Encouraging today’s youth

By David WilliamsBy David Williams

One thing that truly breaks my heart is seeing children not fulfill their potential.

I believe that God has given us stewardship, but a quick glance around shows that we are failing these kids.

For most of the last 10 years, I traveled the state as Director of the Judicial Volunteer Program. My job was to train and monitor citizens throughout Alabama to serve as panel members for the judicial system. This group of trained volunteers was authorized by the Alabama Supreme Court to hear cases involving first time non-violent juvenile offenders.

Once they heard the cases and met with the juvenile/parents or guardian, the panel implemented sanctions. The sanctions varied based on the particular crime. Sanctions included, but were not limited to, curfews, restitution, letters of apology, or in some cases earning a GED.

Here is how it worked. A crime was committed. The parents/guardians were sent a letter advising them of their options to come before the judge or go before the Judicial Volunteers. If they decided to go before the panel, they were given a hearing date. Normally the setting was a library, church conference room or local business office.

On the night of the hearing, the juvenile arrived with his/her parents/guardians and was escorted to the meeting room. The panel of volunteers would be seated behind tables facing the juvenile and his/parents or guardians (it should be noted that if they chose this option guilt was acknowledged). The volunteer panel wasn’t a jury. The panel’s task was merely to research the crime and individual, and, based on the counties resources, suggest sanctions that would best turn the individual around.

Those hearings are the closest things to retro child rearing that I have encountered. Here is why I believe it is so effective.

When many of us were younger, we were held accountable by an entire community. Teachers, neighbors, pastors and our extended family all worked together to ensure that you got what was coming to you when you needed it. In my case, this often meant a spanking, both at the point of the inappropriate behavior and at home for having shamed the family name in public. If the neighbor down the street told me something for my own good, he was doing his expected duty.

All adults were right and all children were wrong. That’s a far cry from today’s mindset!

Many of today’s parents don’t say anything to their wayward children, and if you know what is good for you, you’d better not as well. Instead of disciplining their children, parents will support them in their wrong.

That’s some twisted form of parenting! How else could you explain what is happening with our children? We have babies having babies, kids dropping out of school and a complete lack of respect for authority. Our youth don’t dress for success – they dress for failure.

When I was growing up, this wasn’t the case. You couldn’t leave the house if you weren’t dressed properly. We couldn’t bring home a frog unless we had a complete bio. Mom wanted to know what creek or ditch it came from and how it came to be in our possession. Mainly, she wanted to know it wasn’t a stolen frog.

Compare and contrast that situation with some of today’s parents. There are children stealing or selling drugs, and in many cases parents are looking the other way. In some of the worse cases, those parents are sharing in the profits. That is the reason the Juvenile Conference Committee was formed by the Alabama Supreme Court. By the time cases reached the panel, failure and guilt were acknowledged and parents and child were requesting involvement from their fellow citizens. In that setting, we recreated and trained those neighbors, teachers, pastors and business leaders.

The judicial system provided its power and sound to their voices, and they became engaged.

During a normal meeting – often before they even addressed the manifest problems – the panel directed the youth to respond as, “Yes Sir” or “No Sir.” The youth was given directions on how to sit properly in a chair. The boys were told to pull up their pants. I witnessed authority restored, and young people were placed in a position of humility as a result of their own crimes.

The panel members were not overbearing – they were after all concerned volunteers. This caring atmosphere was reflected in the sanctions given to each youth based on his/her crime.

As a result of completing the sanctions, many first time non-violent offenders matured and changed for the better. What started as community service became a real job once the sanctions ended. The youths learned both how to resolve conflicts and how not to yield to peer pressure. As they grew to understand how hurtful their actions were, the youths paid restitution and wrote letters of apology.
Ben Franklin stated, “An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure.” The Judicial Volunteer Program focused on prevention and intervention. It saved our state time and money due to no court costs.

By training and empowering our committee of volunteers, we were able to at least offer first time non-violent offenders a chance to get their lives back on track.

Make no mistake – those meetings could be tough. At times there were tears and at times straight talk, but it sure beats a life of crime and prison. It sure beats a wasted life at the taxpayers’ expense.

If we are to be our best, then the old must reach back to the young and offer to show them the way, and the young must listen.

The Bible states, “I chose the old because they know the way, and the young because they are strong.”

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