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.
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.
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.
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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