A better way to hang out Anne Arundel County: One way to reduce juvenile crime is to keep kids occupied.

December 02, 1997

COMMON SENSE tells us that kids with time on their hands are more apt to get into trouble than those who have something constructive to do. It may be difficult to demonstrate empirically that the opening in Anne Arundel County of the Broadneck Family Youth Center and the Woods Community Center will have a direct effect on reducing juvenile crime, but failing to provide diversions for teen-agers invites trouble.

Like many other counties, Anne Arundel has seen a steady -- and alarming -- increase in its juvenile crime statistics. If the current rate continues, the county will surpass last year's figure of 4,878 charges against juveniles.

There is much speculation as to the reasons for this explosion of youth crime -- from the increase in two-income households to violent programming on television. There's also much speculation over the best way to bring it down -- from embarrassing youths by opening juvenile justice proceedings to the public to threating harsh penalties for those convicted of crimes.

Too many of the county's youth spend large amounts of time unsupervised, particularly after school. Both of the centers provide a place where kids can play games, watch a movie or just hang out. All of these activities could be done at home or elsewhere, but the center includes a critical ingredient -- adult supervision.

Without adults, kids can get into a lot of trouble. Most of them, even the best behaved, lack good judgment. Friends with even worse judgments may urge them to do things -- shoplift, scribble graffiti on a wall, experiment with drugs. Having an adult can help curb the worst of these juvenile excesses. In addition, if a kid establishes a relationship with an adult, he or she usually can get much better guidance from a grown-up than from a peer.

Around the state, churches and Police Athletic League groups have opened centers for kids. Baltimore city and county have been expanding their PAL centers. Anne Arundel should identify those communities where idle kids are getting into trouble, as it is doing in Cape St. Claire and Severna Park, and look to establish facilities for them. Those children who go to after-school programs or participate in center activities are less apt to get into mischief than they would otherwise.

Pub Date: 12/02/97

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