In recent weeks, stories about youth have topped the newspaper headlines, TV stories and Tiktok feeds due to a spate of ram raids.
Kids as young as seven, were caught ramming malls and stealing products worth tens of thousands of dollars.
As I read these headlines, I was reminded of a country pastor in 1958 who was struck by an image in Life magazine of seven teenage boys. David Wilkerson Jr was moved by compassion to go to New York City and attend a murder trial of these seven young teenage boys with the intention of trying to help them. However, the judge did not allow David a meeting. Despite missing the opportunity to meet these boys, David went on to start up a programme called Teen Challenge – a programme that helps young people involved with gangs and drug and alcohol addictions. This was a remarkable response from the country pastor to an article in a magazine.
There are a few points that come to mind in light of this recent spike of youth crime.
Firstly, let’s put it in context. The statistics show that overall youth crime rates are down 63-65 percent between 2010/11 and 2020/21. This does not mean it is non-existent and we are certainly not immune from youth crime on the Hibiscus Coast. However, we are in the fortunate position that we have youth workers and police officers on the ground providing mentorship and helping young people get their lives on track.
This leads me to my second point – we should respond, not react. The American pastor chose to respond in a practical way to the issue. Of course, consequences for actions and discipline are required. Crimes can be committed from a place of privilege and thoughtless recklessness. However, we must also seek to understand other underlying contributing factors. Research shows negative early life experiences can contribute to the reasons for involvement in serious offending at a young age. The inter-generational dysfunction and disadvantage of family lives mean most lack positive role models. The poverty of circumstances can in turn create a sense of hopelessness.
This bring me to the importance of youth work and providing a focus on early intervention. More youth workers and youth mentors are required to get behind our young people. While the youth crime statistics may have dropped, school attendance has decreased. Currently over 40 percent of school age young people are not regularly attending school.
Disengagement in school and truancy are risk factors that can lead to antisocial behaviour. Young people need the wrap-around support to stay in education or seek out employment opportunities.
So, the bottom line is this – let’s not define our youth by their actions but, just like that American pastor, let’s choose to respond proactively not reactively, and with understanding, not indifference.
Let’s help our young people find their place in our community and support our youth organisations who are making a real difference for local young people.