Are We Letting American Kids Down?

The FBI released encouraging statistics developed from UCR data indicating that both property and violent crime are down overall in the United States.   That’s the good news.  Bad news has also been released recently.  The number of young people arrested by age 23 is on the rise, as is the incidence of violent crime committed by juveniles.

According to a study published in the Journal of Pediatrics conducted by criminal justice professor Dr. Robert Brame of the University of North Carolina – Charlotte, since the last data analysis in 1965, arrest rates for American juveniles have increased substantially. Criminal activity among youth represents an increased risk of unhealthy lifestyle, involvement in violence, and violent victimization.  The study included young people from age 8 to 23 (Brame, 2011).  The study concludes that by age 23, 30% to 41% of American youth have been arrested.

The Coalition for Juvenile Justice notes that between 50 and 75% of these young people have been diagnosed with mental health problems.  Dr. Eugene Breslin, of Harvard Medical School, states that these are alarmingly high numbers. “There are social, economic, education, and family risks associated with arrests,” Breslin stated (Gann, 2011).

What are these risks?  What has changed for young people since the 1960’s which impacts this increase in juvenile offenders?   Numerous factors have combined to erode the institutions which helped Americans raise better citizens in the past.

Any metric of American schools indicates that children are falling behind.  Those who need the most help, the disadvantaged, have the least chance of attending private school.

The number of women in the work force has also dramatically increased.  Even if both parents are in the home, the level of attention available from two parents working full time is less than in the days of Leave it to Beaver.  Children need supervision and attention.  A vast amount of child care is entrusted to the lowest paid workers in society.  Where are our priorities?  Is it any wonder that children aren’t doing as well as in the past, when their own parents used to raise them?

Since the 1960’s, the incidence of divorce and children born outside of traditional marriage structures has increased exponentially. According to the Brookings Institution, out-of-wedlock birth rates have soared since 1970. In 1965, 24% of black infants and 3.1% of white infants were born to single mothers. By 1990, the rates had risen to 64% for black infants and 18% for whites (Alkerlof, 1996).  Current rates are 41% overall and nearly 80% in the African American community.

Many more children are raised in one-parent families, a key predictor of poverty.

The number of people attending church in the United States has also drastically decreased.  Does that mean that parents who don’t attend church necessarily raise bad kids?  Of course not.

However, Byron R. Johnson, a professor of criminal justice at Baylor University, sees a correlation between lagging church attendance and increased crime rates.  His theories are discussed in More God Less Crime. The book describes how faith communities are essential in forming partnerships necessary to provide the human and spiritual capital to effectively address crime and offender rehabilitation.

According to Dr. Chuck Colson, Watergate co-conspirator and current director of a large prison ministry, “Professor Christie Davies at the University of Reading conducted a study that showed when Sunday school attendance was highest in England, crime was lowest. Conversely, when Sunday school attendance declined, the crime rate increased” (Colson, 2011).

Faith communities, good schools, and supportive, involved parents provide the critical infrastructure necessary to raising productive adults. Involvement in all three depends on parents. All three institutions provide positive role models, resiliency, rewards for good behavior, accountability, and supervision.  While it is possible to raise a good citizen without these structures, the likelihood of success is increased as each institution is present.

Contrary to what you might have heard, it doesn’t take a village to raise a child. It takes two committed parents who are willing to sacrifice, teach their children right from wrong, and develop in them a sense of accountability.  Americans do not need to raise children.  Americans need to learn to raise productive members of society.

That’s what I think.  I’d welcome your opinions as well.

Learn more about this article here:

http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2011/12/14/peds.2010-3710.abstract

http://abcnews.go.com/Health/arrests-increasing-us-youth/story?id=15180222

http://www.juvjustice.org/

http://www.breakpoint.org/bpcommentaries/entry/13/17051

http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr60/nvsr60_01.pdf#table16

http://www.brookings.edu/papers/1996/08childrenfamilies_akerlof.aspx

http://templetonpress.org/book/more-god-less-crime

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