It takes a community to raise our children
Mary Jean Carnevale
As the level of concern rises in our community about gang involvement, burglaries, teen violence, youth drug abuse, and school drop-out rates, we often hear adult voices echoing, “Kids are no good these days. Kids don’t care. Kids have no respect. I want nothing to do with kids.”
It’s not a matter of “kids did,” or “kids are,” or “kids won’t.” It’s a matter of “we did,” “we are,” and “we won’t.” “We” are the community; young people are the recipients of community norms, traditions, customs, culture, and values.
As they grow, young people are faced with problems, rejection, confusion and uncertainty when what they really want are fantasy, romance, love, and simplicity. Without experience to guide them, youth make choices in the context of the moment and the environment.
In our society, clothing is linked to popularity; success to appearance; wealth to possessions; sex to belonging; happiness to alcohol. On one hand – the environment tells young people not to think for themselves, but to “do and be what they see.” On the other hand – adults say, listen to what we mean and not what we do or say. For young people, actions speak louder than words, so we need to act.
If we are to be a community of action, we need to restore a sense of meaning and depth in the lives of our young people. We need to begin teaching our youth not to “just say no,” but to have a reason to say no. We need to talk to youth about manipulation in media messages, personal choices, and consequences. We need to teach our youth how to talk to others, care for others, and critically think for themselves. We need to work with them to develop skills to help solve conflicts, reasonably assess situations and understand personal feelings. We need to teach community service, teamwork, investments and the effect of individual actions on the whole. We need to teach them self-esteem centers on self-respect and individualism. We need to show young people our actions reflect our words and deeds. We need to give up prejudice and stereotypes. We need to affirm the positive aspects in young people, and stand by them when they fall. We need to change the environment and context in which young people make choices. We need to become a community based on safety, caring, value, support and connection.
One step today, one step tomorrow, and we can become a strong community for our young people. The stakes are too high for us not to start.
YouthZone is in the business of helping strengthen young lives, families, and communities. If you need our assistance, give us a call: 945-9300, 625-3141, 963-0618, 927-1545, 920-5702.
Mary Jean Carnevale is a YouthZone special events coordinator
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