I have been working in Youth Programs for the last eight years. The purpose of such programs is to give young people, teenagers, and young adults an opportunity to experience something beyond what they have thus far in their lives, and to support their development towards adulthood. It is clear to see, through the lens of these programs, how many issues get negotiated during their time - be it two weeks, three months, or years - and how many crucial decisions can be made during that time.
Relatively simple things are resolved through situations provided by these programs: a young person's perspective on solving problems through violence or indimidations; their sense of trust in other people; their ability to communicate affectively; their curiosity and world awareness; their exposure to people of different backgrounds or beliefs than their own; their concern for the world at large; their ability to imagine tackling their lives without the crutch of drug or alcohol abuse.
For eight years, I have advised, counseled, consoled, instructed, guided, and negotiated people becoming voting adults in our society. And for eight years, I have been extremely lucky to, at any point, earn over $12/hr. I could have earned more money as a dog walker. I have had bosses on foodstamps. I have had passionate, inspired, and talented co-workers chose other professions because they can no longer afford to help raise the next generation to be balanced and capable adults.
Teachers, youth counselors, mental health professionals - especially those with passion but without education beyond a Batchelor's Degree - are funded almost purely by local, state, or federal government funding, due to the inability to make a capitalist profit through their trades, especially if they work (as we frequently do) with underpriviledged communities. At the same time, our government spends a huge amount of time bemoaning issues like gun violence, drug and alcohol abuse and trade, gangs, murders, clashes between races and ecenomic groups, problems in education, problems in health, disease, teen pregnancy, contraception, homelessness - etc, etc, etc - and solutions such as legal or illigalization, enforcement, and courts. They tackle symptoms as though they are issues unrelated to a single core principle: In our capitalist model, there is no room for social support and development in a real and serious way of the young people who make up the next generation and the future of our Great Nation.
We make no real effort to assist the young people, especially underpriviledged or challenged young people, in thinking about their lives, their futures, their skills, and their responsibilities as a common and achievable goal. We do not support them through economic, social, or biological challenges that they face, assuming instead that they can "pull themselves up by the bootstraps" from being in situations that they cannot control which directly affect their outcome. Because we are so fixated on that "American Dream" notion, we reject the fact that we have a responsibility to our Nation's future to assist in their development now so that they are assets later, not challenges, burdens, or liabilities (which is how they are so frequently seen - especially if their neighborhood, their color, their mental health status, or their juvinile records might hint towards that.)
I have worked with young people who were assault cases in the making; who were OD deaths in the making; who were homeless already, or on their way to becoming so; who hand unmanaged or unrecognized mental health issues; who were conteplating suicide; who were approaching morbid obesity; who were living risky lifestyles out of a search for community, or focus, or rebellion and a search for alternatives. If we are to be serious about things like reducing gun violence, drug use, and disengagement by our citizens, we need to talk less about laws and more about supporting the solutions at the base, and reaching out to youth and families with the support they need to help raise their Americans to be whole, healthy, and balanced.
What can we do to change this?