What Cuts Through Youth Crime?

J. Grant Swank, Jr.
March 11, 2005

It?s back to what works. Kids in Sunday school and worship works. Kids being shown proper home discipline works. Kids active in school programs works. This is not according to Dr. James Dobson Studies. It?s according to a research just handed media from the University of Washington.

What's going on in a youth?s life as related to church, home and school counts big time in that child?s maturing. These are called "protective factors" by those conducting the study, according to The Washington Times? Jennifer Harper. So we?re called back to "the good old days" by those scoping out youngsters? behavior.

In fact, the researchers highlight that, even in some of the worst neighborhoods, value-oriented persons should not give up all hope. There?s a light shining in that section of the city. It?s the church. There are those church youths who are surrounded with all sorts of temptations to do wrong but who mainly do right. It?s because they attend the church activities where another lifestyle is offered than what they find in the streets.

All the more for America to return to church, home discipline and school activities that further basic values of honesty, caring and decency. Norman Rockwell paintings on The Saturday Evening Post preached a sound message when they pictured for the public those cheerful, homey settings. Can we return to a semblance of that sanity?

"Church, school, kin assuage teen violence" headlines this piece in the Times.

"Some old-fashioned guidelines still prevail: Church attendance, family discipline and meaningful school involvement lessen violence among aggressive children in tough neighborhoods, according to a study released yesterday by the University of Washington.

"The study found that just 11 percent of black teenagers became violent by the time they were 18 if their parents practiced such ?good family-management skills as actively providing supervision, setting clear rules and expectations for behavior and reinforcing good work habits.?

"Among parents who did not rule the roost, 49 percent of the teens later became


I taught in an at-risk youths alternative learning school. Every day I was with teens from homes that were shattered. Not all, but most of the households represented that profile. There was usually at least a mom at home. Sometimes however there was no parent. One fellow lived in the streets. Another bobbed from house to house ? relative, friend, stranger. Some came from homes where their parents were drug users. A teen girl?s mother was serving time in prison for drug trafficking.

I saw every morning the faces of those who hardly ever, if ever, walked through the front door of a church. They had no idea what a worship service was like. The only time they heard deity?s name was when cursing. They knew nothing about religious values. Because I was so "straight" in my value-based lifestyle, they at times asked if I were a priest! They at least associated a person who did not swear and had a sense of caring with a clergyman.

These kids rebelled against any school discipline for that was foreign to their thinking. They had no discipline shown them in any area of their lives. They did whatever they wanted to do ? steal, lie, do drugs, sleep around, race cars, get drunk ? whatever. Once I asked one of the boys if he didn?t feel guilty when stealing from a local store. His answer: "Grant, when it?s right, it?s not wrong." That was his value base.

I asked him where he got the new sneakers. He related that they came from the mall. He put on a brand new pair that had no metal detector in them so that he could wear them out of the store without any alarm going off. I asked him if he felt that to be wrong. He looked back with the largest smile, saying nothing at all.

These kids often were the "youth center graduates." That is, they had spent time in teen jail. Now I make pastoral calls on young men in the adult jail. Numerous ones I visit in the adult jail are those who have come up the ladder ? from teen jail to adult jail. For most, they?ll spend the rest of their lives going in and out of jails.

What was particularly heartbreaking for me when teaching at the alternative learning school was when all attempts failed. Randy was one of those disasters. He was one of the most handsome youths going. He had a smile that stretched from ear to ear ? and it frequently graced his countenance. He was tall, slender and athletic. Unfortunately, his biological father had nothing to do with him since he was a little boy. "I hate my father," he would tell me. There was no wondering why.

His biological mother had married several times so that Randy didn?t know what man to relate to as father. Those men were not caring about the mother?s children anyhow. So Randy was left without a dad in his life. When he came to the school, he was bunking out at a young adult man?s apartment. There were three there ? the man, his girl friend and Randy. Randy slept on the couch. "I don?t mind it," he told me. "It?s at least a place to stay."

But eventually Randy wore out his welcome. The girl friend got tired of him being there. She wanted the place to herself and her boy friend. The man was torn. He wanted to help Randy out but he didn?t want to lose his girl either. So the bottom line was Randy had to leave. Where did he go in the middle of that winter several years ago? He ended up in an uncle?s trailer ? that is, after leaving the school one day in a tantrum, never to return.

One day while talking with Randy on the phone, I asked him how he was doing. "Oh, okay," he answered, characteristically cheerful. It took a lot to get Randy to be totally "down." "Are you getting something to eat? Is it warm there?" I asked. He answered that things were all right, not to worry.

He had birthed a little boy. He and the child?s mom, a teen herself, had a fight one night. The authorities told Randy he couldn?t see the baby any more. They said that they feared that in the tussle between teen father and teen mother the baby might get hurt. So Randy was now left with no father, in reality no mother, no girl friend for he couldn?t see her without seeing the baby ? that?s the stipulation she set up ? and no little boy of his own.

It was in that frigid January that Randy walked down the main artery in our village. In front of his girl friend?s grandparents? home, Randy darted in front of an oncoming car, taking his life. Police found a good-bye note in his pocket.

I still have Randy?s photos of his skiing on a nearby mountain. They are tucked into my Bible. Once in awhile I get them out, stare at them, and wonder what life would have been like for Randy if he had had church, home and school activities ? all level and loving and nurturing and the rest of the nice things that go with a well-rounded teen life. But he missed out on them all.

When pastoring, I spent every day with church teens who lived at the other end of the spectrum ? most of the time. Even from "nice" homes there are of course those teens who go astray into crime. But within the congregational family there was caring, honesty and decency. That definitely rubbed off on the church teens. Those youngsters were active in church youth programs, school activities, and modeled their lives after their Christian parents.

It is interesting for me then to read the university study of influences upon today?s teens for I have worked at both ends of the social stick. I have experienced the difference. The study is right. And with that, I pray that our nation will have some strength left by which to return to the baseline that provides a youngster with a good, decent life.

Joseph Grant Swank, Jr., Pastor, New Hope Church

Graduate of accredited college (BA) and seminary (M Div) with graduate work at Harvard Divinity School.

Married for 44 years with 3 adult children.

Author of 5 books and thousands of articles in various Protestant and Catholic magazines, journals and newspapers. Web site columns appear on MichNews.com, BushCountry.org, TheConservativeVoice.com, RaptureAlert.com, Republican and Proud, FaithFreedom.org, Conservative Posts, Common Conservative, Out2.com, MensNewsDaily.com, Magic City Morning Star, Right Wing Conservative, Mullenax News, The American Thinker, Religious News Online, among others.