"He only did what he had to do," a line from Waylon and Willie's Poncho and Lefty, stands out from among the others as my earworm of the day plays over and over in my head.
I don't know who Poncho and Lefty were, but Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings immortalized them with their country classic. They did whatever bandito work they "had to do" in Mexico for years before the Federales killed Poncho and Lefty fled to Ohio. According to the lyrics, it was Lefty who did what he had to do, which was banditoing. Poncho was dead by that point of the song.
I keep asking myself Why? Why did these two and many others since them turn to a life of law-breaking?
I have never known or heard of a young child who aspired to be a bandito or a law breaker of any kind. Kids fundamentally want to be good. They may misbehave, act ornery and make their mother's life hell for a few years, but they do that for a reason.
They can't understand or cope with life as it presents itself to them.
Human children take two decades of upbringing before they get a good grasp of what life is about. Even then, many don't get it. As little kids, they grasp concepts easily, but hypocrisy and lack of attention to their needs confuses them. They don't have the words to convey their feelings to their parents. So they tend to act out, misbehave or withdraw into themselves.
In adolescence many "rebel" by wearing black, bleaching their hair, getting tattoos, listening to music their parents' generation hates (but which usually expresses their personal angst) and dressing either like hookers or alcoholic drug addicts who live under bridge overpasses. They still can't express what they feel is so wrong about themselves or the world around them. All they know is to show their disapproval of it.
We call it teenage rebellion, but it's not universal. It only occurs in societies with certain social conditions.
The worst of the adolescent objectors lack social skills or self confidence--even if some seem to be able to easily attract a following--and virtually all lack emotional skills and knowledge. They are developmentally immature or maldeveloped. We know it, schools and the courts see it every day, the situation is getting worse, but we do nothing about it.
Most kids grow out of it and learn to compromise with the society around them. Some, however, hit crises they do not have the skills to cope with or the support of others they can turn to in times of trouble. Their parents claim they were right behind their kids all the way. But they weren't. The kids knew it. The parents had no idea what to do, even if they tried their best to be good parents. Which virtually every parents does, given their unique set of circumstances.
When that special crisis arrives unexpectedly on their doorstep, some will turn to the people who are most ready to support them, at least to some degree. Criminals and other unsavory people are always the easiest ones to make friends with. They aren't good friends, but they're there when teens and young adults need them, at least to lend some relief from the pain of the crisis. Maybe that includes drugs, for example.
The free drugs last only so long, then the user must pay for them. That requires the young people to find ways to get money, ways that are immediately or soon thereafter illegal.
How serious is it? The USA now has a record number of people incarcerated. One out of every 100 US citizens is in prison or jail, not only a record for the US but a world record for percentage of citizens behind bars for any nation. When you discount children and adults who are beyond the age when most would commit crimes--in other words, look at people in the most productive years of life--the number in prison is well over ten percent. That's one adult in ten behind bars.
Governments and education systems don't want to tell children about the horrid things that happen to frequent drug users--they want to keep the children "innocent" for as long as possible. So the young people only hear about the good effects of drugs from the suppliers. Heck, the thrill or feeling of bliss is worth a little pain later.
They don't explain to children why law breaking is very hard on society and give them the ways and means (knowledge, skills and support people) to cope with their problems as they get older. Some turn to crooks for temporary help in solving their problems. The bad guys are always around to "help." Especially around schools.
That temporary help becomes permanent, but the young people don't know that at the time. We don't tell them that early enough. Or the damage they will do to themselves or their families. A judge or fellow prisoner may be the first to break that news to them.
Maybe most of them just did what they "had to do" to get past their problems. They didn't know any other way to solve them. We weren't there to help, that's for sure.
But, not to worry, we can still build more prisons and courts. Apparently that's easier than teaching children what we have a moral and natural obligation to teach them, how to cope with and work within the constraints of adult life.
And we have drugs to fix them when they break. Most do at some point, to varying degrees, even if they cover it well.
Innocent children become ignorant adults. It's inevitable. Yet we continue to do it as if it's the right thing to do, as if it's the only thing we know how to do.
Who, I ask myself, stands to gain by keeping so many children so ignorant about life that they turn to illegal substances and crime to cope with their problems?
And why do we persist on doing nothing about it?
Especially when we know how to avoid the problems. At least you do. You read this article. And you have likely read other articles by me and visited my web site. So you know what you can do. What are you doing now that you know?
Turning it Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, your handbook for how to solve these problems. It includes special guides for teachers, parents and grandparents of young children.
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