are you seeing any evidence of children being afraid or more fearful about taking part in certain activities because of their knowledge of gun violence?AP: “I do interact with students of all ranges from three to 18. The older kids do express that they make conscious choices as to where they go and they do have a heightened awareness of what is going on. They read what is going on. This should always be the case with reference to making good choices, thinking about safety. It is concerning when they hear someone is pulled off their bike and hurt.”RG: Have you heard children discussing gang affiliations, ‘boundaries’ or similar? Do you think some students may already be a member or affiliated with any gang?AP: “It is evident that some young people are exposed to a variety of media and in their neighbourhoods hear things and see things. I tell them to be proud of everything, to focus on the fact that we are proud to be Bermudian, from east to west, wherever we lay our heads we are to be proud. So, yes, of course we hear children expressing that they are from here or there. We talk about what that name means to them that they are using. Our really young ones, they get along with each other. As they go up the developmental ladder, we must get even more involved as the peer network has lots of influence.”RG: What do you think the long-term psychological impact of the increased gun violence could be on youngsters? What could this mean for Bermuda?AP: “There is discussion among them [students] that the adults do need to behave better [and] that some of the examples set for them need to improve. They are told not to curse or use bad language, to be respectful and tolerant, but they don’t see that emulated at times in their communities. It is true that from a psychological viewpoint that prolonged exposure to violence does have a deleterious effect. For some children we have seen in their art work a sadness. However, in the sadness you see a beautiful flower or a sunny sky. That is what we must be working toward. Children will discuss what is in their sphere. In my house, we don’t discuss violence. We talk about being peaceful, being proactive, thinking ‘win win’ and the importance of being a great example.“The long term effects can be spun to the positive with the great interventions that are taking place daily [but] those without supports can take a path that will lead to hurt. The outcomes for gang banging create a lot of anxiety. The media, with its very powerful arm, must always paint the picture that there is a lot of positive, that we can choose to be respectful and tolerant. We have a lot of hurting families and [if] we look really closely, we really all are family. Take a look at the lineages and we are just that, related.“For me, it is about what we do daily: teach our scholars effective communication skills, promote the fact that an education provides you the opportunity to make choices, for the men in our community to be active and supportive of all of our young people. Be very careful of sensationalising violence and creating the aura that this is something to emulate. People have feelings. All [those] in gangs used to be children. I think about that often, so I look back and say ‘who was there, who wasn’t there and who will be there?’.”l Mr Peets is looking for men to volunteer as part of MIA and is planning to hold an awareness seminar this month for mothers explaining “what our boys need”. To find out more, search for Men in Action M.I.A. on Facebook and join the group.