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You might have read about the following incidents in the press:
On December 11, 1995, Robert Roberson, an ordained Pentecostal minister in Wenatchee, Washington, and his wife, Connie, were found not guilty of child sexual abuse. The two had been charged along with 40 other residents for participating in a molestation ring. Allegations against the Robersons included charges that they had raped their own five-year-old daughter. Twenty-eight residents of Wenatchee and surrounding areas were incarcerated as a result of the investigation, which began after a police detective's 11 -year-old foster child told him she had been a victim of the ring.
On October 11, 1995, a nine-year-old Saint Louis boy upset with an assignment he was given repeatedly struck his teacher, Nedra Morris, in the chest. The 51 -year-old Morris suffered a fatal heart attack. The school board president told the media, "We regret that this has happened . "
On November 8, 1995, a gang of four New York youths attacked a 45-yearold man with a box cutter, hacked off his artificial leg, and left him bleeding on the street. The attackers were caught after they slashed another man's face in order to steal 30 cents.
In November 1995 two Miami teens, Maryling Flores and Christian Davila, committed suicide by jumping into a canal. Maryling's mother had forbidden them from dating, and the pain of separation was too great to bear: "I feel that without him I can't live," she wrote in her suicide note. Maryling was 13 and Christian was 14.
Here we can see why the problems adolescents face in modern American society are extreme and growing. However, as the following "Focus on Delinquency" (page 8) shows, youth crime and violence are not uniquely American problems.
Poverty More than 20 percent of all children, almost 16 million, are living in poverty. More than 6 million, or 26 percent, of all children under six are now living below the poverty line (which is about $15,000 a year for a family of four)." The Tufts University Center on Hunger, Poverty, and Nutrition Policy estimates that by the year 2012, 20.7 million, or 28 percent, of all minor children will be living in poverty.
Family Problems Divorce strikes about half of all new marriages; many families sacrifice time with each other to afford better housing and lifestyles. Research shows that children in the United States are being polarized into two distinct economic groups: those born into affluent, two-income, married-couple households and those residing in impoverished, single-parent households.
Urban Decay The destructive environment of deteriorated urban areas prevents too many adolescents from leading productive, fulfilling, or happy lives. Many face an early death from random gunfire and drive-by shootings. Many are homeless, living desperate lives on the street where they are at risk of becoming addicted to drugs and acquiring sexually transmitted diseases including AIDS. A recent study of 425 homeless "street kids" in New York City found that 37 percent earn money through prostitution, and almost one-third had contacted an STD during the past six months."
Educational Issues The U.S. educational system, once the envy of the world, now seems to be failing at-risk youth. We are lagging behind other developed nations in such critical areas as science and mathematics achievement. The rate of retention-being held back to repeat a grade-is far higher than it should be in most communities. Retention rates are associated with another major educational problem-dropping out. It is estimated that about 14 percent of all eligible youths do not finish high schooI12 (see Figure 1.2).
Although all young people face stress in the education system, the risks are greatest for the poor, members of racial and ethnic minorities, and recent immigrants. These children usually attend the most underfunded schools, receive inadequate educational opportunities, and have the fewest opportunities to achieve conventional success.
Stress Measures of teenage stress are also discouraging: The teenage suicide rate has doubled since 1980, teenage drug use is again on the rise, and more than 90 percent of high school students have tried alcohol.
Considering these destructive influences, it should come as no surprise that teenage violence has increased during the past few decades: Rates for homicides involving juvenile offenders are increasing at a much faster pace than for those involving adult offenders.
These social and emotional problems have a significant effect on our nation's youth, particularly those transitioning through the tumultuous teenage years. During this period the self, or basic personality, is undergoing a metamorphosis and is vulnerable to a host of external determinants as well as internal physiological changes. Delinquency is a function of the trials facing many adolescents in modern American society. By the time they reach 15, a significant number of teenagers are approaching adulthood unable to adequately meet the requirements and responsibilities of the workplace, family, and neighborhood. Many suffer from health problems, are educational underachievers, and are already skeptical about their ability to enter the American mainstream.
Adolescence is a time of trial and uncertainty for many youths. They may become extremely vulnerable to emotional turmoil and experience anxiety, humiliation, and mood swings. Adolescents also undergo a period of biological development that proceeds at a far faster pace than at any other time in their lives except infancy. Over a period of a few years, their height, weight, and sexual characteristics change dramatically. The average age at which girls reach puberty today is 12.5 years; 150 years ago, girls matured sexually at age 16. But although they may become biologically mature and capable of having children as early as 14, many youngsters remain emotionally and intellectually immature., 7 Because of this, the problem of teenage pregnancy is a growing concern.
In later adolescence (ages 16 to 18), youths may experience the life crisis that famed psychologist Erik Erikson labeled ego identity versus role diffusion. Ego identity is formed when youths develop a firm sense of who they are and what they stand for; role diffusion occurs when they experience personal uncertainty, spread themselves too thin, and place themselves at the mercy of leaders who promise to give them a sense of identity they cannot mold for themselves. 18 Psychologists also find that late adolescence is a period dominated by the yearning for independence from parental control. 19 Given this explosive mixture of biological change and desire for autonomy, it should not be surprising that the teenage years are a time of rebelliousness and conflict with authority at home, at school, and in the community...