AUGUST 30, 1954
HYDE PARK, Sunday—Many of us have been shocked by the horrible tales that have been in our newspapers of late about the young boys alleged to have indulged in cruelties, and finally in murder, just for the pleasure of seeing someone suffer. We have looked at their faces in pictures and wondered why, at this early age, they could become enemies of society.
We know that in little children there is often a streak of cruelty which comes, as a rule, from lack of understanding. First they cannot conceive of the results of what they do; next, it is unusual for children to project themselves into the thinking and feeling of somebody else. They usually react only to what happens to them. It takes education and time to develop the ability to think of consequences, or to think at all of people other than yourself.
Ordinarily, in a family, parents and brothers and sisters achieve this discipline almost unconsciously. But if a child were left to develop without any of this discipline, one can imagine that the instincts and lack of thought which dominate small children might grow into the dangerous tendencies that we now discover in young delinquents. Along with family influence, the normal child has close contacts in school, with friends and other families which are part of its development.
There must have been complete failure in achieving a maturing process in his environment when a child becomes a delinquent. I wish very much that we could deal with these cases without so much newspaper publicity for the reason that, just as a small child will be naughty to attract attention, these immature delinquents are pleased by the publicity. And then others are encouraged to commit similar crimes simply because it does attract so much attention.
I think perhaps that we need to intensify a campaign of education for young parents. More stress is needed in our preparation of teachers in the use of modern knowledge in the fields of psychiatry and psychology. No child is too young for help on the psychiatric level if he is lacking a normal existence in his home life.
Helpful in this regard is a pamphlet in the series of Round Table discussions over NBC, under the auspices of the University of Chicago, which includes remarks made by Bertram M. Beck, director of the special juvenile delinquency project in the U.S. Children's Bureau. He emphasizes the responsibility of the public welfare agencies to work on this problem.
In the last few years, it seems to me that a number of adult groups have abetted, rather than fought, juvenile delinquency. There have been disturbing programs on radio and television. There have been things in our newspapers and magazines and the cheaper variety of tabloids which are not helpful to the young.
But this is not a problem to attack on one level only. We live in a complicated civilization. Organized crime may—and does—prey on youth as well as older people. We must try in every possible way to get at the roots of the delinquency problem in order to protect the younger people who are the victims. Punishment alone will not achieve the results we desire.