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Preventing Youth Crime

Circle the appropriate answer for each of the following questions:

"If you were interested in creating a criminal you would have a pretty good chance if you took a young person from a seriously troubled home, put them into a series of foster and group homes, changed their primary worker on a regular basis, let them run away from 'home' at an early age, allowed them to drop out of school and enabled them to develop a drug and/or alcohol addiction. Your chances would improve if, somewhere in their lonely and painful existence, they had been sexually, physically, or emotionally abused. If in those few instances that they sought help, you would ensure that there were no accessible services, that the workers they encountered were rushed and overwhelmed by heavy caseloads, and that they would be seen first and foremost as trouble rather than troubled, is it surprising then that these young people would become perpetrators or victims of crime?"

"Young People Say" - National Crime Prevention Centre, 1997

If the description above spells disaster, it is no surprise that positive support for youth helps to prevent youth crime. Here are some important ways for families, friends, teachers and communities to support youth in all aspects of their lives (emotional, basic needs, educational, recreational, health and so on). Preventing youth crime shouldn't be a puzzle. These pieces fit together to create healthy, safe communities!

Caring Family or Adult

Families are a vital source of love, care and support for youth. They help children develop their personal strengths and relationships. Unfortunately, some families are not a source of support. In such cases, it is important that a caring adult outside of the family build a strong relationship with the youth. This might be a teacher, a coach, or a neighbour. Positive support, from family members or others, can help a young person to build self-esteem and feel secure. It can also contribute to the development of critical problem solving skills. When problems do arise, youth in supportive relationships are more likely to access services, go after information, and speak out for themselves or others.

Support for Families

Communities need to support families. Many families face challenges that make it difficult for them to provide adequate support or opportunities for their children. They may face poverty, addictions, physical isolation, family violence, low literacy and numeracy skills, and limited access to the social services system, particularly in rural areas. Communities can respond by arranging access to special services such as parenting classes, early childhood education programs, affordable recreational opportunities, accessible daycare, and so on. Society must address certain situations, such as poverty, at a national and even global level. Still, local communities have a role to play. They can recognize the value in supporting youth and create opportunities, where possible, to improve their life chances, particularly for youth living in poverty.

Positive Peer Support

Youth want to fit in and be part of a peer group. This helps them feel part of something and to have a sense of belonging, self-worth and self-esteem. But a strong peer influence can be positive or negative. Some young people, for a variety of reasons, feel pressure to do things that are not good for their own healthy growth and development. Fortunately, there are many ways to involve young people in positive peer models that support youth. These can range from peer tutoring, social clubs, sports teams, junior achievement, and so on. It is important to recognize the success of youth and share success stories with other youth, families, schools and communities.

Community Involvement

Youth want to feel a part of their community. For that to happen, communities must treat their youth with respect and be responsive to their needs. Teen centres, skateboard parks, arenas and pools, are just a few ways that communities can help youth to create positive attachments in the community. We must recognize and celebrate the achievements of our youth.

Recreation and Volunteer Opportunities

Some youth are drawn into criminal behaviour out of boredom and lack of something positive to do. Recreation and leisure activities such as sports, music, clubs, theatre, and teen centres not only keep kids busy, they provide youth with a wealth of skills, positive social interactions, and meaningful activities. They can introduce concepts such as teamwork, cooperation, conflict resolution and so on. Volunteer activities can also teach youth many valuable skills. Youth, who are not doing well in school, can build self-esteem and confidence when they excel in another area like helping out at the local animal shelter or visiting seniors. Not all families can afford recreational and leisure programs. Communities must support a range of affordable and accessible recreational, leisure and volunteer programs for youth.

Jobs and Skills

Employment can be a lifeline for 15-24 year old youth. It not only helps them earn money; it builds self-esteem, life skills and some sense of security. Youth want to have hope that there will be jobs and opportunities for them. They want to be productive. For this to happen, youth need support. Some may need help in developing a resume, writing a covering letter or being interviewed. Others need to learn basic generic life skills so that they can interact with others in a workplace setting. Some simply need training and employment opportunities.

Educational Support

Schools and parents can play a role in helping youth to make informed choices about their futures. Education must be timely and meaningful to the young person. Youth need support to access education and training opportunities appropriate for their needs. Alternative classes, peer tutoring, and programs that support individual needs are particularly effective ways of helping youth at risk obtain important skills for getting and keeping a job.

Health, Safety, and Well Being

Safe, stable and healthy environments encourage youth to live in healthy ways. Youth want to understand their emotional and physical health issues and they want to be supported in their attempts to improve their well being. In order to cope with their problems, young people need to be reassured that it is normal to feel some anger, confusion, frustration or depression at times. They need to know that these feelings are acceptable and there is someone who will support them no matter what. By developing skills such as leadership, communication, conflict resolution and independent living skills, youth are better equipped to make positive choices. Supporting healthy choices can also include providing youth with effective drug and alcohol prevention programs and violence/abuse prevention programs. Many such programs are peer based where youth are trained to help other teens deal with such things as healthy dating relationships, drinking and driving issues, peer pressure, sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy, conflict resolution and so on.

Positive Media Messages

Media can both glorify youth culture and demonize it. For example, media messages can encourage youth to look and act a certain way -- thin, macho, cool, violent, indifferent, etc. Youth need to address the conflicts between the values they are taught at home and those that the media might glamorize through music, videos, and magazines.

Think about the protective factors above and ask where you might fit into the picture as a parent, family member, teacher, youth, community, school, or representative of the media.

Everyone has a role in supporting youth and preventing youth crime.

Based on research by, the Centre for Research on Youth at Risk, St. Thomas University

Published by:
P.O. Box 6000 Fredericton, N.B.
E3B 5H1 CANADA
Tel: (506) 453-5369
Fax: (506) 462-5193
Email: pleisnb@web.ca
March 2003

Funding provided by Justice Canada

 

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