As an educator and parent, I find the continued violence in our community unacceptable. The safest place for a child – regardless of age – should be in their own home, though for some, their homes and neighborhoods have become battlegrounds as teenagers are fighting each other. I am consumed by questions. Why are they fighting each other? What can we do about this? How can we stand for this? The answers to these and other questions are not easy. There is no instant solution to immediately stop the teenage violence that is plaguing our community. The solution involves parents and families, schools, law enforcement and the community at-large. Each of the players has a role in taming this tumultuous tide.
At the school level, we must continue to provide and expand support services for students at all levels. This starts early in the lives of our students. Dropouts are not just a high school problem; the process starts early in life, often before the student even enters a school door. NHCS offers multiple programs – Head Start, North Carolina Pre-K, after school tutoring and more – for children to obtain basic skills before third grade. Beyond the early years, we must provide multiple paths to career fulfillment. This may be two or four-year college options or the completion of career-ready skills training. Programs such as the Career Readiness Academy at the Mosley Performance Learning Center and our newly proposed Career-Technical Education High School are examples of how students can prepare for successful, solid careers.
There is the cliché – we are a product of our environment, and I believe that is true for many, even as adults. At home, parents and families must understand how much influence they have on their children. A parent’s actions, choices and lifestyle have significant impact on their children, and often times, more than the parents may think. With countless temptations and distractions in today’s world, children need strong role models to look to for support, guidance and nurturing. Without supportive parents, children are wondering and longing for a leader in their lives, and they can easily stumble into the “wrong crowd” and ultimately, make poor choices that may significantly impact their lives for many years to come. Parents need to set boundaries, know what their children are doing and who their children’s friends are. Children do not need another adult friend; they need engaged parents. In addition, it is imperative that parents are active and engaged in their child’s education. Research shows that 1 out of 4 students chose classes without parent input and about 30% of parents do not know how their child is performing in school. The disengagement level of parents nationally is between 25 to 30%. (National Institute of Justice Journal, April 2000)
For single parents and a large number of grandparents, the community must provide support and education. There must be affordable childcare, viable alternatives for recreation and support for those who are struggling. The National Center for Fathering reports that children in fatherless homes had a poverty rate of 47.6%. Children in some single parent homes under-perform academically and are more likely to drop out of school. One study found that 71% of high school dropouts came from homes that are fatherless.
The community must support efforts of law enforcement, the courts and others who want to create opportunities for the youth in our community. One national study of high school sophomores and juniors reported that 50% said they would have little or no trouble obtaining a gun. We must work to reduce access to guns, though this doesn’t mean more gun laws. I don’t know of any law that allows a 15 year-old to own a gun. Instead, we must enforce those laws that exist and work to ensure the pipeline for these guns are shut down and those that illegally sell or obtain the guns pay the consequences. Community leaders, both elected and non-elected, must be willing to mentor students and provide long-term help.
None of this is new, but if we want to change the trajectory for our most troubled children, we must take an “all hands on deck” approach and do more than just wringing our hands and passing the responsibility to another group. We must hold parents, schools, and the community accountable for creating a better future for the children of New Hanover County. This also includes having open and meaningful dialogue between all parties to break down barriers and increase opportunities for all students. We need to take a problem-solving approach that increases opportunities for youth involvement beyond a gang.
We have lost too many of our youth to either violent deaths or life-long prison sentences. Families are hurting, and community hostility is spiraling. Our children’s lives are far more important than the violent lifestyle that is being inflicted upon them. Let’s stand together in 2016 and work together to end teenage violence.