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Youth in need of a brother’s keeper

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Addressing the issue of delinquency among our youth

Youth gangs are traditionally placed within the context of the larger cities of the United States of America. However, a developing phenomenon in our country is one of so-called gangs in schools. This new style of violence might be partly attributed to deported youth gang members from the US in recent times. In my time at school, gangs were limited to the television screen. However, through the influences of uncensored music, drug abuse, and an adoption of the “drop waist” dress code I have seen many youth lose all positive grip on their lives. It was appalling to learn a few weeks ago, that certain young men could not even go into their own school yard without the assistance of the police, for fear of being violently attacked.{{more}}

The process of defining a young person as a delinquent is not simple and unproblematic. Pan American Health Organisation and the World Health Organisation define adolescence as the period between 10 and 19 years of age, and youth as the period between 15 and 24 years. Delinquency in itself means antisocial or violent behaviour in young people, often involving criminal acts. Youth delinquency being complex, involves a series of interactions. The first stage often involves interrogation by the police based on strange and suspicious behaviours. Youth delinquency often includes theft, assault, obstructing justice, disorderly conduct, trespassing, weapons, burglary, illegal possession, drug offenses, and more – activities that worry almost all of us on a daily basis. Ideally, as a Vincentian society, we would like to see fewer of these behaviour patterns, fewer severe incidents, and fewer youth following a path that gets them into worse trouble.

In the US, homicide was the second leading cause of death for people between 10-24 years of age at the turn of the millennium. While in St. Vincent and the Grenadines we may not suffer from a high magnitude of injuries and deaths as a result of youth violence, when compared to some of our regional and global neighbours, still the issue should be treated as a potential major societal concern, since if the current trend continues then the possibility of chaos would become very real.

It is also worthy to note, that many of our current school drop-outs are exposed to more devious vices and are therefore more sophisticated than their counterparts 20 years ago. Is it a wonder then why they would be engaged in such unproductive behaviors at a much more organised level? As a society we should be aware that the evolving educational revolution, that insists on every child (including youth) getting a fair chance and opportunity to cultivate their critical minds in a positive manner must seek to engage such youth delinquents.

The crime and delinquency factor comes to light if we were to take a closer look at the institutions and systems of our society. As a society, we must acknowledge and maintain that our families are the primary source of protective factors. Youth need a connectedness to family, or to adults outside of the family where they can discuss problems either with community elders, teachers or the church. Frequently shared activities with parents maintain this connectedness which fosters youth involvement in social activities.

The family environment and parental philosophies which influence youth often present some risk factors. Authoritarian childrearing attitudes, lax, or inconsistent disciplinary practices, low parental involvement, low emotional attachment to parents, low parental education, parental substance abuse or criminality, poor family functioning and poor monitoring and supervision of children are primary causes of youth delinquency.

Delinquent behaviour can also be closely associated with the premature involvement in sexual activities, teenage pregnancy, school drop-outs and drug abuse and trafficking. If early childhood behaviour is any indication of what course a person may take in life, then carrying weapons, bullying and constant participation in school fights are also important risk behaviours. When these youth delinquents become parents, is it hard to imagine that without some Divine intervention, that naturally they might reproduce criminal offspring? As we shape our society, the cycle of delinquency has to be broken.

Society’s effort must be unrelenting as it is our responsibility to our youth to steer them in the direction of the illumination that will make the difference. Some of the directions may very well be rediscovered if the facts of our history are reasonably interpreted. Failure to do so will give way to dire consequences. Our communities are responsible for forging a steady and supportive relationship with at least one youth throughout adolescence as strong relationships help youth to develop a sense of trust, confidence, self-esteem and social skills. Enhancing our national youth product socially and emotionally can lead to a decrease in the possibility of delinquency, and help to counter the risk factors that contribute to delinquency.

Youth need an internalized form of learning that connects their experiences with their faith and values. It is in this regard that there continues to be a role to be fulfilled by our churches in terms of positive youth development, one that is more collaborative and cooperative than ever before. We must guard our youth and in this light we must limit our youth spending time in unnecessary places, and viewing media that plant the wrong seeds, instead, discipline at earlier ages, and motivation along the lines of spirituality is the way forward if parents through promoting traditional moral values are to maintain the moral fabric which is so quickly deteriorating.

Youth delinquency adversely affects the social, organisational and entrepreneurial development of youth. Our willingness to understand the problem and to pursue solutions can seriously hamper the future development of our nation. The answer resides in the action you must take now. We know very well the adage that warns of prevention being better than cure. We need to redefine our preventative methods, and in so doing we may prevent our youth from engaging in crime and delinquent forms of behaviour. That redefinition includes making it a priority that you are your brother’s keeper. Every Vincentian as members of this society should participate in the continuous discussion about pathways to healthy youth development as the future of our blessed nation depends heavily on it.

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