Opinion: Look in the mirror

POSTED: 09/11/14 7:10 AM

What do you do with a teenager who denies every responsibility for anything he does? Apparently, the parents of the young man who was in court yesterday did not have the right answer – otherwise he would not have been in court in the first place.

So here we go again – a 17-year-old gets sent off to a prison on Bonaire for eight months because he does not get a lot of things. He does not understand that you should not steal from others, and he does not understand that you should not punch items from supermarkets without paying for them.

He also does not understand that the punishment that follows a crime is non-negotiable. The youngster had the nerve to complain in court that he had been put to work on a garbage truck from nine in the evening until seven in the morning. And boy, he discovered that garbage is actually dirty. If it weren’t so sad, it would be funny.

Funny this is certainly not. Our court nor our prosecutors find pleasure in sending very young defendants to prison but sometimes there just are no other options. If you don’t want to listen, you will have to live with the consequences.

When youngsters end up in court they usually have walked a long and often depressing road towards their seemingly inevitable fate. Still, it does not have to be this way and if St. Maarten – as a community – wishes to get a grip on the phenomenon of wayward teenagers it will have to jump into action on many levels.

This is not about building more prison cells or about putting more blue on the street. It is not about more severe punishments either. These are all instruments at the end of a very long line.

Nobody is born to become a thief, a murderer, or a prostitute. Yet those people are part of communities all over the world. Seldom does anyone wonder: what happened?

That is exactly what our decision makers ought to do. What is it that derails our youngsters? Broken families certainly play a role. Then there is the way kids are brought up at home – too often this involves belting and other corporal punishment that mostly remains invisible for the outside world. Then there is of course the lack of perspective. Where are the jobs for our young people? They too want their smart phones and other electronic gadgets. They too want to have a good time every now and then.

So where do we begin? Charity begins at home and so does education. Our parents are our role models. If they do not live exemplary lives, kids have a tendency to follow what their parents do. If dad cuts corners, why would kids not do the same?

Part of the solution could therefore be found in support structures for families. That sounds simpler than it really is; we know that. We also know for sure that sticking young people in prison who have not even reached adulthood is not the solution. It only combats the symptoms of a society that somehow lost its bearings.

It is time to look at ourselves and to assess the way we live our lives. Then we have to take stock of the behavior of a young and desperate generation and figure out why on earth these youngsters behave the way they do. A look in the mirror could provide at least the beginning of an answer to that crucial question.


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