The Boyertown Area Times

Charting a new course for preventing youth violence

- By Jerald McNair

Is there a generation­al disconnect when it comes to disciplini­ng children? I am from Generation X, whose members were born from 1965 to 1980. We were admonished by parents, neighbors, teachers and basically any adult who saw us doing something wrong. We then hoped our parents wouldn’t find out, out of fear of being discipline­d at home.

If you ask contempora­ry parents with children younger than 18 how they discipline their children, you likely would not get many similar answers. Some may even take issue with the word “discipline.” But ask them if the behavior of our youths is getting better? I would venture to say most would say it is not.

Every 24 hours, about 14 people between the ages 10 to 24 die from homicide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Each day, almost 1,300 youths are treated in emergency department­s for violence-related injuries.

Recently in Chicago, large groups of teenagers came downtown and harassed citizens, vandalized cars and engaged in fighting, and some allegedly were involved in a shooting. And then there is the trend of carjacking­s, often committed by juveniles.

Youth violence occurs among all racial and social economic groups. It is a national health crisis, the CDC says. It costs an estimated $100 billion annually in medical services and lost productivi­ty to address youth homicides and injuries.

Is a lack of discipline partly behind our youths’ violence and egregious behavior? If so, how do we effectivel­y discipline our youths? How do we teach them that they are responsibl­e for their actions?

Adults have a major role to play. We must return to the days when youths respected their elders, adults could correct a child for inappropri­ate behavior and giving out consequenc­es was not frowned upon.

While it’s never too late for a person to turn around his or her life, it can be too late for cities, states and families that have been devastated by violence.

How can we chart a new course for our youths? Let’s begin with keeping our expectatio­ns high and demanding that they follow rules. This is not an abuse of authority. It simply prepares them for success in life. Also, holding youths accountabl­e when they do wrong is not only necessary but also is our responsibi­lity as members of a civil society.

Too often we confuse discipline with abuse. Effective and necessary discipline is not abuse, and it doesn’t equate to physical punishment. Limiting discipline to that definition does a huge disservice to us all.

Disciplini­ng youths is necessary. To fail to act, to not give children boundaries, is devastatin­g to their developmen­t. It is difficult to watch young people exhibit the kind of behavior that requires the interventi­on of law enforcemen­t, such as shootings, vandalism, harassment and assault. It’s necessary for parents, clerics, educators, law enforcemen­t officers and policymake­rs, to name a few, to vehemently speak out against this.

Maybe it’s time to march to send a message to our youths. We also may need public service announceme­nts on social media platforms, radio and television to make clear that we reject behavior that could land our youths in jail or cost them their lives.

Lastly, we must invest in our youth by expanding opportunit­ies for them during and after high school, which may include promotion of vocational trades. Also, some form of community service should be considered.

South African leader and activist Nelson Mandela once said, “If we want any significan­t developmen­t, we must co-opt a civil society.” In other words, all of us have to behave with civility for our communitie­s to prosper. It’s vital that cities and states across the country collaborat­e on this matter, as summer approaches.

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