Unification News for May 1997

Young People and Crime

Haven Bradford Gow
May, 1997

In the Bronx, NY, a high school principal suspended a student for bringing a loaded gun to classes. And it is a tragic and alarming fact that New York City school officials confiscated 6,920 weapons, including 129 handguns, in the 1995-96 school year.

In Peoria, Ill., police recently captured a six-year-old boy who had broken into a neighbor's home and stolen some food. Because of the boy's age, police said he will not face any criminal charges.

According to a disturbing new report from the University of Arkansas in Little Rock, more Arkansas young persons were arrested for violent crimes, property crimes and alcohol or drug offenses in 1995 than in any previous year. In 1990, there were 444 Arkansas youngsters arrested for violent crimes; 714 during 1994; and 911 arrested in 1995.

Statewide, 2,238 were 15- to 17-year-olders arrested for alcohol- and drug-related offenses in 1995, compared with 1,843 in 1994. In 1994, 3,416 Arkansas youth were arrested for property crimes, while in 1995 the figure rose to 3,496.

What is happening to youth morality and character in this nation? It is regrettable but true that many young persons today are not being taught the meaning and habits of virtue and good character. Consider, for example, the fact that, of the 12 million new cases of sexually transmitted diseases in the U.S. each year, two thirds occur in persons age 24 or under and 25 percent occur in teenagers.

Consider, too, that within the past four years, drug use among teens has jumped 105 percent, marijuana use has increased 141 percent, LSD use among teens has skyrocketed 183 percent and in just one year (1994-95) teen cocaine use rose 166 percent.

Eugene Bogen, federal magistrate judge in Greenville, Miss., says the problems of juvenile crime and delinquency emanate from broken homes and broken families. And the increases in juvenile crime and delinquency also result from the lack of character education in our families, churches, schools, social organizations and business community.

But how do we go about teaching virtue and good character to young people? According to Oxford University scholar Mary Warnock, "You cannot teach morality without being committed to morality yourself; and you cannot be committed to morality yourself without holding that some things are right and some things are wrong."

C. Brett Bode, a family court judge in Pekin, Ill., stresses the importance and necessity of teaching virtue and good character through example, as well as in words. "Children, for the most part, will live up or down to the expectations of their elders revealed not by what their elders say but by the way their elders live," Judge Bode observes.

Dr. G.H. Wang, president of an educational/cultural affairs foundation in Chicago, likewise insists the best way to teach virtue is through personal example. We can best teach young people to be virtuous by displaying in our own lives and careers such values as moral and intellectual courage and integrity.

For example, if someone is being unjustly persecuted and abused, a person of moral courage will stand up and defend the victim of unjust treatment. If one finds that the evidence shows our previous position on, say, abortion is wrong, a person of moral and intellectual integrity will acknowledge his mistake and change his position. A person of moral and intellectual courage and integrity will speak out on behalf of what is right (for example, on behalf of racial tolerance and understanding), even though his stand may cause him to lose friends or money or even a job.

Certainly the Book of Proverbs is right on target when it declares: "Even a child is known by his actions, by whether his conduct is pure and right.... Train a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not turn from it."

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