The Boyertown Area Times
Charting a new course for preventing youth violence
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.