Last week, we experienced one of the highlights of our life: watching our twins, Dakota and Danilee, graduate from high school. My wife, Gena, filmed the moment on this one-minute video post on her Facebook page. What a joy their graduations were for our whole family!
While millions of high school graduates across the country receive their diplomas and use this summer to work or transition to college or other areas of service, there is a social and criminal problem lurking among the hot summer nights and days for many teens and even tweens.
While mainstream media is obsessed with Robert Mueller’s speech and finding someway to lynch the president, I’m concerned with what the youth of America have planned for the summer. I wonder what they are going to do to stay out of trouble, and how older generations are brainstorming to empower them.
Summer is one of the most fun times of the year. It is also a season of increased crime and illicit entanglements for young people across America. And it’s not just an east and west coast problem, but a rural problem too, as we will examine.
Proof was highlighted in this past week’s news when Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser rolled out the 2019 Safer Stronger DC Summer Crime Prevention Initiative: a coordinated effort to reduce violent crime (particularly committed by younger adults) in specific areas in the District through strategic prevention and coordinated enforcement.
Chicago’s new mayor Lori Lightfoot met with police and department heads during her first week of work, discussing how mass downtown gatherings of teens might spike mayhem and become “teens’ new summer entertainment.”
In Nashville, Tenn., court records show the number of 13-year-olds getting arrested for serious crimes has significantly increased recently.
Rev. Marcus Campbell, pastor of Mount Carmel Baptist Church in north Nashville who has made young people his mission, said: “Yes, it’s bad. It seems like they are getting younger each year. … A lot of the kids that are 11 or 12 are joining the gangs now.”
In Tulsa, Oklahoma, police are reporting that “they tend to see more teens involved in crimes across Tulsa, and they’re doing what they can to stop that trend.”
All 44 police officers in the suburban city of Burien, Washington, just went through gang training, because there is concern that youth crime will escalate and spread this summer from Seattle to outlying districts. The same concern is true for most major metropolis around the country.
Statistics for teen violence escalate in rural areas too over the summer, particularly because small towns across America have fewer resources and finances to offer alternatives. (It’s important to note that one in four Americans lives in a rural community with a population of 2,500 or fewer.)
Though a dated study, “Youth Violence in Rural Areas” conducted by National Center for Health Research “found important similarities and one important difference in the community characteristics that predict youth violence.” In the rural areas, as in urban areas, juvenile delinquency (as measured by the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report data) is more common in communities with higher levels of ethnic diversity, female-headed households and residential instability (proportion of families that moved from another dwelling in the previous five years).
Next column I’m going to list what I believe are the best of the best ideas from experts about what will simultaneously instill worth in young people this summer while bringing down crime and violence rates among their peers. I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas too, and may include some in next week’s column. Feel free to blog your thoughts below.
Suffice it for me to conclude here that the first thing we need to do is ante-up the value of teenage life in America rather than denigrate it any further.
For far too long, too many have looked down upon young people, rather than seeing them as the keys to America’s future and safety. In fact, sharing stories about valiant teens with teens can spur on their own potential. You might even need the reminder of real heroic teenagers as much as they do. A simple Google search will yield a few good ones.
One recent heroic story I heard came from mid-California where teens stepped up to help a woman who was threating suicide.
A group of middle school boys on the Kepler School volleyball team were jogging in downtown Fresno as part of their conditioning when one of them saw the figure of a person dangling from the Stanislaus Bridge. That person was a 47-year-old woman, who Fresno police later confirmed had intended to end her life. You’ve got to read and share the story from Fox2 KTVU with your teen about the moment when the boys saw her in trouble and ran over to the bridge and launched an impassioned campaign to save her life.
There are great stories about the positive 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 valiancy. 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 General Wayne fought them in the south. But when Washington was told the French were sending 30 warships and 3000 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.”
Outside of “Lord of the Rings” and other fantasy adventure movies, we’re not used to hearing such true heroic stories about teens, especially ones that alter the course and history of America. I believe largely for the reason my young friends, Alex and Brett Harris, outlined 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 their value and expecting little from them. Teenagers have become the brunt end of parental childrearing 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 reveal that a feisty, courageous revolutionary spirit is still alive and well on planet earth and in America in particular.
Making America great again is not just about rebuilding our economy, electing your preferred presidential candidate or securing the borders – as important as those are. Is there really a better solution for America’s safety and keeping it great than investing in the youth?
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 them to soar.
Teach teens, particularly those who feel lost and lonely this summer, what you yourself had to learn (maybe the hard way). As the great C.S. Lewis described: “You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.”