Mentoring is an Effective Tool to Prevent Youth Violence

February 10, 2011

Nationally, the latest FBI crime data show a noticeable decrease in violent crime across the United States, which includes juvenile delinquency rates — crimes committed by youth under the age of 18. However, disturbingly, during the same time period, we’ve seen an increase in the number of black teen murders. And few can ignore the recent spike in youth suicides committed as a result of bullying, another type of senseless violence which appears to happen mostly within our schools. However, bullying isn’t the only violence issue facing our schools. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES):

  • There were 25% more violent crimes committed in middle schools than in high schools.
  • An overwhelming majority of public schools in the United States, 85%, reported one or more incidents of crime, for a total of 2 million school-related crimes.
  • More than 32% of youth reported being bullied at school.
  • About 23% of youth reported that gangs were present in their schools.

Also, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), reports that out of 16,270 murders committed in the United States in 2007, 1 in 10 involved a school-aged youth. In my hometown of Philadelphia, even with a reported dip in youth crime, arrests for youth murder and manslaughter increased by nearly 20% from 2004-08. Moreover, Philadelphia has the highest reported incidents of school violence in the nation, according to data provided by the U.S. Department of Education.  However, as many experts have opined, while youth violence does find its way into our schools and classrooms, much of it starts in our homes and communities. On this point, they are correct.

You see, studies tell us that the lack of a stable home life or a consistent positive adult presence can lead to the development of youth violence and aggression. In fact, research suggests that in the absence of such things, children are more likely to develop internalizing problems like depression and externalizing problems such as aggression — placing these youth at greater risk for violence and school failure.

Therefore, there has been a renewed call for the creation and implementation of mentoring programs, led by President Obama, which culminated in the creation of the President’s Fatherhood and Mentoring Initiative. The reason why Mr. Obama is such a strong supporter of mentoring is because, well, it works. Specifically, mentoring can develop social and emotional competence (which is also a tool to prevent bullying), as well as build self-esteem and self-confidence. Moreover, effective mentoring programs can increase school attendance as well as school engagement. Therefore, not only does mentoring address issues related to youth violence, it can also serve as yet another tool in efforts to improve outcomes for students in America’s public education system.

Key to this recommendation is funding. Here’s a message for public officials and private funders: Find programs that work, and consistently fund them. Far too often, programs are funded for a year or two and then cut, which is a problem because research also tells us that without consistency, positive outcomes will be fleeting.

And while I am aware that there is no quick fix or magic remedy to this complex issue, which has many sociological root causes, mentoring is a step in the right direction.

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