Time to confront rising youth violence

Time to confront rising

It's hard for most of us to recall a day whose newscasts don't include reports on violent altercations between hotheaded and/or intoxicated teens in schoolyards, streets, parks or night spots. All too often words and fisticuffs deteriorate to knifings or beatings. Sometimes, there are fatal results. These phenomena are only likely to grow more widespread, security consultant Marc Kahlberg recently told The Jerusalem Post. Alcohol is readily available. Brutal current events and sadistic TV fare desensitize impressionable youngsters and inculcate in them a trendy culture of violence. And law enforcement is failing. Police are hard put to curb rowdiness, even when thugs regularly gather and disrupt the peace at known locations. Regulations tie the officers' hands. They can do little before an offense is committed. A severe manpower shortage and a tight budget rule out routine patrols and massive presence in public. Dismayingly, anecdotal evidence suggests police can sometimes be disinclined to intervene effectively, even when they are on the scene and capable of taking action. When loutish lads are detained, moreover, odds are that lenient judges will merely rap them on the knuckles unless they have caused grievous bodily harm. IT'S NOT that no attention is paid to this problem. Recently the matter even dominated the weekly cabinet meeting. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu promised not to let our "youths stone themselves out of their minds. It's time to shake the tree. I have long favored deterrent punishment." Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch wants higher taxes, shorter business hours for alcohol retailers and a plethora of legal amendments to "curb alcohol sales. Otherwise this threat will become strategic." Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar opines that we have gone overboard with too many students' rights guarantees and too little discipline. In the latter category he includes the use of banned electronic gadgetry in classrooms, from cellphones to digital cameras. It's estimated that well over half of pupils have experienced bullying in school; 36 percent of juvenile delinquency is perpetrated during school hours. Educators, psychologists and criminologists all agree that aggressive tendencies manifest themselves in childhood, then linger in adulthood. By reining in youth crime, we could insure a more stable society in the future. WHO'LL DO the job? Recent studies show that two-thirds of Israeli parents expect schools to restrain and instill values in their kids. But there's only so much schools can do by themselves. The instinct nowadays is to pass every buck and dodge responsibility. There's no point demanding that teachers or officials wave magic wands and effect instant solutions. Parents too are culpable. Permissiveness toward children, at home, school and in public places, is excessively tolerated. This isn't a uniquely Israeli problem, but one that plagues much of the West, where children's whims are increasingly indulged and grown-ups fear to say "no." It's not a function of poverty. Unruliness isn't less pronounced in affluent communities, where some schools go so far as to allocate designated spaces for smoking pot. The more our schools are conceived of as mini-democracies, the worse things get. In previous generations, anything-goes wasn't in vogue. Numerous educational projects that recommend dialogue and yet more counseling are cop-outs. They only win cooperation from kids not prone to violence in the first place. The time has come to get back to basics and admit that schools must be to some degree authoritarian and that discipline must be reintroduced, with stricter penalties. There must be zero-tolerance not only for physical violence but also for impudence, disorderly conduct and discourtesy. Israeli society almost prides itself on rearing ill-mannered youngsters - verbally impolite, physically pushy and demanding from early on. This promotes collective sociopathic patterns, bound to magnify later on in life. Cheeky kids aren't cute. They are the ugly Israelis of the future. They start out being fresh, go on to shove their way past peers and elders and cheat on exams. They then become violent in school, at the pub, in the streets and behind the wheel. We need to confront them, early on.