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FIRST-PERSON: Everybody must be involved

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (BP)–We can never do too much to support positive parental and community involvement in overseeing the growth and development of young people.

More than that, the continuous role of the church as part of this involvement to instill respect and wholesome regard for the lives and property of others is invaluable.

Studies consistently show that the three-fold cords of family, church and community involvement in the lives of all youth, particularly at-risk youth, is an invaluable asset to the safety and success of these young developing lives.

Byron R. Johnson, director and distinguished fellow at the Center for Research on Religion and Urban Civil Society at the University of Pennsylvania, concluded in a recent study that “religious institutions such as churches are well suited to produce the relational networks of social and emotional support that help prevent at risk youth from participating in negative behavioral outcomes such as crime.”

Johnson’s study focused on the particular needs of vulnerable urban black youth. But children are children, and the guidance and supervision some children need for successful development can doubtless be applied to the developmental requirements of all.

Just days ago, Boca Raton, Fla., experienced a tragedy. A young man celebrating his 16th birthday was shot dead while playing an after-midnight prank on neighbors by banging on doors and running away. Unfortunately, the last door upon which the youth knocked ended his life when the homeowner shot the boy as he ran away, according to The Palm Beach Post.

The death has brought sadness to the community, and it should. The sudden death of a teenager while celebrating a rite-of-passage birthday is a tragedy. The event has brought division to the community, an outcry and pending litigation against the homeowner involved.

But what is equally tragic in this dark drama is that no one — not the church of which this youngster was a vital part, not members of community who have rallied valiantly with the bereaved parents and against the homeowner, not the parents — have once said publicly that the silly prank was inappropriate.

At this time, Palm Beach County authorities have alleged no crime against the homeowner. While waiting, it is clear through preliminary scrutiny that the death of this child might have been avoided. It represents a three-fold experience of failure on the part of the parents, the church and the community to provide a safe refuge for a child who needed moral guidance and an understanding of what possible situations could bring danger to his life.

But the stark reality is that though the church can provide priceless assistance to parents in childrearing, and clear-cut community standards the same, absolutely nothing can substitute for the proactive and productive role of parents in training their own children how to navigate the choppy waters of childhood, adolescence and young adulthood and how to become future assets to themselves and to the society in which they will live.

Emery Twoey, associate professor of education and psychology at Palm Beach Atlantic University, has written in his new book “Proteen: A Positive Approach to Understanding Adolescents,” that parents should “help your kids to resist peer pressure by getting involved with their friends; don’t just hope for the best. As you [parents] get more involved, you [parents] limit the opportunities your kids and their friends have for misbehavior.”

Twoey also writes, “A kid’s main agenda is to play, and teenagers are no exception. Fun is their main motivation, and what responsible behavior is to them is strikingly different than what it is for adults.”

“Good choices,” Twoey notes, “are necessary for an adolescent to successfully cultivate positive character development,” and parents are the chief purveyors of such cultivation and development.

A “Proteen” approach to parenting seems like a winning approach to parenting. The death of the Boca Raton youngster will ever linger as a regrettable, senseless tragedy.

By the way, parents: Do you know where your children are?
Terriel R. Byrd, Ph.D., is assistant professor of religion and director of urban ministries studies at Palm Beach Atlantic University in West Palm Beach, Fla.

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  • Terriel Byrd