The media have been saturated, in recent years, with articles on the troubles of today's teens: drugs, drinking, dropping out, pregnancy, gangs, violence in the schools, sexually transmitted diseases, poverty, racism, running away, suicide, AIDS, illiteracy, truancy ...
Filled with facts and figures, most articles have addressed these issues from an adult perspective. But what do young people say is their greatest concern? What solutions do they suggest?
When teens are truant, is it because they're tired from working? Or are the classes boring, the teachers indifferent? When they skip school, where do they go, and what do they do?
Years ago, students dropped out because of external causes: illness, employment, or the need to help at home. Today, personal frustration, failure, and fear are more likely to be contributing factors.
"Nobody is listening, and nobody really cares," says Angie, 18. (Names have been changed to conceal identities. Without anonymity, teens felt they could not give honest answers on the issues without facing possible negative repercussions from parents and teachers), a senior at Newton High School.
Violence and fear
Overwhelmingly, students at Newton High point to violence and racism in school as their primary concerns. Their fears closely parallel the concerns expressed by teens nationwide. According to a study by the American Psychological Association, teens are more than twice as likely as adults to be victims of violent crimes.
Still, teenagers are most commonly perceived by the public as perpetrators of crime, according to an Oct. 1993 Gallup/CNN poll. Adults actually commit more crimes,
statistics show; but criminal activity by youth, increasingly armed and more violent, invokes more fear, the poll showed.
Young people are sensitive to the public's perception of their age group, they say. They resent generalizations suggesting all teens cause trouble.
However, teens themselves are subject to fear of their peers. Many admit being afraid, at times, of even going to school. (A 1993 survey of 65,000 teens showed that 37 percent feel unsafe in school -- up from 22 percent in 1989.)
"When someone makes a threat against you, you don't want to go back the next day," says Mark, 15. "The teachers and authorities don't do anything about
it." School authorities are afraid of those who stir up trouble, says Ginger, 19, and are generally unresponsive to students' complaints.
Female students describe incidents in which they have been subjected to uncomfortable intimidation by other students. They get "stared down," they say, while walking down the middle of a crowded hall lined with students making derogatory comments.
Two of her friends express similar concerns.
No one's afraid of the authorities, Ginger says, adding that some students deliberately bring knives or come to school drunk, with the hope of being sent home and having three days off.
'No place to go'
Outside of school, young people say, the biggest problem is that there's no place for them to go.
"Senior citizens have their places to meet" in most communities, one student said. "Kids go to daycare. But there's no place around here for teenagers to get
together." So on Friday and Saturday nights, the dark, vacant parking lot on Highway 278, location of the former Kmart, informally converts to a youth hangout. ...
"We don't have any where else to go, so we hang out here," says Anthony, a former
student of Newton County High.
"Right here is what we've got to do," says Rod, pointing to the dark, empty lot. "Anywhere else, you get run off."
"The bowling alley closed down. The pool hall closed down. We can't go to bars. This is all we have," he says. "We used to love to bowl."
"The cops come through here and tell us to turn our music down," he says, as a patrol car pulls onto the lot. "We're a bunch of drunks, drug addicts, that's how they perceive us. But we're not hurting anybody."
"If the police come up here, they'll give him (the driver of the car playing loud music) a ticket," says Anthony.
"But you can go to a bar and play music as loud as you want," Rod says.
"They should give us something to do," says Ginger. "They don't want us drinking and driving, but we have to go to Athens or Milledgeville for something to do."
Teens wish the community would just provide them with a place to go, they say.
"They don't have to serve alcohol. Just a place for music, getting together."
Their desire for socialization is both healthy and harmless. Covington police report no recent acts of violence or trouble in the parking lot where local youth gather. A squad patrols the area only when called upon by
concerned members of the public, police say. Occasionally an under-age drinker is instructed to pour out an alcoholic beverage, they say, but no arrests have been made.
"We understand they have no place to go, and they're not hurting anyone," one officer says.
At home and in school Young people often don't want to entertain their friends at home. It is the home to which many teens' troubles can be traced.
Some "parents are like the teachers at school," says Anthony. "They don't want to listen. If you do something wrong, you get in trouble. If you do something good," they don't say anything.
Nevertheless, some of teens' troubles are often brought on by themselves. A study published in the Journal of Social Issues found that 90 percent of incidents involving family violence toward teens were preceded by disobedience or arguments with parents. Teens would argue, however -- and justifiably in many a case -- that their behavior is often the
result of other contributing factors over which they have no control.
According to the American Psychological Commission on Violence and Youth, a history of child abuse, parental indifference or neglect, poverty, family violence, and drug use, among other factors, directly contribute to teens' violent tendencies.
In fact, more than 208,000 teens aged 12 to 17 were reported as victims of family violence in 1990, according to the National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect. Twenty-eight percent of youths in runaway shelters say they were physically or sexually abused before leaving home, according to a 1991 study.
However, incidents involving the victimization of teens are severely underreported to child protective agencies, as indicated by a 1993 study of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Statistics show that the rate at which teens were physically abused almost doubled between 1980 and 1986 -- although it is uncertain whether this rise is the result of an actual increase in abuse or simply an increased awareness of the problem on the part of the public.
Although poverty undoubtedly is a factor in many a case (financial difficulties lead to stress, to which many respond with violence), statistics show it is not always to blame. According to the National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect, 42 percent of families in which teens were abused earned over $11,000 (1978 dollars) per year.
No wonder many teens look to school as an escape from family life. Unfortunately, the violence they flee at home often follows them to the classroom, as
'Like going to prison'
"Going to school is like going to prison," Anthony says. "The kids are afraid to go to school because the teachers won't protect them. They're afraid they're going to get killed or hurt. There are guns, knives, racial fights."
Schools have already taken on the task of feeding, transporting, counseling, medicating, babysitting, teaching sex education, and performing other responsibilities previously assumed by parents.
Is it also the school's job to patrol and protect?
A look at the statistics might suggest the need:
37 percent of teens feel unsafe in school, a 1993 USA Today survey shows;
58 percent said they knew where to get a gun, if they wanted one;
44.2 percent of teenage students had been involved in a physical fight during the previous year, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, CDC.
Daily in the U.S., 15 percent of students carry a gun to school, according to a 1993 Harris survey of sixth through
Homicides committed by 15- through 19-year-olds using firearms rose 61 percent between 1979 and 1989, the American Psychological Association Commission on Violence and Youth reports. According to FBI reports, juvenile firearm-murders rose 79 percent in the past 10 years.
The effects of fear and stress of life in today's society upon teens is evident in the increase of psychiatric admissions among U.S. youth. Teen admissions to psychiatric centers in the U.S. have nearly quadrupled since 1980, writes Lynette Lamb in the March/April 1992 issue of Utne Reader. It would be unrealistic to presume that such fear does not interfere with their education.
School is "frustrating," says Anthony. "Elementary school is
supposed to prepare you for high school, and high school is supposed to prepare you for college." But sometimes teachers assume students already know the basics, Anthony says, and aren't patient enough to explain what they don't understand.
"Copy this, write this, and this is your homework." That's how Rod describes some of his teachers' instruction format. "Either everybody understands, or no one does," he says.
Many students just "sit there and go to sleep," says Anthony.
"The teachers care," he adds, "but don't want to help. If you get caught doing something, they just want to send you home for there days. They don't want to keep you in school."
Anthony relates an incident in which he asked an Algebra teacher to explain what "a" and "b" represent.
"You'll have to figure that out yourself," the teacher replied.
Some teachers are better, the students admit, but too many "don't care if you understand" the lesson or not, Rod says.
"They get paid either way," another says.
"But you get no respect when you confront the school with a problem," another complains, especially if it relates to race.
Fear of their peers
With all the troubles teens face today, and the fear of their own peers, is it any wonder they want to skip school? What reasons do they give for being truant? Where do they go? What do they do?
"We just don't want to be there," says Ginger. "We go to somebody's house and get drunk."
"I'd go to work, or go fishing," says Anthony. "If it's raining, I'd go home, go to sleep, go to the malls. I've skipped school before and they didn't do anything."
"Kids stay out of school because they know they can't drink in school," he says. "They bring it (alcohol to school) ... or drink so they'll be sent home. They know they'll be sent home. They start drinking at 8 a.m."
"Others skip because they're afraid, if someone threatened them," another explains.
"I go to school to get away from fighting at home," says Mark. "I get to school, and there's just more of the same."
First in a series
(To be continued)
Everyday in America, 135 children bring a gun to school. (Source: Children's
More than 208,000 teens aged 12 to 17 were reported as victims of family
violence in 1990, according to the National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect.
Twenty-eight percent of youths in runaway shelters say they were physically
or sexually abused before leaving home, according to a 1991 study.
Teen Suicide... Every day in America, 6 teenagers commit suicide. (Source: Children's Defense
One Teen's Testimony
from the CDC
NOT to Smoke than even your Mother gave you!
New Medical evidence has shown:
can cause hearing loss
can lead to Alzheimers
increases your risk of going blind later in life by 400%.
exposure to tobacco can lead to behavioral problems later in life,
according to 1997 study from the Univ. of Colorado Health Sciences
Center in Denver, publ'd in the Journal of the AMA 10/98, citing a 1997 report.
(Reuters News 10/14/98) See http://www.infobeat.com/stories/cgi/story.cgi?id=2556569852-0a6
Enslaved to Cigarets Check out this
American Lung Asso, 1-800-LUNG-USA
Of adolescents who have smoked at least 100 cigarettes
in their lifetime, most report that they would like to quit, but
are not able to do so. (Source: American Lung Asso.,
Each day, more than 4,800 teens smoke their first
cigarette. Almost 2,000 of these will become regular smokers - that's
720,000 annually. One-third of these children smokers will eventually
die of smoking-related illnesses.
At least 4.5 million adolescents are current smokers. 22.4% of all 12th
graders smoke cigarettes daily. (Source: American Lung Asso., 1999)
According to a 1997 survey of high schoolers, the overall prevalence of
current cigarette use and frequent cigarette use were 36.4 % and 16.7 %,
respectively. (Source: American Lung Asso., 1999)
Drinking... Every day in America, 437 children are arrested for drinking or drunken driving
.(Source: Children's Defense Fund)
Leads to High Blood Pressure
Drunkenness: What Saith the
Scriptures? (Every verse on the topic in one outline. Written by
Teen Drinking Statistics
National Resource Center for the Prevention of Alcohol, Tobacco, other drug
Federal Drug, Alcohol & Crime Clearinghouse Network, 1-800-788-2800
Every day in America, 211 children are arrested for drug abuse. (Source:
Children's Defense Fund)
on the Brain
American Council for Drug Education
most up-to-date research on drugs and alcohol
in Action drug abuse update online
National Clearinghouse for Alcohol & Drug Info: 1-800-729-6686 (se
habla espanol), 1-800-487-4889
Broken Homes... Every day in America,
2,989 see their parents divorce
(Source: Children's Defense Fund)
12.8 % of all births are to teenage mothers (Source: US
Census Bureau, US National Center for Health Statistics, 1997).
Every day in America, 1,106 teenagers have abortions; 1,295 teenagers give
birth; and 7,742 teens become sexually active. (Source: Children's Defense
Fornication: What Saith
the Scriptures? (Every verse on the topic in one neat outline. Written
by a teen.)
Spurs Teen Sex More than Hormones
(Reuters News Svc)
Depression: A Study in the Scriptures
A Love I Could Not
Loneliness: A Study in the
Every day in America, 623 teenagers get syphilis or gonorrhea
(Source: Children's Defense Fund)
Every day in America, 3,288 children run away from home (Source:
Children's Defense Fund)
Fornication: A Study in the Scriptures
Scripture exhortation to youth:
Adolescence can be a time of dedication & commitment.
Ecclesiastes 12:1-7 "Remember now thy Creator in the days
of thy youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh, when
thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them...."
1 Timothy 4:12 "Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example
of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith,
2 Chronicles 34:1-7 "Josiah was eight years old when he began
to reign, and he reigned in Jerusalem one and thirty years. And he did
that which was right in the sight of the LORD, and walked in the ways
of David his father, and declined neither to the right hand, nor to the left.
For in the eighth year of his reign, while he was yet young, he
began to seek after the God of David his father: and in the twelfth year
he began to purge Judah and Jerusalem from the high places, and the groves,
and the carved images, and the molten images. And they brake down the altars
of Baalim in his presence; and the images, that were on high above them,
he cut down; and the groves, and the carved images, and the molten images,
he brake in pieces, and made dust of them, and strowed it upon the graves
of them that had sacrificed unto them. And he ... cleansed Judah and Jerusalem.
And so did he in the cities of Manasseh, and Ephraim, and Simeon, even unto
Naphtali.... And when he had broken down the altars and the groves, and had
beaten the graven images into powder, and cut down all the idols throughout
all the land of Israel, he returned to Jerusalem."
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