This weekend, my wife, Gena, and I were in Philadelphia for the 2017 Wizard World Comic Con. It was the second Comic Con I’ve attended this year. At these conventions, I get the opportunity to meet fans of all ages, something that helps me keep me in touch with the younger generations in particular.
With summer upon us, while mainstream media are obsessed with Russian collusion and Paris climate change, I’m concerned with what the youth of America have planned. I wonder what they are going to do to stay out of trouble this summer, and how older generations are investing in their future.
Summer is one of the most fun times of the year. It is also a season of increased crime and illicit entanglements involving young people across America. And it’s not just an East Coast and West Coast problem.
In the Denver area, teens have been involved in several major crimes like carjacking at gunpoint and a burglary ring with one fatality.
The Denver Channel reported that, like other areas around the country, “violent crime committed by juveniles is on the rise over the past few years, despite a peak in violent crime committed by juveniles in 1994. Data collected by the Colorado Bureau of Investigation shows in Colorado in 2013 there were 65.5 aggravated assault cases per 100,000 residents. That grew to 73.1 cases per 100,000 residents by 2015.
“When counting all violent crime committed by juveniles, including homicide, rape and robbery, there were 114.6 arrests per 100,000 residents in 2015, a slight uptick from 2013 and 2014.
“Police across Colorado say they are concerned about the uptick and what numbers might say when data is released for 2016 and 2017.”
So, what can we do to assist American youth in turning the tides on summer idleness and crime?
Here are a few great ideas from leaders around the country:
UChicago Crime Lab research found that summer job programs reduced violent crimes 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.
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 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.”
Of course, 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, involvement and words.
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 3- and 4-year-olds were out on the street at 1 a.m.!
But when a parent is unavailable by neglect, abandonment or death, volunteer mentors can also be a ginormous help. YMCA or YWCA summer camp counselors or church youth volunteers are just a few examples. 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.
Brainstorm with neighborhood and community leaders about ways to help local young people. Be creative. Our California pastor is renovating a theater with one of the goals of connecting to local schools and raising up youth summer theater groups, where kids can learn the art of acting while belonging to a community group and feeling better about themselves. There are even Teen Peace Corps leadership opportunities available to build up youth.
Of course, don’t forget the fundamentals. Parents and guardians should ensure kids are hanging out with good crowds. As the Good Book says, “Bad company corrupts good character.” 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.
I’d love to hear your ideas about how America can best build up future generations, helping them to be packed full of moral, hardworking and productive young citizens. Feel free to write me or blog your thoughts below. I plan to address the youth culture wars in the next few columns, and maybe I’ll cite your idea.
For far too long, too many have looked down upon young people, rather than seeing them as the keys to America’s future. In fact, telling young people the stories of teens who did great things in the past can spur their own potential in the future.
There are some great stories about the influence of teenagers as far back as the Revolutionary War. C. Brian Kelly’s enjoyable work, “Best Little Stories from the American Revolution,” includes a few of them. One in particular is about Marquis de Lafayette, who was only 16 years old when he joined the Black Musketeers. He was among the cream of the crop of these French black-horse riders in the royal household troops. When those Musketeers disbanded in 1776, the next year the 19-year-old Lafayette volunteered to fight in the Revolutionary War against France’s old rival to its north. Congress granted him the temporary rank of major general.
George Washington met him in 1777, when the Continental Army was at another pivotal and critical point in the war. They were outflanked again. Riding to the rescue was Washington and this new younger aide. Lafayette quickly proved his valiance. Though wounded in the leg and losing blood, he could still be found rallying the troops. Over the next few years, both Lafayette and Washington would experience horrendous discouragement and defeats on various battlefields, from the Battles of Brandywine and Germantown to the winters of Valley Forge. But together they eventually would win the war.
In 1781, Washington and Rochambeau were fighting the Red Coats in the north, while Lafayette and Gen. Wayne fought them in the south. But when Washington was told the French were sending 30 warships and 3,000 additional troops to Virginia, they turned south as well and eventually converged on Cornwallis outside Yorktown, forcing his surrender. Two months later, Lafayette returned home abroad as a “hero of two worlds.”
We’re not used to hearing such heroic stories about teens, especially ones that alter the course and history of America. My young friends, Alex and Brett Harris, outline some examples in their inspirational book, “Do Hard Things: A Teenage Rebellion against Low Expectations.” The main premise of their book is that society today places little value and too low of expectations on teenagers.
We’ve gone from spurring on teenage greatness to trampling our youths’ value. Teenagers have become the brunt end of parental child-rearing quips and jokes. As Robert Kiyosaki, author of “Rich Dad, Poor Dad,” outlines so well: Most parents regard them as barely good enough to handle chores, rather than delegate to them weighty responsibilities that instill value and self-worth. But young people like Alex and Brett Harris and others –including those presently on the battlefields of the Middle East – reveal that a feisty, courageous revolutionary spirit is still alive and well on planet earth and in America in particular. We have to believe again in young people, and that happens one young person at a time. We must see their latent potential and help it to soar.
Making America great again is not just about rebuilding our economy, fighting ISIS or restoring the fundamental principles of our republic – as important as those goals are. Is there really a better solution to root incipient forms of homegrown terrorism out of our countries (including England) than investing in the youth? If our country is going to be great again, it’s going to take all of us reinvesting in the youth of America and their future.
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.”