o make a positive change in halting the gang violence plaguing some sectors of northern Indiana, a concerned citizen should do the intellectual work necessary to understand deeply as much of the problem as possible, Dr. James Garbarino, the Maude C. Clarke Chair in Humanistic Psychology at Loyola University, said March 16, 2006, during the Northern Indiana Workforce Invest-
ment Board Youth Council's symposium, "Building Profitable Relationships with Disadvantaged Youth."
"We have to be willing to commit to understand things deeply, rather than by the seat of our pants," Garbarino said to 180 people at Notre Dame's Mendoza College of Business in South Bend. His remarks were simul- taneously broadcast via a satellite connection to another 140 people assembled at Goshen College in Elkhart County. To help gain a deep understanding of violence and disenchantment among some teenage boys, he suggested an observer should consider something that doesn't come either quickly or easily to mind—molecular biology.
Girls each have two "X" chromosomes and boys each have one "X" and one "Y" chromosome. Each X chromosome contains 5,000 genes, while the Y chromosome has a mere 25 genes. Thus, during her childhood, if a girl experiences a problem with an X-chromosome gene, she has another 5,000 genes on hand to compensate. Conversely, "boys are out of luck if they have a problem with an X-chromosome gene. So biology plays a part" in the numerous factors that come together in a violent youth, Garbarino said.
Referring to Columbine Shooting Rampage
Another factor in the confluence that leads to youth violence is that all-encom- passing term "society." Garbarino spoke to FBI agents after the April 1999 Columbine High School massacre where two teenage boys killed 12 students, a teacher and wounded 24 other people before committing suicide in the Colorado school's library. An FBI agent asked how to make schools safer. Garbarino responded that someone could put a school on wheels (as is done when a house is physically moved) and transport it north across the U.S. border. "Canada is a safer society. [Columbine shooters] Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris in Canada would have been warped kids but may not have engaged in a violent rage with guns," he said. So the "society context" matters in trying to gain a deep understanding of youth violence. Nonetheless, there are more elements to be understood in order to gain the knowledge necessary to fix the problem.
Americans are practical and many tend to approach difficult problems "where the light is good," as often happens by virtue of financial support from companies, Garbarino said. Many individuals are repulsed by the notion of going "to the deep dark areas" where problems exist. For instance, a well-intended and popular program where police officers visit schools to talk to young people about illegal drugs, while organized with the best of intentions to fix the problem, may ultimately be ineffective in large part due to shallow understanding, he added. "You cannot talk about drugs as a police officer with kids in a way that kids need [to hear about the dangers of drugs]."
There are other real-life elements that should be considered in gaining an understanding of such depth that positive change can result. Among such elements are the physical condition of a young person's neighborhood; a person's family situation in light of how many siblings exist and how many parents reside at home; whether mental, physical or sexual abuse has occurred in the home; racism; and the person's experiences at school, among other elements. Some elements in this puzzle can be easily recognized—such as the fact that an absent father can adversely affect a boy. But understanding one of the reasons a father-less childhood can impact a boy negatively takes more digging.
Research has shown that fathers who physically wrestle with their children "help teach them how to handle aggression ... [because the kids] learn how to move away from it," Garbarino said. Nevertheless, gloom and doom were not his only messages. In essence, via a few examples, statistics, and comments, Garbarino said that a community overall, through collective efforts of individual members, can make positive impacts on gang violence.
Starting Point is 'Fundamental Respect'
The starting point is a "fundamental respect" for human life, including the lives of disadvantaged young people, he said. Moreover, a community as well as an individual can "focus on development aspects" of youth. "Assets are things we could build into these kids' lives." Social scientists consider some 30 assets to be experiences a young person could have outside the boundaries of their family. For instance, a teen boy or girl may experience the positive feelings of reading for pleasure by having a librarian take interest in them.
Moreover, faith-based organizations can influence positively young people in northern Indiana who are at risk or already involved in gangs and violent activities. After viewing a documentary, "Choices," shown at the symposium, Garbarino had this reaction: "We've had the delusion that they [disadvantaged youth] don't have an inner life." The documentary was a good presentation in that a number of young people talked about their inner life, their feelings, and their sense of abandonment, he said.
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