The tragic and disturbing incident was quickly followed by a newspaper report of gang-affiliated high school boys toting guns, knives, and icepicks while in the confines of the school, allegedly arming themselves for battle against their rivals.
As the problem escalates, everyone is seemingly searching for answers while at the same time ignoring some obvious solutions.
Violence doesn’t fall from the sky. Experts agree that it is a developmental process that starts in early childhood. Adolescents exhibiting violent behaviour for the most part have been victims of violence themselves, many from the youngest ages.
Children born and raised in volatile communities, urban or rural, become seasoned to violence long before puberty even when their own homes may be violent-free.
In the urban settings, the close physical configuration of dwellings, not to mention the cumbersomeness of tenement yard living, expose children to a plethora of daily quarrels and disputes, many resulting in fights, stabbings, and sometimes, deaths.
TEND TO BE TOUGH
Children born and raised in the inner cities have to be tough, and that includes girls. It’s survival of the fittest and they learn the art quickly. Disputes are settled with brute force, not only employing physical violence, but harsh verbal incitements.
Violence at home begets violence at school. It is not rocket science. Children fed on a steady diet of violence will play out what is natural and normal to them. The school compound is simply another geographical space with no bearing at all on how one is expected to behave. If disputes cannot be settled at home, they can certainly be settled at school.
The interesting observation is that the schools battling with the problem of school violence simultaneously hold the keys to the solution.
It starts with some basic questions and critical data. Who are those students in my school who are known to the violent? What percentage are they of the general school population? What is their academic profile? Do they attend school regularly? Who do they hang out with during school time? How do I train my staff to spot the early warning signs for violent behaviour, especially the security guards at the gate and the ancillary personnel? These questions, among other data leading to personalised case files are critical for targeted interventions.
WHERE ARE THE PARENTS?
The more critical questions relate to parenting. Who and where are the parents? What, if anything, is known about them? Is there a history of violence in the family? What is the relationship between parent and child?
Having identified the children and their parents, a carefully designed intervention programme should be pursued to include professional counselling as well as social services support for the families.
It is a proven fact that even older adolescents are salvageable. Young people treated with love and respect produce unimaginable results.
My personal experience of designing and leading a project for unattached males, 15 to 25 years old, had sponsors and stakeholders amazed at the achievements. Most of the beneficiaries found employment and spoke publicly about how the project had transformed their lives. They even on their own formed a youth group named Youth For Change. The project would win a World Bank award for best practice in the hemisphere.
There is nothing wrong with our children. They live what they learn, and for many, the lessons are dangerously negative. The vast majority of Jamaica’s juveniles attending school are normal young people wanting to learn and having dreams and aspirations characteristic of youthhood.
Jamaica does not have a youth crime problem. What we have is a family problem, and when we fix family life, we will not only fix the youth, we will fix our country.
The majority of the nation’s children live with a parent or parents in homes and communities. When parents get it right, the children get it right. Violence in schools doesn’t require a call for rocket scientists. It requires a call for good parenting.
– Betty Ann Blaine is a Child Advocate and Founder of Hear The Children’s Cry and Youth Opportunities Unlimited (YOU). Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.