Dealing With Troubled Teenage Boys
There is the general feeling in society that boys are able to look out for themselves and therefore require less supervision than girls. This is simply not true especially now with the growing trends in society which is creating avenues for them to go astray. It is very important that we try to save our boys so they do not end up on the wrong side of the law. More and more young boys are getting involved in gangs. Gang related crimes are playing havoc on the stability of law and order in the Caribbean and across the world. In Jamaica, for instance a great majority of the crime taking place is gang related. A part of it has to do with gangs fighting for turf. Migration and later deportation of some of these individuals is a contributing factor. Some of these boys leave their countries at a young age for first world countries. Some of them get involved in a life of crime often goes to prison and then is deported after serving time. They often return with no skills and no means of making an honest living; so once again they return to a life of crime and not only that, they influence young impressionable youngsters to join them. Many are quick to blame these criminal acts on poverty. While one cannot deny the fact that poverty is a contributing factor, there is the need to look at the broader picture. There are many individuals coming from poor backgrounds who have managed to break down that barrier. They studied worked hard and have become successful in life, others simply turned to a life of crime. Why is it that two person coming from the same background can end up so differently in life; one a successful individual, the other running from the long arms of the law? A lot has to do with how some of these boys grow up and the kind of values instilled in them. It also has to do with education and in a sense it is not just about going to school but also educating them about the many dangers awaiting them if they get involved in gangs. The survival of gangs depends heavily on their man power, the number of individuals they are able to recruit. Gang members often get killed and many go to prison yet these gangs are still able to survive. Why is this so? The answer is simple, they are always recruiting new members. No matter how big an armory they have, they are not going to survive unless there are people to fire these weapons. Young boys are easy targets since they are of an impressionable age and can be won over easily by gang members. It is not surprising to find a thirteen year-old with a gun now a days. Often times the idea of becoming, a gang member is romanticized to the youths. The gang presents them with a glamorous picture of how they can escape a life of poverty. Some people might think that these boys were just born bad; however to understand why they might feel inclined to join gangs you will have to try to see things from their point of view. Picture the following scenario: Paul is a fourteen-year-old boy from a poor family. He lives in a neighborhood where most of the people are poor. He lives in substandard conditions and sometimes goes hungry. He goes to school when he can because sometimes he has no lunch money. Another youth in his community who is the member of a gang approaches him and tells he can make a lot of money if he becomes a member of the gang. He would be able to afford nice clothes, jewels, maybe a car, and a house one day. This sounds good and he is tempted. The youth tells him in order to become a part of the gang he must be able to fire a gun, meaning he must be able to shoot someone. He has never held a gun in his life, he does not like the idea of shooting anyone but he is tired of being poor so what does he do? He decides to join the gang. He gets a gun and they tell that he has to pass a test. He has to be able to go in a community shoot someone and get out without getting caught. He knows he could be heading for trouble but he is willing to take the risk. The night of his orientation comes, he is driven through a rival community, there is a group of people standing by the road and he opens fire. He has no quarrel with the people; he is simply trying to pass his test. His bullets find their marks and bystanders are hit and he has passed his test. He has earned his rights to become a member of the gang. He is in. We will all agree that he made a bad choice, but before we begin to condemn we need to ask some questions. Did anyone try to educate him about the dangers of getting involved in a gang? Did anyone tell him that getting into a gang is like getting into a marriage; only with the gang, the stakes are much higher? If you are in a marriage and it is not working out you can always get a divorce, with the gang it is not as simple. Attempting to get out of the gang when you realize it is not quite what you were expecting could mean possible death. How many knows that once they get in it is as if the gang owns them. They live for the gang and have to do what they are told to do even if they do not want to. Sometimes prison seems like the only means of escape from the gang but even when you are on the inside, they still can find ways to control you. How many of the youths that get into gangs know this. It is easy to get in but hard to get out. Why is this so? Why is it so difficult to walk away? The answer lies in the fear factor, which holds these gangs together. There is the fear among gang members that if they allow a member to leave he might very well rat them out. There is fear on the part of the individual that if he leaves they might kill him in order to keep him quiet. People who are being extorted by some of these gangs keep quiet about it out of fear for their lives and property so they pay out money to these thugs. It is fear that makes some gang members so quick to pull the trigger; they fear that they have to kill someone before that person kills them. Fear for their lives keeps them constantly alert. Fear makes them sleep with guns under their pillows at night. Strip many of them of their guns and all that they will have left is fear. A gun in the hand of someone who is constantly living in fear is a recipe for disaster. He often sees his survival as been dependent on his ability to shoot and kill and he will not hesitate to do so. The evidence of this can be seen by the seemingly senseless killings carried out by members of different gangs from time to time. To understand it all one have to try to understand the psychological state of mind of these individuals. To us the killings are senseless. To them it is survival, it is staying alive defending their turf and controlling the streets. Gangs wage war against each other for control of the streets. The more areas they are able to control the more money they are able to rake in from their illegal activities such as extortion and the peddling of drugs. They are prepared to kill anyone who poses a threat. Gang members however are caught between two deadly forces; there is the rival gang and there are the law enforcers. It is two against one and if one does not get them the other one will. How many young boys getting into gangs know this? What is the life expectancy rate for gang members? How many of them joining a gang at the age of thirteen will live to be thirty? They need to be informed. Across the world, there have been many AIDS and Drugs Awareness campaigns maybe it is time to add Gang Awareness to that list. The threat of gangs taking over is real. It is time to act. Law enforcers are doing their best to dismantle these gangs, but it is going to take more than guns to win this war. Attempting to get rid of these gangs with just firepower is like attempting to get a wound better without applying dressing directly to the wound. It is going to take psychological warfare to help win this war. The gangs are constantly recruiting young boys; these boys need a reason not to join. Unless these gang people to join them, they cannot survive. Ultimately, the group that is able to win the psychological warfare will win the war. Parents it is time for you to lobby to have gang awareness taught in school to educate children about gangs. Until that happens you have to begin in the home by instilling in your sons values and respect for life. You have to educate them about the dangers of gang involvement. If you see the signs or hear that your boys are hanging out with the wrong crowds, do not ignore it. If you are aware that they are doing things that are not right, do not turn a blind eye. There are mothers out there who do this. Some mothers know that their sons are involved in criminal activities but because of their motherly instinct to protect them, when they are arrested they will be in the streets crying their eyes out proclaiming their innocence. Some mothers will say, “Him used to be bad but him change.” Can you say that he has changed when he is still hanging out with the same crowd? Your sons need to disassociate themselves from other youths that are members of gangs. Encourage them to join youth clubs, go to community centers where they can engage in after school activities and get to meet other youths who are living a positive lifestyle. There are other places outside of a gang where they can get acceptance without breaking the law and putting themselves in danger. You should not cover up for your son when you see him going down the wrong path but rather get him to see the error of his ways and exercise good judgment. When you cover up for him, you are adding and abetting him to go on to commit bigger crimes. You might think you are protecting him but his best protection is to stay out of trouble. There was a story of a young man who grew up in a small community. As he entered his teens, he became involved in criminal activities. His mother did not try to correct him or let him know what he was doing was wrong. Eventually this young man committed a serious crime and was convicted and placed on death row. On the day of his execution, his last request was that he be allowed to say something to his mother. He was granted his request. When his mother got to him, he told her to lean closer so he could whisper in her ears. His mother did as he requested and he bit off her ear. He then told her, “If you had corrected me all those time I did wrong, If you had taught me wrong from right instead of allowing me to do as I pleased. If you had been strict with me, I would have listened to you, I would have changed my ways, and I would not be here on death row. Every mother wants to protect her child well at least most, but you need to realize that there might come a time when you are going to have to do whatever it takes to save him from himself. If you know that your son has an illegal gun it is your responsibility to get him to turn it in before he is caught with it. By doing so, you could be saving his life because when a young man gets involved in a life of crime there is usually one of two consequences; he will face a prison term or an early death, neither of which any mother wants for her son. Do not encourage your son to push drugs. Do not take the money he derives from illegal activities because one day perhaps sooner than you expect you might have to use that same money to bury him. Teach your son values, to believe in himself and to aim high. Make him understand that living within the law is the way to go. Nothing worth having in life comes easy and our young boys must be encouraged not to fall for unrealistic promises and get rich quick schemes because they always come with a price. Do not blame yourself if even with your best effort your son goes astray. Do not give up on him either because he is not beyond help. There are institutions set up for children with behavioral problems. When you find that you are no longer in control; when you have tried just about everything and nothing is working, then it is time to exercise some tough love. The only solution left to you might be to get him into one of these institutions. It is not going to be an easy decision, but it could prove to be one of the best you can make for him. Having him in a place where there is discipline, he has to obey rules, and regulations, might be your only chance of saving him. Let him know what you are doing is for his own good. Tell him that you will always love him, you just need him to change. Talk to him even when he refuses to listen. One day he will understand. The moment you see that your son is heading for trouble you have to try to do something to stop him. What do you do if you know that he has committed a crime; do you cover up for him or do you turn him in? This is a very hard decision but you have to do the right thing. When you cover up for him you are only encouraging him to continue commit crimes. He might go to prison but it might give him the chance to look at the way he is living and make a change. There is a chance for him to be rehabilitated and come back out a different person. It is hard and it might even seem cruel but sometimes-tough love is the only answer. One mother related the problem she was having with her son. At the young age of ten he had stopped going to school and had gotten himself involved in a number of housebreaking in his community. She talked to him and even asked people whom she thought he might listen to talk to him but nothing worked. This mother fearing that her son would end up in prison sought from a juvenile institution that dealt with cases like hers. Her son was sent to a boys’ home. He was not happy about going and when she visited him, he wanted to return home. She knew he needed to stay there until he decided to change his lifestyle and he was not yet ready. He was angry, but she knew she was doing the right thing. She tried to visit him as often as she could and after a few months, she began to see some changes in him. He was adapting to the conditions of the home. He was attending school and appeared very enthusiastic about learning which a big change was indeed. A short time later, his behavior had improved to the point that he was allowed to return home for the weekend with his family. I personally saw this young man and I did see the changes in him. In a period of about six months, he had turned his life around. He got baptized was doing quite well in school and in addition he was taking lessons in carpentry. Had this mother not done what she had done there is no saying what might have happened to her son. Change can come about and sometimes you have to help them make that change.