"Bear in mind that the wonderful things you learn in your schools are the work of many generations, produced by enthusiastic effort and infinite labor in every country of the world. All this is put into your hands as your inheritance in order that you may receive it, honor it, add to it, and one day faithfully hand it to your children. Thus do we mortals achieve immortality in the permanent things which we create in common." - Albert Einstein

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Youth Maltreatment and Juvenile Delinquency

There is ample research that shows a strong correlation between being maltreated in early life and being delinquent in adolescent life. Children, who are either neglected or have been emotionally or physically abused before they enter kindergarten, are more likely to miss school, do poorly in reading and math, and exhibit behavioral problems. What is particularly interesting in one study in this area is the stronger correlation seen among minority children.

Above copied from Lansford JE, Dodge KA, Pettit GS, Bates JE, Crozier J, Kaplow J. A 12-Year Prospective Study of the Long-term Effects of Early Child Physical Maltreatment on Psychological, Behavioral, and Academic Problems in Adolescence. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med.2002;156(8):824-830. doi:10.1001/archpedi.156.8.824
The above graph suggests that there is a factor among minority children that significantly enhances the correlation between maltreatment at home and problems in schools and in the community. One quick guess is not having a sense of belonging. True enough, a more recent study by Kimberly Bender of the University of Denver shows conclusively the mediating effect, for instance, of school engagement in the relationship between youth maltreatment and juvenile delinquency.

Above copied from Children & Schools
A school can indeed provide an avenue for a child to feel a sense of belonging to a community. A school could be a second home for a child. Bender writes:
"Disengaged youths lack social ties with their school, have poor relationships with teachers, feel insecure at school, and have a sense they do not belong there. Thus, efforts to engage youths should involve prevention and intervention efforts at the individual, classroom, and school level and should engage engage youths in community-based services."
The above is probably one reason why activities that are not inclusive and are promoting competition like pageants, contests, and sports, tend to not work in curbing youth crime and violence. As Kimberly notes, identifying this problem is crucial in drawing what measures need to be taken. What is imperative is to develop a sense of commitment to both school and community by fostering social bonds between teachers and students, parents and children, and among students.

There is a town in the Philippines that is currently facing a problem of juvenile delinquency. Like most towns in the Philippines, the community is really a huge network of extended families, but with migration and a fast population expansion, previous tight social connections are no longer present. There are now young children who are even proudly brandishing their deadly weapons.

Copied from a Facebook post by Maricris Madridejos Ramos
These children clearly satisfy their need for belonging by forming a group on their own. The town, its school and churches, must reflect on why these children no longer consider themselves as part of the community. It is much more difficult to raise scores in math and reading. It is a lot easier to make children feel secure and wanted inside schools. Of course, the solutions are not within reach if we continue to view attending school as simply a way to get ahead in life. With such perspective, people tend to focus more on punitive measures that do nothing in addressing the roots of the problem.



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