In last week’s column I focused on crime in our society, and I asked a few questions. I made the point: many reasons and causes have been put forward for the rise in crime and violence in our society. No one aspect can be blamed, and so we must explore all possibilities and seek to correct them all.
What is it that motivates a human being to act callously against another? What drives human beings to be violent and resort to crime? What are the real solutions to ending this mindset, or at least curtailing it?
In the coming weeks, I would like to explore what are some of those social causes that act as motivators and are sometimes overlooked.
It is often argued that most actions and habits begin with small acts. I am sure this is true for both good and bad actions and habits. Habits are formed when we act in a particular way over and over again.
Sometimes we don’t even realize that we have a habit and are just so consumed in the practice that it becomes second nature. Sometimes we overlook the little acts, not realizing that they can eventually add up to big ones.
Getting involved in major criminal activities is oft-times, as concluded by the experts, preceded by minor offences. Most criminals start out doing petty crimes and graduate to major ones. If not effectively prevented in the early, these small crimes become a habit and mature into more dangerous and violent acts.
One of the social causes of getting involved in crime, from minor crimes to major ones, is the influence of friends and acquaintances. Quite often, many persons are caught up in crime solely because of the friends they keep, or the people they know and the environment they are in. All together this lends itself to the development of criminal behaviour.
Interestingly, the converse is also true. If we have law-abiding, good, decent friends and acquaintances and the environment is nourishing, then we will ultimately be a model citizen. There are always exceptions to the rule; but by and large this is the general rule.
The example of the above is like that of two persons, a perfume seller and a blacksmith. Spending time with the perfume seller will either cause a person to buy or be gifted a perfume, or at the very least smell like the pleasant scents of the store of the perfume seller.
On the other hand, spending time with the blacksmith may cause your clothes to be dirty or burnt, or you may be exposed to the awful smell. This example is taken from older writings but so relevant today, even if blacksmiths don’t exist any more.
The old adage which says “you are like the company you keep” is very instructional; it is the wisdom of ensuring we keep the right company, and not be influenced by the wrong one. It is often easier said than done, especially for our younger generation, some of whom regrettably don’t even find that right company within their own homes, or among family and relatives.
It is usually the case that when our younger generation don’t find that loving, caring, motivating environment in the home, they look elsewhere for it. This looking elsewhere can be a disaster.
The influence that friends exert over one another as teenagers is clearly powerful and, far too often, undesirable. Unhealthy behaviours can be almost contagious in one’s teens.
Teenagers whose friends smoke, drink or use drugs, for example, are more likely to indulge in these behaviours themselves. Aggressive, illegal or self-injurious behaviours also have a tendency to cluster among friend groups, as do concerns about body image and eating.
A study published in the Journal Of Early Adolescence showed that friendships can also make the difference between good and bad grades at school. Researchers in the United States surveyed more than 1,200 middle school students, asking them to identify their three best friends.
They found that students whose friends were prone to misbehave didn’t do as well in school as those whose friends were socially active in positive ways, such as participating in sports at school or completing their homework on time.
In response to the above, one commentator wrote: “Even though it’s easy for parents to blame their children’s bad behaviour on peers and assume that other kids coerce them into doing things like drinking, smoking, stealing or cheating, poor decision-making among teens isn’t all about pressure. Kids actively want to emulate their peers.
During adolescence, they are looking for ways to separate from their families and begin to define themselves as individuals. To that end, they turn to friends for guidance and direction. They tend to mimic their peers’ behaviours and adopt the same attitudes. Conforming to social norms helps them redefine themselves while earning them acceptance and approval. Fitting in simply feels good.
Parents, discouraged by the changes they see in their children, naturally try to intervene. They may encourage their kids to spend less time with friends they perceive as troublemakers or forbid these friendships entirely. But interfering in a teenager’s life too much, particularly with friendships, can make matters worse.
There are things parents can do, however, to temper the influence that teenagers have on one another.
“Helping your child develop a sense of identity and feel secure in that identity is probably the best antidote.”
That’s not easy. Adolescents can no longer be told what to believe or how to behave. They have to be allowed to develop their own sense of what’s important.
Teens require a certain amount of independence. But that doesn’t mean they should have free rein. Adolescents aren’t exactly known for their good decision-making,
and parents need to impose some boundaries.
When rules are broken, and friends are involved, there need to be consequences — reasonable ones. Rather than trying to break up a friendship, parents might want to “ground” a teen’s social life, allowing the child to see friends at home under watchful parental eyes, but not to go out with them.
As our country grapples with increasing criminal behaviour, especially among younger ones, we must find ways of encouraging our younger generation to be especially aware of the company they keep and the influences, good and bad, others can have or exert.
The company we keep is but one social cause in a myriad of reasons that result in someone getting involved in crime. We all can play our part in working with the younger generation to find that wholesome and enriching environment and group or circle of friends –– a circle that would encourage each member to be better, productive persons rather than destructive.
(Suleiman Bulbulia is a Justice of the Peace, and secretary of the Barbados Muslim Association. Email firstname.lastname@example.org)