In last week’s column, I highlighted how cities and towns across America (including rural regions) are gearing up for the growing escalation of youth violence and criminalities during the summer months.
I appreciated hearing from so many of you about your ideas to curb youth crime and, even more, utilize the summer months to build up teens who might have too much time on their hands and get involved with wrong crowds and illicit behaviors. I am passing along several of your excellent ideas as well as other professionals’ advice.
So, what can we do to assist American youth and local law enforcement agencies in turning the tides on summer idleness and crime?
UChicago Crime Lab research found that summer job programs reduced violent crime arrests among participants by 43 percent. That is particularly true for urban teens, according to Steven Raphael, a professor of public policy at the University of California.
That is why many cities are offering similar helps like Philadelphia 3rd Police District, which just held its Teen Job Fair. Philadelphia PD also reminded the public about its SAT prep, GED and job training programs.
In Indianapolis, Indiana, “ProjectIndy” is in its third year, created by the city and hopes to hire 3,000 teens for the summer months.
Penn Institute for Urban Research explained: “For 25 hours per week over 8 weeks, youth cleared vacant lots and planted community gardens, worked as camp counselors, and staffed alderman’s offices. Youth were also assigned an adult job mentor at a ratio of about 10:1. The mentor helped teach youth how to be good employees and how to deal with barriers to employment, from family demands to transportation to conflicts with supervisors.”
Dallas’ police chief has just announced a youth jobs program, which recruits 50 students, from schools primarily in South Dallas, and places them in occupations within city’s government agencies, nonprofits and the Dallas Police Department. Volunteers will also mentor the students in the program.
The fact is, anything that keeps a young person busy during the summer – especially when contributing back into society – keeps their minds focused on good things, reducing the risk of trouble.
Of course, nipping the violence at its bud is a critical constituent of reducing youth violent crime anytime of the year, but particularly in the summers.
Washington D.C.’s Mayor Muriel Bowser put it well when he said, “We know that to continue reducing violent crime, we must continue addressing the root causes of crime and violence.”
But what are the root causes for teens? Aberrant human behavior? Lack of structure or guidance in American homes? Lack of education? Fatherless and motherless homes? A hedonistic culture without boundaries? All the above?
Dr. Gordon L. Anderson (Ph.D., Claremont Graduate University), the president of Paragon Houseand author of “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness,” penned an excellent summary of President George Washington’s farewell speech, titling it: “20 Unheeded Warnings in Washington’s Farewell Address.”
Worthy of pondering among those warnings is one Washington knew would produce uncivil and morally lost youth: “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. … Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”
Any list of helps for young people cannot exclude those resources coming from houses of worship across our country that often provide multiple outreaches and activities throughout the summer.
For example, Rev. Marcus Campbell, the pastor of Mount Carmel Baptist Church, explained that hundreds in north Nashville have already signed up for his summer program “where young kids will have adults to watch them, but also it will give teens who are counselors something safe to do this summer.”
The power of Rev. Campbell and his team remind me of one of the greatest deterrents for youth violence: injecting positive role models in their life.
John Robert Wooden (1910-2010), the great American basketball player and head coach at the University of California at Los Angeles who lived to be 100, was exactly right when he said: “Young people need models, not critics.”
The martial arts instructors in our KICKSTART KIDS foundation, who teach “character through karate,” serve in mentor roles for thousands across Texas, and we couldn’t be more thankful for each of them.
And what about the power of you? Don’t minimize your presence, power and position. Brainstorm with neighborhood and community leaders about ways to help local young people. Be creative. Our California pastor’s team is renovating a theatre with one of the goals of connecting to local schools and raising up youth summer theatre groups, where kids can learn the art of acting while belonging to a community group and feeling better about themselves.
Of course, most parents realize – but still need the reminder – that there’s no more powerful mentor than a parent. Nothing can replace parental guidance and encouragement. Parents (and I believe second, grandparents) instill the greatest value and decency in their children and grandchildren by their model, speech and love for others. And with another Father’s Day fast approaching, I encourage all dads to reflect again about how they are “the key to making America great again.”
Police or others shouldn’t need to do a parent’s job. A recent Baltimore news broadcast highlighted the need to invoke a citywide curfew because three- and four-year olds were out on the street at 1a.m. in the morning. You can’t blame that on the neighbors, city council or the president.
Don’t forget or neglect the fundamentals of love and protection. And don’t allow your teens to tell you with whom they are hanging out. Be involved. Get to know their friends. Investigate and monitor their social media. Ensure your kids and grandkids are hanging out with good crowds. As the Good Book says, “Bad company corrupts good character.”
One last excellent resource is Crime Stoppers. Check out their “Safe Community Program” and especially “Safe School Institute” through which they offer training for teens and parents regarding important issues like cyber safety, substance use and prevention, teen dating safety/violence and sexual misconduct, human trafficking, and much more.
Bottom line, guard your kids’ hearts and minds by seeking life-enriching activity and involvement in some summer programs or camps that instill worth and build a strong character and work ethic. Remember, idleness is the playground for the devil. And extracurricular summer activities can be a lifesaver, literally.
As another reader wrote me, “Help teens this summer turn their can’ts into cans, and their dreams into plans.”