The criminal justice system must offer schools and law enforcement a wider range of punishment options if it ever wants to get a grasp on the growing number of random, violent crimes committed by young people, according to Richard Curwin, a world-renowned expert on school discipline, motivation and classroom management.
"Israel's problems are not universal, of course, but if we want to stop this violence, then getting tough with them is not the answer," he said.
Curwin, who made aliya from the US last year, made his remarks a week ago, following a summer of some of the most extreme anti-social teenage behavior Israel has seen.
Curwin, who has worked with law enforcement and educational institutions in Japan, Spain, Italy and Britain to combat unruly teenagers, said Israeli schools were far too quick to suspend or expel violent children, without providing a valuable life lesson to guide them in the future.
"There is nothing to be learned from that kind of punishment. Instead, the child will most likely end up on the streets for a few days, or outside of the school system completely. How will that help them become a better person?" he asked.
Curwin will teach a class on behavioral management and motivation at Jerusalem's David Yellin Teachers' College this year, and already works very closely with the National Council for the Child.
Author of more than 10 books on youth violence, behavioral management and motivation, Curwin suggests finding punishments that will allow violent teens to learn social skills and compassion. His ideas include sending a child to a nursing home or to work with sick children in a hospital.
"It's a mistake to think if you get tougher with kids that will set them straight," continued the San Francisco native, who now lives in Efrat.
"Small but consistent punishments are far more effective, and if a punishment does not teach a child how to do something useful, then it is not helpful for anyone."
"If there are no social values or social skills in the first place, then the punishment for violent teens will simply not work," he said.
Referring to two cases of teen violence over the past week - the first involving a boy violently beaten for his bicycle, and the second where teens attacked a kiosk owner because he would not sell them cigarettes - Curwin urged patience and guidance in helping children to learn from their mistakes.
"When a teacher or a parent gets angry with a child, that child will only go out and imitate them at a later stage," he said. "Whatever is done to a child, that child will then go on and do it back to others."
"Israel is at a crossroads when it comes to children - partially to do with changing family structures, but also because the problem is not being tackled well from the top," said Curwin.
"Israel needs to make a firm commitment to the criminal justice system, and schools need to have more choices for a child who breaks the rules."