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Daily opportunity to ‘stand in the gap’ for our children

Youth violence increased in our society and many ask why? ... Instead of blaming and talking about the problem(s) – we should be united in efforts to save our youth and deter them from crime.  by Stevie Moore
Special to the Tri-State Defender

(Stevie Moore is President and Founder of Freedom From Unnecessary Negatives, “Stop the Killing”)

Youth violence increased in our society and many ask why? We blame everyone (parents, the government, poverty, addictions, the school system, the school board, school superintendents, and mayors) – except ourselves. TIME TO GET OUT OF THE BLAME GAME! Instead of blaming and talking about the problem(s) – we should be united in efforts to save our youth and deter them from crime.

All the reasons above have been cited as influencing aggressive behavior and violence among youth. Unfortunately, we’ve overlooked the violent content promoted by the entertainment industry and how it influences aggressive behavior in youth. Data shows media violence primes children to see killing as acceptable. Our children spend hours of unsupervised time and have unlimited access to music, movies, cable/public television, videos/video games that glamorize characters who are violent and kill. In 1992, the National Institute of Mental Health issued a pivotal report where it concluded, “that television violence is as strongly correlated with aggressive behavior as any other behavioral variable that was measured.”

Adults have become so desensitized to media violence, which is evidenced in our level of acceptance, tolerance, time and even participation under the guise of “family time” or “quality time”.  Most adults are clueless about the content of the movies, video games and music that we spend our hard earned money on for them. I didn’t recognize how naive I was about lyrics in music until I listened to what my children and their friends were listening to. It was then I realized how negative lyrics greatly influenced the ever-growing aggressive behavior in youth. We’re “dropping” our children at the movies, along with friends, while chances are they will be exposed to violent content, profanity and even snippets of nudity.  

Parents should pay attention to what, when and how often children listen to music, watch television, movies and play video games. Parents should continuously monitor and control all media and societal influences on our children. Send a strong message that profanity, abusive actions and violence is not acceptable – ever. Youth should know aggressive behavior comes with consequences that are long lasting.

Youth often act on and imitate what they see and hear. Is it good to expose our children to so much violent content, adults who curse and who are disrespectful themselves? Adults fight one another on every level (in our families, in society, within government, etc.) about everything. We fight about consolidation of government, consolidation of schools and who’s responsible for funding education. We even debate what to do about crime, whose job it is to fight crime and the causes of crime. How can we honestly expect youth to behave better when we behave as we do?  

Sadly, our youth are not optimistic about our ability to keep them safe or their future. Many inner city youth must overcome significant challenges: they live in undesirable conditions, they are physically and mentally abused, have parents who are drug addicts, parents who are uneducated and, even worse, parents who don’t want to be parents (children raising children).  

Until we hit the streets meeting them where they are and putting aside selfish agendas as well as political rhetoric – we’ll lose the debate and miss an opportunity to effect change in our youth.  Know that change starts with YOU!  If we want to effect change in our youth, we must work with their parents also because the children didn’t get the way they are by themselves. Discipline ourselves to be available when they reach out for help. Pursue open honest dialogue, be a good listener, be a watchful eye in the neighborhood and around the perimeter of schools, volunteer in schools, talk to teachers, administrators, set boundaries, expectations and offer spiritual guidance. Most of all show them love (the love of Jesus Christ), treat every child as one of your own and do whatever you can to make them feel safe.   

I have come to understand the enemy is not our youth but the condition we’ve created for them. The fight is not “us” against “them” but a struggle for unity and equality. We can decide to work together until all children feel safe and become productive citizens in our society. There’s an opportunity daily, seven days a week and 365 days a year in every neighborhood and community to stand in the gap.

During tough times we must have the courage to make a difference – one child at a time. Saving youth from violence and crime is about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for us all. When we save our youth, we save our future.

This is one in a series of monthly guest columns designed to focus public attention on issues that affect Memphis’ children. It is part of a Shelby County initiative to remind everyone, in every aspect of daily life, to “Ask first… Is It Good for the Children?”  For more information, go to www.shelbycountychildren.org or call 901-385-4224.

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