11/26/11 — Dreams' detour: Young people too often misjudge consequences of taking wrong path

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Dreams' detour: Young people too often misjudge consequences of taking wrong path

If you read the police log, you see it. And every once in a while, if you keep a close watch on the court records, you are confronted by it -- the sad consequence of what happens when young people get messed up in drugs and crime.

There are hundreds of stories every year -- some that make the news and some that don't -- of mostly young men, and some young women, whose lives are already on a trajectory toward tragedy because of their poor decisions.

They end up charged with possession, dealing or murder, if they happen also to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. And, in some cases, you read their obituaries, too -- as they become victims of the life that they have chosen.

But they don't start out that way. Most are young people with dreams of futures that are bright and shiny. Most don't really know how bad they have it, if they do. Most know that there are bad people around them or that their neighborhood is dangerous, but they never think that a mistake could take them down the same path.

The tragedies occur when one of the little ones crosses paths with one of those people who lurk in their neighborhood -- and is hurt, or worse, killed. Those are the ones that make you cry.

The lucky ones make it to their teens.

And in many cases, this is where the destructive choices begin.

It all starts with dropping out, or facing a life that is marked not by good role models, but by those who make drugs and crime sound like the way to go.

There might be no parents -- or there might simply be unfit parents, who cannot drown out the lure of the life of money and prestige that these young people think a career of dealing and crime provides.

And when we are finished, we end up with a generation of lost souls -- youngsters who face early death, a life of addiction and pain and who will eventually end up creating a circular effect, when they have children of their own that they cannot advise or take care of properly.

Welfare won't solve the problem. It only makes it easier to make the choices that forever cripple these young people -- dropping out of school, teenage pregnancy (sometimes multiple times), dealing drugs, relying on disability or other public assistance to get through life and a reckless disregard for their lives and the lives of others that is destined for incarceration, a record and a future that stalls at 21.

So what do we do?

We can shake our heads and read yet another story, another crime brief, and think that they got what was coming to them -- and thank God that our own children might not have chosen the same path.

And we would also be within our rights to blame their parents, to hold them accountable for the mess they have made -- and the irresponsibility of bringing a child into the world and, in essence, leaving him or her to fend for themselves.

Or we can invest in the programs and classrooms that help them beat the cycle of poverty and hopelessness -- demand more from them in return for more from us.

We can expect them to succeed -- and try to give them the tools to make those childhood dreams more than just a wing and a prayer.

And we can make it less attractive to be a parent who neglects his or her child -- or who irresponsibly creates families he or she cannot care for or care about.

That is how we change the course for these young people -- and how we see fewer stories about 20-somethings who died from a gunshot wound, young people who are spending their lives in prison and children who get caught in the crossfire.

Published in Editorials on November 26, 2011 5:14 PM