Youths in Crisis
▪ In the United States, a 15-year-old student opens fire on his classmates, killing 2 and injuring 13.
▪ In Russia, a group of intoxicated teens brutally murder a nine-year-old girl and beat up her father and cousin.
▪ In Britain, a 17-year-old boy beats and stabs a younger teen. “I didn’t intend to kill him at first,” he tells the police, “but when I saw the blood I just let go.”
SHOCKING incidents like these are not isolated events. They cannot be brushed off as mere aberrations. “Youth violence is a major problem in our society,” says an article in Professional School Counseling. Statistics back this claim.
The U.S. National Center for Education Statistics notes that while there has been some decline in reported school violence in that country, “students ages 12-18 were victims of about 2 million nonfatal crimes of violence or theft at school in 2001.” There has also been an increase in reports of school bullying.
But not all youth violence in the United States is directed at other students. “Over the 5-year period from 1997 through 2001,” the same source reports, “teachers were victims of approximately 1.3 million nonfatal crimes at school, including 817,000 thefts and 473,000 violence crimes.” Furthermore, “9 percent of all elementary and secondary school teachers were threatened with injury by a student, and 4 percent were physically attacked by a student.”
The picture in other lands? “China arrested 69,780 juvenile delinquents in 2003,” reports one news agency, “an increase of 12.7 percent over 2002.” The news item notes that “gang crimes accounted for 70 percent of juvenile delinquency.” A report from Japan in 2003 similarly said that youths were responsible for half the crimes committed in the preceding ten years.
Drugs—An Assault on Young Bodies
Further evidence of trouble involves the assault that many young ones are making against their own bodies. A report by the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse states that about half of all teenagers in that land have tried an illicit drug before finishing high school. The report adds: “Alcohol use remains extremely widespread among today’s teenagers. Nearly four out of every five students (77%) have consumed alcohol (more than just a few sips) by the end of high school; and nearly half (46%) have done so by 8th grade.”
In this age of AIDS, promiscuous sex is unquestionably dangerous. Yet, many youths seem to view sex as little more than a harmless game. Some American youths, for example, blithely speak of “hooking up”—a harmless-sounding euphemism for casual sex. They talk about having “a friend with benefits”—a sexual partner who makes no emotional demands.
Author Scott Walter describes the orgylike parties some suburban youths throw while their parents are at work. At one such party, a young girl announced that “she was going to have sex with all the boys there. . . . Children as young as 12 were involved in the parties.”
Shocking? Not to experts who have studied teenage sexual behavior. “Over the past 20 years,” writes Dr. Andrea Pennington, “we have seen the average age for teenagers engaging in sexual activity grow younger and younger. It is no longer unusual to find boys and girls starting out as young as 12 years of age.”
Particularly distressing was a report in the newspaper USA Today: “Increasing numbers of the country’s youngest teens . . . are having oral sex. . . . Kids have convinced themselves that ‘this is not really sex.’” According to one survey of 10,000 girls, “eighty percent said they are virgins, but 25% had had oral sex. And 27% described that act as ‘something you do with a guy for fun.’”
Such views on sex have made inroads elsewhere. “Asia’s youth are becoming increasingly susceptible to HIV through heterosexual relationships with many becoming sexually active at a younger age,” reports UNESCO, adding: “Teenagers are increasingly shirking their parents’ ‘Asian values’ by having premarital sex, often with multiple partners.”
Further signs of youthful distress? Canada’s Women’s Health Weekly reports: “Twenty-five percent of females between ages 16 and 19 will experience an episode of major depression.” However, depression is an illness that afflicts both sexes. According to U.S.News & World Report, every year up to five thousand young people kill themselves. For some reason, the report notes, “boys kill themselves six times more often than do girls.”
Without a doubt, today’s generation of youths is a deeply troubled one. What is behind this crisis?
The Pressures Facing Today’s Youths
ADOLESCENCE—even under the best of circumstances—can be a turbulent time. During puberty young ones are assaulted by new feelings and emotions. They face daily pressures from teachers and peers. They are exposed to the relentless influence of TV, movies, the music industry, and the Internet. A United Nations report thus describes adolescence as “a period of transition commonly characterized by stress and anxiety.”
Unfortunately, young ones are often too inexperienced to handle stress and anxiety in a positive way. (Proverbs 1:4) Without proper guidance, they can easily fall into destructive forms of behavior. For example, the UN report says: “Research shows that the onset of drug abuse often occurs during adolescence or young adulthood.” The same can be said for other forms of misbehavior, such as violence and promiscuous sex.
Parents who dismiss such things as happening only among “the poor” or certain ethnic groups often prove to be sadly mistaken. The problems young ones are experiencing today cut across economic, social, and racial lines. “If you think ‘juvenile delinquent’ only means a 17-year-old minority male from the inner city whose impoverished mother is on welfare, you haven’t been paying attention lately,” writes author Scott Walter. “Today’s problem child can be white, he can live in a middle- to upper-middle-class home, he can be under (far under) age 16, and he can just as easily be a she.”
Why, though, are so many young ones at risk? Did not youths of past generations also face challenges and temptations? Yes, but we live in a period that the Bible describes as “critical times hard to deal with.” (2 Timothy 3:1-5) There are circumstances and pressures affecting youths that are unique to this particular time in history. Let us examine some of them.
Changes in the Family
Consider, for example, the changing family landscape. “More than a third of American children experience their parents’ divorce before reaching 18,” reports the Journal of Instructional Psychology. Similar statistics can be cited from other Western lands. As their parents’ marital ties dissolve, young ones must often cope with painful emotions. “In general,” says the Journal, “children who have recently experienced a family dissolution have a more difficult time with academic and social expectations at school than children from intact families or established single-parent or blended families . . . Additionally, parental divorce often affects the child’s sense of emotional well being and self-esteem.”
The increasing number of women who have entered the work force has also altered the family environment. A study of juvenile crime in Japan observed that it is harder for dual-income families to take care of their children than it is for families with one parent staying at home.
Granted, many families need two incomes simply to provide the necessities of life. Two incomes can also provide young ones with a more comfortable life-style. But there is a downside: Millions of children return from school to an empty house. When parents do arrive, they are often tired and preoccupied with problems at work. The result? Many teenagers are getting less parenting. “We don’t spend time together in my family,” one youth lamented.
Many observers feel that this trend does not bode well for young ones. “I believe that the parenting trends that have evolved over the last thirty years promote the development of unattached, uncommunicative, learning-impaired, and uncontrollable children,” says Dr. Robert Shaw. “Parents find themselves enslaved by a materialistic, overachieving society that leads them to spend so many hours at work and so much money that they can’t make the time to do the things necessary to bond with their children.”
Another threat to the welfare of teens: Children of working parents often have large amounts of unsupervised time. A lack of sufficient parental supervision is an invitation to trouble.
Changing Views of Discipline
Changing views regarding parental discipline have also had an effect on today’s youths. As Dr. Ron Taffel bluntly put it, many parents “abdicate their authority.” When this happens, young ones grow up with few, if any, rules or guidelines to regulate their behavior.
In some cases, it appears that parents are reacting to the negative experiences they had in their own childhood. They want to be friends with their children—not disciplinarians. “I was too lenient,” admits one mother. “My parents were real strict; I wanted to be different with my child. I was wrong.”
Just how far do some parents go in this regard? Reports USA Today: “A new survey of nearly 600 teens in drug treatment in New York, Texas, Florida and California indicated that 20% have shared drugs other than alcohol with their parents, and that about 5% of the teens actually were introduced to drugs—usually marijuana—by their moms or dads.” What would move a parent to do such an irresponsible thing? One parent confessed: “I told her I’d rather have her do it at home where I could keep an eye on her.” Others apparently feel that sharing drugs is a way to “bond” with their children.
Assault From the Media
Then there is the powerful influence of the media. According to researcher Marita Moll, one survey revealed that on the average young ones in the United States spent four hours and 48 minutes a day in front of a TV or computer screen.
Is that necessarily bad? An article published in Science magazine reported that “six major professional societies in the United States,” including the American Medical Association, came to the unanimous conclusion that media violence is linked to “aggressive behavior in some children.” “Despite the consensus among experts,” observed Science magazine, “lay people do not seem to be getting the message from the popular press that media violence contributes to a more violent society.”
Consider, for example, music videos. Parents are often shocked at just how graphic and sexually explicit some of these videos are. Can they really affect the way some teenagers behave? According to one study of 500 college students, “violent music lyrics increase aggressive thoughts and feelings.” According to another recent study, “teens who spend more time watching the sex and violence depicted in . . . ‘gangsta’ rap music videos are more likely to practice these behaviors in real life.” This study of over 500 girls revealed that heavy viewers of gangsta videos were more likely to hit a teacher, get arrested, and have multiple sexual partners.
Teenagers and Computers
In recent years the computer has also taken on a prominent role as a molder of young minds. “The number of personal computers in the home has increased dramatically in recent decades,” says the journal Pediatrics. “Nationwide [in the United States], two thirds of households with a school-aged child (6-17 years of age) had a computer . . . The percentage of children who were 3 through 17 years of age in the United States and lived in a household with a computer increased from 55% in 1998 to 65% in 2000.” Computer use has increased in many other lands too.
A young person does not need to own a computer to have access to one, however. One researcher thus claims that “about 90% of young people ages 5 to 17 use computers, and 59% of them use the Internet.” This gives young ones unprecedented access to information—a good thing if the computer is used responsibly, with sufficient adult supervision. But far too many parents have allowed young ones unfettered use of this medium.
As evidence of this, researcher Moll writes in Phi Delta Kappan that according to a 2001 survey of Internet use, “71 percent of parents thought they knew a ‘great deal or a fair bit’ about their child’s Internet use. Yet when children were asked the same question, 70% said their parents knew ‘very little or nothing’ about their online activities.” According to this survey, “30% of 9- to 10-year-olds said that they visited private and adults-only chat rooms. The problem gets worse, with 58% of 11- to 12-year-olds, 70% of 13- to 14-year-olds, and 72% of 15- to 17-year-olds reporting such activity. . . . In a British survey of Internet use at home, one in seven parents admitted having no idea what their children were viewing online.”
Unsupervised Internet use may expose young ones to pornography. The risks, however, do not stop there. Taffel, quoted earlier, laments: “Our kids are making friends at school and in cyberspace—and, as a result, spending time with children whom we often don’t get to meet.”
Clearly, today’s youths are exposed to pressures and problems unknown to past generations. Little wonder that many youths are acting in disturbing ways! Is there anything that can be done to help today’s youths?
“I believe that the parenting trends that have evolved over the last thirty years promote the development of unattached, uncommunicative, learning-impaired, and uncontrollable children.”—DR. ROBERT SHAW
Help for Today’s Youths
YOUTHS today are growing up in a world that can at times seem frightening. Some of them watch helplessly as their parents separate or divorce. Others see their schoolmates succumb to the perils of drugs and crime. Many face pressure from peers of both genders to get involved in sex. And nearly all adolescents suffer occasional periods of feeling misunderstood, lonely, and depressed.
What do youths need if they are to cope with the challenges that face them? “Children need a firm moral center,” writes Dr. Robert Shaw, “the kind of anchoring that helps them pick appropriate friends, make the right decisions, and view others empathetically.” The Bible provides the best moral center possible, for it contains the thoughts of the Creator. Who could know more than Jehovah God about what we need in order to cope with the troubled times that we live in?
A Realistic, Practical Guide
The principles of the Bible are realistic and practical. They are invaluable to parents and other adults who want to help youths navigate the course to adulthood.
For example, the Bible realistically acknowledges that “foolishness is tied up with the heart of a boy,” or, as rendered in Today’s English Version, “children just naturally do silly, careless things.” (Proverbs 22:15) Some adolescents seem mature for their age, but they are still inexperienced youths. As such, they are susceptible to the insecurities, desires, and troubled feelings that are part of growing up. (2 Timothy 2:22) How can these youths be helped?
The Bible encourages ongoing communication between parents and children. It urges parents: “Speak of [God’s standards] when you sit in your house and when you walk on the road and when you lie down and when you get up.” (Deuteronomy 6:6, 7) Such conversation has two benefits. First, it instructs the young one in God’s ways. (Isaiah 48:17, 18) Second, it keeps parents and children talking. This is especially vital as young ones pass through adolescence, when they can become withdrawn and lonely.
Of course, most adolescents go through temporary bouts of feeling isolated. Some, though, become chronically lonely. “These kids say that it is hard for them to make friends at school, that they have no one to talk to, that they feel alone, that it is hard for them to get other children to like them, and that they feel there is no one they can go to when they need help,” says one reference work on adolescence.
Parents and concerned adults can reach out to teens and help them to cope with their struggles. How? “The only way to find out what’s going on in teenagers’ minds is to ask them,” writes the executive editor of a magazine for teens. Obviously, it takes time and patience to help young ones reveal the concerns of their heart. But the rewards are worth the effort.—Proverbs 20:5.
The Need for Reasonable Boundaries
In addition to communication, young ones need—and, deep down, want—reasonable boundaries. The Bible states that “a boy let on the loose will be causing his mother shame.” (Proverbs 29:15) Experts believe that a lack of clear limits can be at the root of juvenile delinquency. “If a child is endlessly indulged and never hears the word ‘no’ or experiences limits,” says Shaw, quoted earlier, “he never has a chance to learn that other people have lives, emotions, needs, and wills of their own. Without a well-developed sense of empathy, the child will not be able to love.”
Dr. Stanton Samenow, who has worked for many years with troubled youths, expresses a similar thought. “Some parents believe that children should be free spirits,” he writes. “Naïvely, they believe that to impose obligations or requirements will place an unfair burden on their offspring and deprive him of his childhood. But their failure to set limits may have disastrous results. These parents do not realize that a boy or girl who receives little discipline may find it difficult to become self-disciplined.”
Does this mean that parents simply need to be strict? By no means. Setting limits is just one aspect of effective parenting. If taken to an extreme, the setting of rigid rules can result in a harsh atmosphere in the home. The Bible says: “You fathers, do not be exasperating your children, so that they do not become downhearted.”—Colossians 3:21; Ephesians 6:4.
Hence, from time to time, parents need to review their methods of instruction and discipline, especially as their children grow older and begin showing signs of maturity. Perhaps certain rules or restrictions could be relaxed or adjusted, in keeping with the young one’s ability to act responsibly.—Philippians 4:5.
As pointed out in our preceding article, the Bible foretold that before God steps in to rid the world of badness, the world would face “critical times hard to deal with.” Evidence shows that we are living in that very period—“the last days” of this ungodly system of things. Like adults, young ones must endure life in a world that is characterized by people who are “lovers of themselves, . . . having no natural affection, . . . without self-control.”—2 Timothy 3:1-5.
Parents who feel that they have lost touch with their adolescent son or daughter can take steps to build bridges, one conversation at a time. Commendably, many parents are striving hard to be a positive force and a real presence in the lives of their children.
The Bible is a most valuable tool in this regard. It has helped many parents to fulfill their role and has helped youths to avoid disastrous pitfalls. (Deuteronomy 6:6-9; Psalm 119:9) Since the Bible is from the Creator, Jehovah God, we can be confident that it provides the best help for today’s youths.
The same reference notes that unlike the teen who experiences occasional loneliness, the chronically lonely teen feels isolated most of the time and over a significant period. He or she “believes that being friendless is stable, uncontrollable, and due to defects within the self” and that the situation “cannot or will not change.”
See chapter 11 of the book Knowledge That Leads to Everlasting Life, published by Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Jehovah’s Witnesses have found the Bible-based book Questions Young People Ask—Answers That Work to be a great help. Each of its 39 chapters deals with a thought-provoking question. Some of the titles are: “How Can I Make Real Friends?” “How Can I Cope With Peer Pressure?” “How Can I Make My Loneliness Go Away?” “Am I Ready to Date?” “Why Say No to Drugs?” “What About Sex Before Marriage?”
Taken from Awake!, April 8, 2005
More articles can be read at www.jw.org
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