Kids Need Love Most When They Deserve it Least

If all minors see is violence and no one is socializing them to know or do any different, who failed whom? If we fail our children, we fail our own future.

There is disturbing a trend in Massachusetts and across America that is leading us to be more punitive in how we address juvenile crime. Anyone who thinks that teenagers should be released back into society because they are minors doesn't realize how much damage they can do. A child with a weapon has very little appreciation for the consequences of what that weapon can do. I can't even imagine the horror that a parent must feel when a child is lost at the hands of another.

I worked with children and their families for over seven years and in two prisons for four years. In my opinion, it is easier to build a child than repair an adult and that is why crime prevention should begin very early.

A developing fetus' brain and later impulse control are affected by the mother’s foods and by stress levels. Children learn about how to act in the world by what they see others do, and they learn about controlling aggression through adults. Generally speaking, a teen is too impulsive and their brains are not even fully developed to fully appreciate the consequences of heinous crimes. While good parenting is at the core of crime prevention, it is not enough. Schools, peers and entertainment all matter, not to mention learning and developmental disabilities. The job of a parent is increasingly difficult.

When a child becomes a delinquent, it seems to be either a failure of parenting, society or both. We have known since the 1960s from Albert Bandura's research on the imitation of aggressive behavior that children imitate behavior they see in adults and on TV. They can see violence in movies, video games and on TV and listen to it in music. I am not in favor of censorship but I am in favor of self-imposed industry discretion since more is at stake than profits. And I've heard the arguments about how violent music is an artistic expression of a subculture. If this is true, perhaps the producers won't mind donating their fortunes to the victims of murder or prevention.

The majority of the crime committed by juveniles goes unnoticed by the media. However, the heinous crimes get a lot of coverage—perhaps rightfully so.

But politicians too often quickly propose untested legislation not supported by any evidence. Meanwhile, there are ample prevention strategies available, but they are not tapped because it is politically easier to get tough on minors than change societal priorities.

Who are we really failing?

It is also important to note that there is abundant research that consistently shows that Scared Straight programs actually make "at-risk" kids worse off; it hardens an already troubled minor and removes the fear of incarceration since incarceration is a right of passage anyway. It is also unfortunate twice over that 1) detaining juveniles is sometimes necessary, but also 2) the evidence on the criminogenic effect of juvenile detention and incarceration is overwhelming. Once a child is caught up in the system, it increases their chances of more crime. This has nothing to do with the staff or mission; this generally occurs for a variety of other reasons beyond the scope of this opinion. I've given presentations on prevention and I always note that if a minor is incarcerated, something is wrong, clearly with the minor’s behavior, but also the conditions around the minor.

While there are numerous (beyond the scope of this article) crime prevention strategies at the local, state, federal and private levels that can be implimented to decrease juvenile delinquency, solutions are often multifaceted.

At the end of the day, can we honestly blame children if they haven't been raised right? Let's put it like this if all youth see is violence and no one is socializing them to know or do any different, who failed whom? If we fail our children, we fail our own future.

PAUL HEROUX worked in prison and jail for four years and with children for seven years. He is a frequent guest on TV and radio stations and is a master's graduate of the Harvard School of Government and has a Master’s in Criminology from the University of Pennsylvania. He is a candidate for the House of Representatives in the 2nd Bristol District. He can be reached at paul@paulforattleboro.com.

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Chris April 22, 2012 at 05:44 AM
Most parents don't monitor what their children watch on TV and just assume certain shows are fine. For example: I know many 4, 5, 6 and 7 year olds watch "I Carly". This show is rated Y7, however, it truly is geared for tweens ages 11-16. Just like Zach & Cody. Yet parents will wonder why their child are talking to them in a certain way or have little bossy attitudes or are boy/girl crazy. There's a reason these shows have ages attached to them & even with the age guide, parents should at least watch the program themselves to see if their should should truly be watching these programs. Just like video games, I know 9 year olds play "Call of Duty" & such, this isn't appropriate for kids. Parents allow kids to grow up too fast & not allow them to be children. Here's another reason some children get into trouble. Why are kids out in the street at 9pm or 10pm? There is no reason why any kid should be out in the street at that hour, that's when they go look for things to do & get themselves into trouble. Most parents now a days can't be bothered to truly parent their children, they want to be their children's best friends. That is a major problem.
deb of see-attleboro April 23, 2012 at 08:04 PM
Isn't Massachusetts aspiring to become the home of the "disturbing trend"? We are well on the road to Las Vegas east, aren't we? Crime will always be with us. Preventing children from becoming victims OR criminals is key. Blaming parents is unwise. Parenting has never been easy. But, for sure, "the job of a parent is increasingly difficult". If I were making the decision to "take up the cross" today, I just might opt out of the vocation all together. Even without taking crime into consideration, the alarming number of children on the autism spectrum or with other disabilities should give all prospective parents pause. Back in the good ol days, there was this theory called "common sense". For instance, it was not uncommon for someone to suggest that a victim of a crime could have avoided being victimized if they behaved appropriately or dressed more conservatively. We would not have chastised such thought as being racist or sexist. We would understand the speaker was not blaming the victim, but simply making an astute observation that other families could learn from. But in this PC world, we'll just keep muddling along on one wing and a prayer. Speaking of prayer, doesn't God have a role to play? He isn't mentioned. Could He be the "missing link" to raising virtuous children in this chaotic world?


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