Why are our youth so lost? Well, here's a few thoughts...

by Jordan Green

If you’ve been reading any news lately, you’re probably well aware that there’s plenty of chaos around the world. Yet right here at home in America’s Hometown, we have some chaos of our own. Blackwell’s city leaders recently amended the curfew ordinance to give police more discretion in handling troublesome youth.

As those leaders have said, youth crime rates have skyrocketed in the last two years. It’s truly a shame some of our town’s youth are so lost.

For a long time, people have thought that small towns were safe havens where evil wasn’t present, all the people were kind and everyone had a good family to go home to. I don’t believe that’s ever been entirely the case, and it certainly isn’t the case today. That kind of naivety has not fared well for our town or any other.

The problems that cause young people to turn to waywardness are myriad, but one of the biggest ones is a lack of order in their lives. Anything in nature without order is in chaos, and that is especially true for humans. Order comes from a number of sources, one of which is family.

We know that, today, fewer and fewer people have a family of any kind, much less a functional one.

Yet there’s another kind of order that we have let slip away, much to our detriment and especially to the detriment of our youth: civic involvement. Since the beginning of our nation, civic organization and institutions such as churches, clubs and youth programs united people around common causes and brought people together to share common values: generosity, kindness, friendship and loyalty, to name a few.

Rotary and Kiwanis clubs, Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops and church youth groups taught young men and women the value of working together, pursuing meaning and truth in life and serving something beyond themselves. Those groups – and the virtues they taught youth to uphold – have waned and disappeared, especially in the last 20 years or so. Blackwell was once flooded with Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops, and church youth programs had high attendance. When I became a Boy Scout in 2007, this town had two troops with about 60 boys each. By 2017, I was one of the last few active Boy Scouts in town, and now we have none. The decline in youth programs has been quite dramatic in the last 20 years. And in tandem, the smalltown values of friendliness, charity, faith and love that people stereotypically associate with the Midwest are not nearly as strong as they once were.

The people who grew up without moral guidance are now adults in our communities, raising their own children with even less knowledge of what it means to serve others and treat others with respect. Many youth are now at least a generation or two removed from any kind of involvement in church, leadership or civic programs. And yet we wonder why they’re wandering the streets, committing crimes and hurting other people for selfish gain or sick pleasure.

Part of the problem is that they haven’t been taught the consequences for doing what’s wrong. Yet the bigger problem is that they haven’t been shown the value of doing what’s right, and they have no one to hold them accountable for their actions. Churches, clubs and youth programs supplemented what parents once taught at home and provided the order and structure youth needed to grow and mature into good, loving, caring citizens.

Now, both family and fellowship have largely fallen apart, leading us to where we are today. You can disagree. You can try to blame the rise in youth crime rates on whatever you wish. And I’d also be remiss if I didn’t note that many of the organizations I’ve discussed here – including Boy Scout and church leaders – have lots of terrible chapters in their history. Some have done horrible things to youth that scarred them for life, and these grievous offenses must not be overlooked.

However, most youth program leaders didn’t do the kinds of ghastly things that made headlines. Much like the adage about one bad apple spoiling the whole batch, most of the people who have ever helped youth got involved for the right reasons and had the right impact on young people. But in the last 20 years, in spite of all the good those organizations once did, parents decided that they and their children were too busy doing other things to participate in efforts that would make their children – and the world – better.

Now, we see the effects of that. I don’t believe all hope is lost. Across the nation, people are starting new kinds of youth programs, and many of the programs I’ve mentioned are still around, though fewer in number. It’s time for communities like ours to reinvest in them and, in time, watch crime rates drop.

A little education and investment in the lives of youth today won’t quickly correct 20 years’ worth of familial and societal failures, but we can sure believe they’ll make a big difference in just as many years from now. Parents and community leaders: It’s time we showed youth once again just how much they need order in their lives. Order, despite what our rebellious and lazy natural minds tell us, is a good and perfect thing.