AUGUST 18, 1961
WESTBROOK, Conn.—I have been talking for some time past with one of my older friends who is seriously worried over the situation facing adolescent youngsters, not only in our big cities but in our rural areas. Her concern primarily is, of course, for her own state. But I think this is a question that is beginning to stir the conscience of the nation and should stir the conscience of individual citizens so that each of us should feel that we have an obligation to do what we think is possible in the area where we live.
We read of delinquency among the young, particularly those in their teens, and we are shocked very often by the crimes they commit. Yet many times the cure is simply to provide meaningful occupations for the young.
There was a time when many young people could be apprenticed if they did not want to go on to higher education. But it is much more difficult to become an apprentice today, since with automation more and more unemployment is coming our way, and the older worker, therefore, looks upon an apprentice as a possible future rival for the constantly dwindling jobs. It has been harder and harder for young, untrained people to get jobs of any kind.
Someone wrote me the other day suggesting the establishment of youth centers in the big cities of our country. This might help. Incidentally, youth centers are very much needed in small towns and villages as well as in the big cities. One sees in many of our smaller towns that the only place for young people to meet is the local drugstore.
Youth centers, however, are valueless unless you find the right personnel. A youth center properly staffed can supply opportunities, athletically and esthetically, that are valuable because they use up the surplus energy of teenagers. They must supply a stimulus for boys and girls to develop whatever potentiality of interest they may have in any line of craftwork, in particular studies outside of the usual school curriculum, and in the general effort to teach appreciation of all kinds of enjoyment in music, art or drama.
Today much is available to all youngsters, at practically no cost, if they know where to go and have any desire or understanding of that which is offered through any of the arts and in the sports field. Also, I think any youth center to be of most value should have an employment bureau with an imaginative individual in charge.
I am not one who believes that babysitting is the most valuable thing that a youngster can do. In fact, I think babysitting should always be combined with some task in the house that can be carried out with an eye to the baby at frequent intervals. If a teenager is babysitting for older children then all should be provided with books to read aloud and with games to play, otherwise the sitter and the children will not enjoy the hours they spend together.
I also feel that all youngsters should have some training before they undertake the responsible occupation of watching over a baby or taking care of older small children for any length of time.
Of course, if there is homework to be done I think this is a good way to occupy one's time if a baby is asleep or the other children are already in bed. But I think young people are sometimes used in this capacity with much too little thought given to their own good and to the good of the children they are to watch.
We have, of course, many clubs for boys and girls, particularly in the big cities, but these are usually attended by children whose parents are concerned about them and who would probably not be problem children in any case. It is the problem children who should be cared for under an imaginative program that will provide youngsters with outlets for their creative desires and with an unlimited amount of continuing occupation.
This is a problem which might be aided, where the boys are concerned, by the establishment of a junior Peace Corps to be used in the United States. There is much work that a corps such as this could do that would not interfere with the work of older men. From 14 on there is forestry work, soil conservation work, and even building which could be accomplished and be enormously helpful in the deprived areas of this country.