Who are these kids of the `90s? How do they differ from children of other generations? ‘The Way Kids Are’ is a regular series of columns in which we invite readers to help us understand kids. Each column will begin by describing a recent experience with a child, followed by an analysis that will examine what this teaches us about children today. Submissions can be made by contacting West Coast editor Virginia Robertson by phone: 213-966-4500, fax: 213-852-0223 or e-mail: email@example.com.
Every day, between the time I get home from work and the time I have to leave for school, I watch the local evening news. About three weeks ago, one of the lead stories was about a young man who was arrested for bringing a handgun to school. The piece went on and on about what a tragedy it was that kids have to resort to such measures. They interviewed parents, other students, violence prevention workers, social workers and anyone else who might wish to comment on the incident. That’s an awful lot of press coverage for one kid! But what about the young people who didn’t bring a gun to school that day? Where’s the coverage on them?
Everything we hear about young people lately is negative. It’s no wonder that a recent study of the Ad Council showed that two-thirds of adults have a negative view of teens, even though a Louis Harris Poll of youth documented that nine out of 10 teens would be willing to get involved in activities that prevent crime. A study by Independent Sector found that six out of 10 young people already volunteer-a larger proportion than adults.
So, why don’t we ever hear about the young people who aren’t involved in violent crime and substance abuse? Why doesn’t the evening news do a three-minute segment on the youth who cleaned up the local park or volunteer at a soup kitchen? The fact is that kids need some good PR. And, I am happy to say, they’re about to get it!
‘Investing in Youth for a Safer Future’ is a new campaign, developed by youth and adults working together, that will urge youth to prove adults wrong by doing something right. Also, it will challenge adult perceptions of young people. This innovative new approach will encourage young people to become involved in public safety projects, grassroots campaigns and other positive activities.
This campaign has been developed by a national partnership of federal and private agencies. It receives pro bono advertising from Saatchi & Saatchi and funding from the Bureau of Justice Assistance and the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, is distributed by the Advertising Council and is managed by the National Crime Prevention Council. This incredible partnership could have easily developed and marketed the campaign without any outside help. However, they chose to work with young people throughout the United States in the development and launching of the campaign. That fact that young people have been involved throughout the whole process means that the ads reflect their thoughts and feelings and enhances the ability of the campaign to reach other young people.
The campaign was recently introduced at a media event at Saatchi & Saatchi in New York with U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno and Peter Yarrow from Peter, Paul & Mary. Because I participated in the campaign focus groups and am serving as a member of the National Youth Network, I had the opportunity to speak at the media event and offer a youth perspective on the campaign. It was great to hear Attorney General Reno speak on behalf of the campaign and on behalf of the nation’s youth. It truly made all the hard work worthwhile. Getting to sing backup for Peter Yarrow on ‘If I Had a Hammer’ didn’t hurt either. That is, of course, another story!
Then again, maybe the ‘If I Had a Hammer’ story ties in perfectly. After all, the song is about the idealism of youth. It’s about justice, commitment and peace. It’s about making a difference. And, through the media campaign and other efforts, we hope to highlight the many ways that young people are making a difference. And, trust me, there are a lot of young people working to make their communities better places to live.
For example, in June of 1997, the National Youth Network convened a meeting of young people representing 20 national youth-serving organizations. What all those youth had in common-what really made that meeting special-was the incredible work they were all doing at the local level.
There are young people all over the country making tremendous contributions to their communities. No matter where you live, there are young people there right now working to make this world a safer place for all of us. Groups like Barrios Unidos, YouthBuild USA, Youth as Resources, the Regional Youth/Adult Substance Abuse Project (RYASAP) Youth Committee and others are running mentoring programs, youth foundations, crime watches, gang intervention initiatives, tutoring programs, youth leadership institutes and countless other meaningful activities.
So why don’t you hear about all of the great things that kids are doing? Well, when you’re 15 years old and you go to school, have a part-time job, your parents are on your case about your chores and you’re trying to save the world, it’s hard to take time out of your busy schedule to write press releases. That’s why ‘Investing in Youth for a Safer Future’ is so important.
Let’s help young people prove adults wrong by doing something right.
Fernando J. Muñiz is the co-chairman of the National Youth Network and youth director of the RYASAP.