May 3, 1999
Legislators would do well to ask questions and listen
From all the hairbrained schemes that come out of state legislatures concerning school violence, I expect any day now to see long black trench coats banned from schools. Why is it that dim-bulb elected officials can only see heavier penalities as solutions for crimes and newly-defined crimes?
There are many points of intervention to prevent violation:
I have been a family counselor for over a quarter of a century. This means I work with families where the children had a hitch somewhere on the road to adulthood.
- Teen and unmarried mothers tend to have problem children;
- When children are not given access to their fathers, even when the fathers are less than perfect, the children tend to have trouble;
- Teachers can predict high school drop-outs in kindergarten;
- Many problem children have their first run-ins with the law in grade school when juvenile courts do not take jurisdiction and when parents don't take such warning signs as serious;
- When problem children grow up and have children, those children are likely to have difficulties;
- Boys have far more trouble in school than girls, yet we have millions of dollars going into girls' programs because of a flawed AAUW study and expert lobbying;
- School mediator and natural helper programs and other peer helper programs are excellent, when well-run, at finding and helping troubled children;
- School counselors are overworked and then burned out, particularly at the junior or middle school level--there are many programs that could be based at schools that could help children;
- Divorces presage troubles, because mothers reject fathers, the kids drop out of sports, music, and other programs, lose contact with half their significant adult relatives and adult family friends;
- Keeping gangs out keeps reference groups away from wannabes--there must be positive reference groups available to kids;
- Teachers do a wonderful job, but receive only criticism. Problem children play off on this by blaming their failures on conflicts with a teacher in the past and by complaining about not liking any current teachers. Teachers have to be protected in order to do their jobs because they cannot please all of three dozen to 200 parents and children;
- The Search Institute and their Asset List gives hundreds of ideas of what communities can do to improve their impact on children;
- Youth counseling agencies are woefully underfunded. There is no room for experimentation, training, adequate salaries, little for community organization and outreach. Resources are eaten up in fund raising, grant writing, auditing, and paper work;
- Problem boys typically start withdrawing from adult and parent contact at age 13 or14 and should have an intervention;
- All children must learn trust and dealing with emotional closeness at puberty and are as much on their own now as in the '50s when I went through it. There is so much that can be taught to children to help them successfully achieve this life goal.
Every one of these children is a clue to how to help other children. Any experienced and thoughtful family therapist has dozens of ideas on how to prevent and treat problems. Our legislators would do well to ask questions and listen.
Paul Shaner, MSW, Kenmore