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Teenage Wasteland: They’re Not All Wasted

Teenage Wasteland: They’re Not All Wasted

There is a myth that is perpetuated regarding teenagers – specifically the idea that some are good and some are bad. Growing up in a fairly urban area in the 1980s, I could tell you my social circle was populated not with the “good” and “bad,” but with the decidedly grey pallor of moral ambiguity. I had friends who were seemingly virtuous, making the grade, comforting their parents, but ultimately ticking time bombs of self-indulgence and self-destruction. I had a friend who looked the part of teenage angst and rebellion (multiple piercings, tattoos, dead roses decorating their room, etc) and this person went on to dazzle everyone with her academic achievements and tireless humanitarian drive. There were also friends who succumbed to drug addiction, mental illness, and even a friend who was locked up at the age of 16 for murder. Sounds like a motley bunch, I know. However, I would like to think that this loosely associated group was representative of the developmental chaos and collective confusion that existed at that time (as I would imagine it is not all that different for today’s teenage population).

Shortly after I graduated from my turbulent teenage years, the juvenile justice system went into clampdown mode – sending more and more children to juvenile lockups (sometimes for months) while they awaited trial for nonviolent offenses or even noncriminal behavior like being “unruly.” And as everyone knows, children who spend their formative years in detention are far more likely to slip deeper into delinquency than they are to correct bad behavior.

A few years back, The Annie E. Casey Foundation, which focuses on disadvantaged children, advocated only locking up children who were violent and/or truly dangerous, by underwriting juvenile justice reform projects in five states in the early 1990s. The results of these few programs have been overwhelmingly positive, as many areas have managed to cut the number of children in detention by half or more; in many, the youth crime rate has declined. For those children that don’t fall into the realm of violet offenders, there are programs that invite collaboration among law enforcement, the juvenile justice system, as well as judges and public defenders to determine what is needed for these children/teens that are acting out and breaking laws.

This all seems like a no-brainer to me, but for many, hard justice seems like the only option when confronting teenage delinquency and rebellion. Have we lost our innocence and proceeded to take out our own frustrations and desires for order on our children? Are we too easy and too abiding when it comes to bad behavior among teenagers? Are the problems of our criminal justice system rooted in the way we treat juvenile offenders? If anyone has any personal experience with this, we would love to hear from you!

Read more: Blogs, Family, Parenting at the Crossroads, Teens, , , ,

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Eric Steinman

Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, NY. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture, and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit among other publications.


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8:25AM PDT on Apr 12, 2015


5:37PM PDT on Sep 26, 2013

I definitely believe in rehabilitation for juvenile nonviolent crimes. And I think the younger generation is always touted as degenerate, whether the hippies of the sixties, the partiers of the seventies, the slackers of the eighties, and the so-called disconnected generation of the nineties and uh-oh's. Like the writer said, I think most kids are not one hundred percent good or bad, and most of them seem to turn out perfectly fine in the end.

4:39PM PST on Dec 16, 2012

If an young offender can be mentored early-on, the results can be life changing, forging new directions for that adolescent and turning around the potential for continued negative behaviors. Kudos to the Anne E Casey Foundation for supporting such actions.

8:40AM PST on Nov 7, 2012

violent actions are the ones that need clamping down on, but a slap on the wrist will get you laughed at

1:34AM PDT on Jul 31, 2012

Interesting, thank you.

1:33AM PDT on Jul 31, 2012

Interesting, thank you.

1:32AM PDT on Jul 31, 2012

Interesting, thank you.

1:31AM PDT on Jul 31, 2012

Interesting, thank you.

1:31AM PDT on Jul 31, 2012

Interesting, thank you.

1:30AM PDT on Jul 31, 2012

Interesting, thank you.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

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