Youth Violence

Article excerpt

Trends. forecasts. and images of the future

We all shake our heads and puzzle over when and how we got to a place in our culture where school is to be feared and accidentally stepping on someone's toes at a dance or basketball game can result in a death sentence.

On February 8, 2000, a teenage couple (high school seniors) was gunned downed in Washington, D.C., while unloading groceries one evening after a high school basketball game. The shooting was a follow-up to a fistfight between the young man and the shooter that occurred at the game. The couple had been stalked.

On February 29, 2000, a six-year-old first grader in Michigan shot his six-year-old classmate to death with a gun he had removed from his uncle's home. This shooting occurred in the schoolyard in front of other young children and horrified teachers. There are reports that there had been some shoving between the shooter and the victim just prior to the shooting.

And the list continues to grow. These stories chill the blood and numb the mind. We all shake our heads and puzzle over when and how we got to a place in our culture where school is to be feared and accidentally stepping on someone's toes at a dance or basketball game can result in a death sentence.

Many of us decry the national inclination toward an increasingly violent society. The truth is, America was built on violence. But there is a huge difference between our current and previous culture and a disturbing, growing trend: failing support systems. This trend precipitates and supports the violence and encourages its growth. Safety nets appear to be dissolving everywhere you look. Family, neighbors, schools, churches-all are exhibiting cracks in their infrastructures, and our children are the victims as a result. But before the problems can even be addressed, the problems have to be clearly understood.

And so, what are the problems, specifically? To name a few:

Breakdown of a stable family structure. This does not translate into "breakdown of the nuclear family," but to a breakdown of support, particularly for children. That means that heads of household have to be supported, by having access to extended family, community, and even government support systems. Each of these avenues is equally important. Today's world is more complex and rushed than ever. Parents, particularly single parents, need to know they are not alone in their work. If a single mother or father has no family nearby to help out, then the community should assist. If the community is lacking in resources or knowledge and is more a hindrance than a help, then yes, the government should offer assistance.

Lack of support for teachers, particularly in the elementary and middle schools. Teachers should be provided the resources they need to teach and to continue to learn themselves.

Underestimating our children. There are large groups of thoughtful, creative, and intelligent young people who are academically and socially discounted every day. It is known that African American and Hispanic children are the groups most vulnerable to this type of discrimination. We all know how very bright children can be disruptive in class settings when they are not adequately stimulated intellectually or creatively. …