Sustaining basic human development

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January 28, 2016

A friend recalls talking to a young Bahamian about the former's memories of Sunday lunch with his family when he was growing up. After church, the friend recalled, the table was set and a large meal was served. The entire family was expected at lunch. Guests were often invited, which is when the china came out.

The conversation around the dining room table was animated, often raucous, and everyone was expected to participate in the rollicking debates. The Sunday meal was the only one the entire family ate together during the week. Everyone looked forward to the gathering.

Everyone had chores, from helping to cook, to saying grace, setting the table, cleaning up afterwards, throwing out the garbage. The meal was decidedly about more than the food served. It was a ritual of fellowship and family togetherness.

The young person delighted in the story. But he could not relate because his family only ate meals together on rare and special occasions. Many of the rituals of growing up or rites of passage older generations take for granted are often missing from the lives of many disconnected youth. One of the basic habits of youth is membership in a club, association, sports league or uniformed organization. In years past very few young were not involved in some sort of youth program.

Today, thousands of young Bahamians are still involved in youth programs. Yet many are disconnected from such associations, which help to socialize young people, disciplining their time and habits, providing a safe space for growth and the exercise of civility and other virtues. These youth programs help to build a sense of civic pride and teamwork. They are training grounds for leaders and typically offer opportunities for community service.

Humans are naturally social and seek belonging and meaning as part of a larger group. A good number of young people disconnected from youth organizations find in gangs what they perceive as fellowship and belonging.

In the urban cauldron of disconnected lives, a lack of opportunity in various areas of economic and social life, and a lack of adequate adult supervision and mentoring, there is a Lord of the Flies mentality among quite a number of young people who are bringing up themselves in environments, gangs and groups in which there is often so much destructive behavior.

When scores of young people are missing elements of basic human development because of poor family life or the lack of involvement in positive school-based or other youth programs, the habits of civility and proper conduct are usually poorly formed or missing. In a very real sense they are poorly socialized and civilized.
A friend who runs a successful youth program with her husband is so often frustrated by the inability of many young people, especially boys, to articulate their thoughts. The program she spearheads spends a great deal of time reinforcing basic habits.

Imagine the many young people not fortunate to be involved in such a program with good adult supervision. Neither the state nor civil society can fully make up for the poor quality of family life. Still, both state and society can play a significant role in fostering better human development through various youth development initiatives, including afterschool activities and summer programs. Some young people will need greater intervention and a more rigorous course of socialization and human development.

Outward Bound and AMIkids are two programs which have shown tremendous success in other jurisdictions. Outward Bound is an "experiential learning, expedition school and outdoor learning program that serves people of all ages and backgrounds through challenging learning expeditions that inspire self-discovery both in and out of the classroom".

The highly successful global initiative also offers a program known as the Intercept Program for At-Risk Youth and Troubled Teens. It is designed for young people from ages 12 to 22 and addresses "the needs of struggling teens and at-risk youth beginning to demonstrate destructive behaviors, as well as the needs of their families". The Intercept Program serves "youth, young adults, families, schools and communities... at risk of academic failure, dropping out of school, delinquency or becoming chronic offenders".

AMIkids was the brainchild of a judge who got tired of seeing the same juvenile offenders returning to his court over and over. Today, AMIkids is thought to operate "some of the most effective juvenile justice and alternative education programs across" the United States.

To offer readers a clear sense of AMIkids there are extended quotes following from the organization's website.

"Residential programs operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week with students residing in dormitories on campus. The youth are committed to these programs for approximately 4-9 months and can be committed for as long as 36 months. The youth reside at the program and leave only for off-site, supervised program activities or approved furloughs. Family visitations vary by program. Youth have been adjudicated delinquent by the court and typically have multiple misdemeanors or felonies.

"Education curriculums deployed in AMIkids programs use differentiated instruction, individualized student planning, progress monitoring, on-line/computer assisted educational software, and experiential education/service learning, all in partnership with pro-social relationships between staff and students.

"Many youth come to AMIkids 'deficient in a wide variety of appropriate, pro-social behavioral repertoires. They lack social skills, anger management, pre-employment skills, communication, self-management, rule following, delay of immediate gratification, etc. To help students develop short- and long-term pro-social behavioral repertories, and facilitate the daily management of behavior throughout the program, AMIkids programs employ procedures and techniques of behavior modification and utilize a sophisticated behavior modification system."

Like Outward Bound and other successful intervention programs, AMIkids utilizes experiential learning: "AMIkids' experiential education gives each student the opportunity to face challenges and to overcome them, gaining greater self-worth and helping to form a better value system.

"Programs are integrated based on the geographic strengths of each location and include seamanship, water safety, fishing, low ropes, high ropes, backpacking, music, gardening, culinary arts, reptile and wilderness programs to give each student meaningful and challenging experiences in a variety of ways.

" ... For those kids with more serious learning and behavioral issues, there have been startling results."

There are a number of models that we can draw upon in confronting the problems associated with poorly socialized and disconnected youth. But instead of seriously addressing the challenges of youth development and criminal behavior by a certain cohort of young people we wastefully spend tens of millions on a carnival extravaganza while we lose more and more young people. This is a moral disgrace as we confront a series of time bombs that will continue to explode with increasingly devastating effect even as we continue to anesthetize ourselves with foolish and expensive distractions.

The tragedy is not only the level of crime and violence and the disaffection and disconnection of so many young people. Equally tragic is that, though we have the power to do more for youth development, we keep failing our sons and daughters.


Click here to read more at The Nassau Guardian

News date : 01/28/2016    Category : Opinion, Nassau Guardian Stories

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