Saving America's Youth from a Life of Crime.

In America people like to think their children are safe. They like to think they can send children to school, out with friends and expect them to come home without facing the terror that is common place for children in other parts of the world.  The reality is however that children in America are at great risk of getting involved in criminal behavior every time they go outside their homes.  Risks are higher in certain areas of the country, but all youth are at risk.  It is important to identify risk factors for youth involvement in criminal activity and the attitudes that lead youth towards criminal behavior.  Along with identifying the problems with youth crime in America, it is important to determine what can be done to reduce the risk to the young people.  One of the best solutions to keeping adolescents away from criminal groups and behavior is to surround them with positive role models and activities.
One of the problems identified with leading adolescents into lives of crime are gangs and gang affiliation.  Young people who get involved in gangs seem to be far more likely to become involved in some kind of criminal activity than young people who are not in gangs.  Gangs can be defined as groups whose members meet together with some regularity with group defined membership criteria and organizational characteristics.  They are not adult sponsored, but are self-determining groups that demonstrate continuity over time.  In most major cities these groups present a problem not only for the safety of the youths involved in the gangs, but those who accidentally come in contact with them as well.  Young People in gangs get involved in such crimes as drug abuse, selling drugs, theft, assault, armed robbery, rape, and even murder.  When rival gangs fight with each other wars with severe casualties and loss of members lives can result.
When considering the risks involved with becoming part of a gang people would wonder why youth become part of gangs.  Most parents would do everything they could to keep their children from getting involved with gangs, yet somehow large numbers of American children join gangs every year.  Many of them are lured into gangs gain a sense of belonging.  Gangs are predominately made up of young men from similar ethnic backgrounds.The young people who get involved in the gangs often come from single parent homes or homes below the poverty level.  Becoming part of the gang gives them a sense of belonging and in many ways a family mentality.The gangs often participate in crime together (such as drugs or gambling) as a way to earn money, which provides for those who were raised in poverty.  The attraction of family like relationships and potential for high earnings lures young people into the groups in which they become entangled and unable to get out without severe consequences.
Even youth who are not involved in gangs are at risk of becoming involved in crime.  One of the most prominent crimes for adolescents to get into is drug use, abuse and often dealing.  For teenagers even alcohol is illegal and this is often the first step into illegal drug usage adolescents take.  From there they move on to more illicit drugs.  According to one source, by age fourteen approximately 35 of teenagers have tried at least one illicit drug and by the end of high school more than half reportedly tried at least one.The most commonly reported drugs used by teenagers were marijuana, ecstasy, heroin and cocaine. The teenagers most likely to be at risk are those who have poor relationships with parents, live in high risk or low income communities, have parental or peers who role model drug abuse and those who have low self- esteem or poor school performance. Young people involved in drug use and abuse are also at greater risk of selling drugs to others. In addition to the criminal behavior involved, the young people have greater long term risks such a possible long term habit and potential life long health conditions. 
Part of the problems involved with leading adolescents to criminal behaviors and peer groups, such as gangs, that replace strained or missing relationships with parents.  During adolescence young people want to spend more time with friends and peers than with parents.  When the community the youth has grown up in is made up of youth who are poor role models, the children are more likely to get involved in the criminal behaviors.There is a greater risk of this happening with young men in single mother homes.  The adolescent males may have very positive relationships with their mothers, but with no positive male role model the young men reach out to peers for companionship.  This is when they tend to get involved with gangs and friends who get them into criminal activities.  Those who have both parents often develop difficulty relating to their parents during adolescence and also turn to peers, who could lead them to criminal behavior.
In order to protect children from turning to lives of crime it is very important to begin at very early age surrounding them by positive role models and teaching them where to turn for help when they have questions.  Even children with the best parent relationships will need to have positive relationships outside of the immediate family.  In order for the parents to know those relationships are safe, however it is important for the parents to know who the relationships are.  Parents need to know who their childrens friends are and what is going on in their childrens lives.  The most important way to insure this is to get the children involved in positive social institutions.  The most influential of these include family, religion, community, and school.

The first crucial relationship to develop is the family relationship. More studies are showing the value of family involvement early and continual during the childs life. Children who have adequate parental supervision are less likely to engage in criminal activities than those with less parental supervision or poor parent-child relationships.  By building trusting family relationships, young people will be able to turn to their parents when they have concerns during the trying times of adolescence instead of needing to turn to peers.  Studies have indicated that children who are raised in dysfunctional families with conflict or inadequate parental control have a much stronger tendency to end up in groups involved in delinquent behavior. 

Religious groups are a good way to surround children with positive youth and other people who would help keep them out of gangs or delinquent criminal behavior.  By getting young people involved in these groups they can find constructive activities to become involved in and would thus be less likely to have free time to become involved in delinquent behavior.  Young people involved in religious groups often develop more positive peer relationships and social groups.  This helps the adolescent have a better overall outlook on life and a higher capacity for coping with life stressors.  Parents who surround their children with religious groups provide children with better opportunities for positive outlooks on life and less likelihood to become involved in criminal activities and delinquent behavior. 

The community a child is raised in undoubtedly plays a role in whether he or she will become involved in criminal behavior later in life.  Children who are raised in poverty stricken communities or communities with high crime rates are much more likely to become involved with peers who get them involved in criminal behavior.  It is very difficult for children to resist crime if it occurs every time a child walks out the door.  The problem is made worse when the youth sees the criminal behavior as a potential way to make money to help the familys financial situation.  Children who are born and raised in communities among working families and low crime rates have a lower tendency to become involved in criminal behavior.  Children who grow up what are considered safe communities are usually surrounded by peers of similar backgrounds and families, which help keep them from criminal activities.

School is a very important social structure for youth and provides a strong impact on youth behavior.  There is a proven correlation between positive school performance and minimal delinquency (Jenkins).  When children attend school regularly and get good grades they become involved in school activities and develop school peer relationships.  These relationships are often less likely to lead to delinquent behavior.  School success is important for parents to encourage children to accomplish as well for future success.  If children graduate from high school they have a better chance of getting out of poverty stricken and high crime neighborhoods and can thus end the cycle of crime.  In order to get children to stay in school, an interest needs to be developed in it early.  School needs to be something the young person likes to do instead of something they have to do.  Education is one of the greatest things a parent can provide a child in order to help keep him out of a life of crime.
Americas children are all at risk of getting involved in a life of crime, and no parent wants to see that happen to their child.  Single mothers raising boys in poverty may look at the statistics and simply give up, but there is hope for all children.  Although the statistics point out what children are at highest risk, it is a way to provide information to help identify and prevent those children from becoming statistics.  The single mothers of adolescent sons can still surround their children with young people who are positive role models and can build positive relationships with them.  These mothers can get their children involved in school.
Although there are certain groups at higher risk than others, no child is free from the risk of becoming involved in crime.  In order to protect youth from crime, parents need to know their children.  They need to be involved in their childrens lives and develop a trusting open relationship with them.  Parents need to surround their children with peers who are a positive influence and encourage their children to become involved in group activities such as school or church events.  Parents should know their childrens friends and teachers as well as what they are doing in school (attendance, grades).  Parents who respect their childrens privacy do not really respect their children they simply do not care enough to protect them from the dangers that exist in the world.  There are people in the world that will keep track of what Americas children are doing if their parents do not, unfortunately those people will not have the childrens best interest in mind.  In order to protect Americas children, we need to be involved with the children and make them a priority.


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