Instead of being ambitious, boys are getting vicious and so are girls.
According to the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency prevention, homicide rates for teens have declined since 1992, but are still considerably higher than those of the 1980s.
In order to moderate national tension and anxiety, an increased number of punishment-based policies are commonly practiced both in schools and homes, and transfers of youngsters to the adult judicial system become a trend.
Temple experts who have extensively studied children at risk for criminal behavior and juvenile delinquency prevention programs have made themselves available to discuss what should be done in order to protect American children and adolescents.
“It’s a lot like trying to talk about lung cancer where we know what risk factors are, but we don’t know exactly which people are going to get lung cancer or going to commit a violent crime,” said criminal justice professor Joan McCord.
On one hand, she said, “Predicting killing is almost impossible.” But on the other, she adds some problems are commonly seen in the homes of young offenders, which includes families with criminal fathers, parental conflict, alcoholism and aggression in families.
There is a stereotype that encourages us to think families with a single parent correlate to juvenile delinquency, but, “It’s just not true,” said McCord, who is co-chair of the National Research Council’s panel on Juvenile Crime.
Just like McCord, experts unanimously agree there is no one risk factor that instigates teens from shooting up their schools, but “a major factor is alienation from schools,” said Irwin Hyman, professor of both psychology and psychological studies in education.
“Teachers create the climate where kids feel depressed and angry,” said Hyman, who is also director of the National Center for Study of Corporal Punishment and Alternatives at Temple.
As a way of measuring a child’s propensity for violence, this Temple professor developed the Student Alienation and Trauma Scale, which allows clinical professionals to detect up to 105 symptoms including depression and hostility by looking at students’s worst experiences.
Both Temple professors said many teachers and parents are so inept that they unreasonably attempt to punish their children in the name of discipline. Both agree that punishment is effective only when it works, but that unreasonable punishment may worsen the situation.
There are many programs for young mothers, for example, that help them become better mothers. The same program for foster parents is also available.
But McCord argues that so little credible research has been done to “evaluate effects of treatment or of increased punitiveness that we do not even know whether the policies being enacted will increase or decrease crime among juveniles.”
Ineffective crime prevention programs, according a panel report that she worked on, tend to bring misbehaved kids together, which, as a result, encourages them to characterize themselves “as smart for being bad.”
By contrast, good educational programs have “no magic,” and they help parents understand how to work with their children. Similarly, McCord also points out that so few studies have been done to examine whether stiffer juvenile criminal laws are functional. Now we know that even a 14-year-old could receive a life sentence without parole.
As to capital punishment, a survey by The New York Times showed in September 2000 that “the threat of the death penalty rarely deters criminals.”
“You know that a 14-year-old doesn’t think ahead. They don’t even think ahead to the consequences of coming home late,” said McCord, about effectiveness of punishment.
“America is such a punitive country,” said Hyman, author of “Dangerous Schools” published in 1999, in which he argues how “education, rehabilitation, and therapy are much more successful than punishments in decreasing the re-arrest rates.”