CRIME statistics involving teenagers show an alarming rise that cannot be ignored. For those who should either be at home or school, the figures show these environments are not safe. Here, where characters are formed through socialisation with their peer group, primary influences are of fundamental importance. Parents and teachers are undeniably the most influential role models in a child’s life. But as author Wallace Sterner wrote in his book, All The Little Live Things: “There is a sense in which we are each other’s consequences”. Every child comes with his own baggage to interact with his schoolmates. This is the dynamics that tears at the teenagers’ predilections. Hence, the priority a parent places on choice of neighbourhood and school.
The teen years are further complicated by adolescence, that transitional stage from child to adult affecting everything from physical, emotional to the intellectual. In many traditional cultures, this is when the rites of passage occur, a clear signal to the child of fundamental change. For example, a Saudi girl dons the black chador once pubescence hits; a Jewish boy undergoes the Bar Mitzvah, a Torah reading ritual; and, in the South Pacific, the young men are tattooed. The examples are attempts to prepare the individual for life’s eventual odyssey pitted with endless challenges.
However, the modern, urban existence no longer places emphasis on honour as the defining adult character as the tattoos, the Bar Mitzvah and donning the chador do. Rather, honour has taken a material form not easily embraced by traditional substantive values. Today, at 18, the almost mandatory driver’s licence and the first car is the equivalent rite of passage. The significance placed on tangible material accumulation replaces the spiritual ideas so important to fostering human dignity. Competition takes the place of cooperation and life is brutalised. It is within this perversion of existence that today’s young person, totally fractured from the extended family, must angle themselves to find the balance between good and evil.
Is it any wonder then that teenagers have been found guilty of both violent and property crimes? Fifty-seven murders were committed from January to July by schoolchildren and dropouts, a frightening figure for under-18 year olds. That much fewer occur among school going children suggests that schools do have a positive effect. Consequently, the first thing that needs addressing is the school dropout rate. Schools are duty-bound to rouse the interest of children to pursue their education regardless. From the statistics available, there is a strong sense that problematic parenting is a huge contributing factor to juvenile delinquency. If the two can be incontrovertibly linked, then parents must be held accountable for every juvenile criminal.