Instead of throwing kids in jail, try listening to them

October 12, 2012

As a mother of four, I agree with City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young and others that young people today are under tremendous stress in dealing with criticism, peer pressure, physical and emotional abuse and other forces of negativity ("Programs, not jail cells, for teenagers," Oct. 7).

Instead of building more jails to put troubled youngsters into, someone should find a way to reach out and allow them to talk through their problems.

I once thought like many people that these youth were up to no good. Then I tried a little experiment — talking to them. I realized a lot of the problem is one of communication.

Many youth believe that we adults come from a different planet and don't understand what they are going through. What they really need is someone to talk to who they can trust. They are crying out for attention.

Some of their homes are filled with nothing but negativity so they go out and try to find anyone who will listen. My daughter has witnessed 4- and 5-year-olds hustling for coins at a gas station because their parents are strung out on drugs and they are trying to get something to eat.

There are teens who are stealing food because they have siblings at home to feed and the parents are absent or strung out. These kids are just trying to keep their families together.

The fact that Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has closed some recreation centers, which provide the outlet that some of these youth need, is absolutely awful. Some of these kids have lost hope and don't feel like there is any hope for the future. Some of them don't have anyone positive to relate to; for others the rec center staff provided their only safe haven.

I'm grateful that Council President Young and others in Baltimore are trying encourage our young people to see that there is more to life than what they have now. My prayer is that the result will be more talking and understanding, instead of simply covering up the problem and throwing kids in jail.

I have learned that sometimes the best we adults can do is to just listen and not talk. Young people have something to say. I have also learned that if you don't know how to listen to and talk to your children, for better or worse they will find someone who does, and you don't get the chance to say who that will be.

Cynthia Johnson

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