Monday, April 21, 2008

Does this still make sense? c.1993

When confronted with the problems in society, experts are
all saying that we must start with the kids. Early
intervention and education are the answers to drugs, gangs,
AIDS, smoking, teenage pregnancy, abortion and so on. If we
can get them when they're young we can fix the problems.

When a child is born, there are, instantly, things that
will begin that education. Parent/infant classes in swimming,
singing, laughing and playing. Then it's on to tot classes.
These run the gamut. You can expose your pre-schooler to
an array of experiences. From the normal play group stuff to
computers and multi-cultural immersions. Affordable resources
abound, from basic tot lots to indoor playgrounds and children's
museums. A parent's choices are limited only by time, money,
and imagination.

By the time the schools are ready to take our treasures,
full-time, some will actually be jarred by the slow pace.
Their routine of running from experience to experience will
settle in to an 8 til 3 rigor, before the bouncing starts up
after school. Then it's off to all of the extra curricular
activities and homework.

The scheduling, transportaion, and logistics of raising
children these days may require more planning and juggling
than most Pentagon operations. But this is for our kids, and
we want the best for them. This is evident in the beaming
parental faces, sitting through recitals, exhibitions, games,
award ceremonies and other performances. Parents sacrifice
other forms of adult entertainment to see, encourage and
applaud their progeny. This is as it should be. What to the
non-parent would seem bumbling, haphazard, and barely passing
for talent, is, to the trained eye of the parent the
culmination of all of the time, hard work and sacrifice. The
pay-off. Parents are right there, celebrating the good,
agonizing the not so good and justifiably proud.

At twelve years old, something strange happens. The
programs just drop off. The myriad of choices, available to
younger children is gone. You have to hunt for choices. Just
when it is most important to find ways to direct and
encourage your child, the opportunities become limited.
Adolescents are set to drift. They are left to hang out with
their friends. To come up with their own activities and
entertainment. All of that early intervention and education
goes down the drain. Too old for the playground, under peer
presure to be cool, searching for autonomy, afraid of nothing
and of everything, we start to lose them. Resources are
closed to them or severely restricted due to those who would
disrupt, damage or abuse. It is difficult to provide
structured activities for minds and bodies who want to feel
that they are in control.

This is the time when life choices and directions are made.
That the majority come out of adolescence intact,
is more the result of luck and the family, than any attempt
by society to lend guidance. Those who are not as fortunate,
become society's problem. Unless we provide the resources and
allow these kids to help decide how, where and what they can
do with the resources, we will continue to lose some. Out of
the those that we lose, some will eventually find their way
back to the mainstream, some will die and some will continue
to be society's problem.

What can we do to help? We can open the doors. Open drop-
in centers in any building with extra room. Movies downstairs
in the village hall. Pick up basketball games in the school
gymnasiums. Career info at the community center. Open mike
night in one of the churches, Board game tournaments in
another. Just hang outs for teens, with input from them.
Let them know that we're trying. Money is tight, but we're going
to try to give them places to go. Gather the resources, get
the parents, coaches, teachers, clergy, police officers, firemen,
Realtors, business owners, anyone willing to help out, to
commit time for whatever is needed. The way it works now,
every once in a while, some brave soul will give in to
pressure and schedule an activity for teens. It is planned,
advertised and teens come. Sometimes a few come, sometimes
they all come. Activities are planned with pessimism. Trying
to head off any opportunity for trouble. The result is
restrictions that limit the possibilities.

This is not meant to slight those who are currently
trying to do teen things. What I am attempting to point out
is that while there is organization and planning revolving
around the younger children, there doesn't seem to be much
for teens. No consistent, dependable programming. Those
older and younger have resources, teens have the streets
and alleys. Is it any wonder that teens try to get into the
bars? We need to give them fun and affordable alternatives
and a voice in the community. Rather than slamming the bar
owners for being fooled by fake I.D's and forcing them to be
moral watchdogs, we should be addressing the root of the problem.
Lots of people telling them what they can't do, without
providing acceptable alternatives.

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