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Statement # 5

What's Wrong With Our Children?

... Or With Us?

Just a random news paper clipping. Daily news. One has to wonder: what has gone wrong with our children?

Counter Balance likes to rephrase it: what's wrong with the way we deal with our children? What kind of counterweight would be appropriate?

Counter Balance has collected ideas and articles about this.


Girl abused with cigarette

Yesterday, a 15 year old girl from D. has reported her abuse by another girl. A cigarette is said to have been put out on her cheek. The 15 year old had reportedly been called outside by someone, who then pulled her hair, kicked her, and burnt her with a cigarette. This had all taken place, because the victim had given her a 'dirty' look.

In brief

Today's children are brought up in prosperity and great freedom. Yet there are concerns about them. Won't they slide off into immorality? Will they be able to cope later in life?

Most children live in relatively closed families where the television is turned on a lot of the time, and there's not a great deal of conversation being held. There is also a tendency towards the spoiling of children: giving goods, rather than personal attention.
Schools are large and growing to be less personal.
Society offers a range of cultures, each having their own set of values. There is a wealth of information, but it lacks a coherent framework; a spiritual void.
Juveniles have to make choices, and develop their own sense of purpose in life.

More and more, the idea arises of a much sterner, zero-tolerance approach.

Counter Balance rejects the idea of old values being forcedly imposed. We look for other values, being transmitted in a different way, an individual way. This is only possible within smaller schools and in families that provide personal involvement with every individual youth.

Today's youth

Our children are being raised in prosperity. There's enough to go around for everyone, even though its even distribution leaves some things to be desired. They are also raised in relative freedom.
They are brought up in small families where they are wanted. Our families have a closed character. In a sense this provides security, but it imposes limits as well. A tendency arises where the family members go more or less their own way, watch a lot of TV and don't have a lot of meaningful conversations among each other. There is also a tendency to spoil children.

Schools are becoming larger. Personal contact is diminishing even more because of this.
Society as a whole offers a wide range of cultures as well as values. The younger generation has its own variety of cultures within this society.

Young people have a lot of choices to make. Clothing, hairstyle, means of transportation and symbols are used to define which group they belong to. There are a lot of different identities to be tried on for size, and ample opportunity to support their identity of choice inwardly. There is an abundance of information and stimuli, but no clear cut framework within which to organize it. Instead, society is confronted with superficiality and spiritual emptiness. It's pretty much a matter of taking care of oneself, no longer guided by a god, but by economy, without a sense of community.

Aggression among youths seems to become more common. Causes are: boredom (lack of challenging activities) and lack of frustration-tolerance and self-control as well as lack of correction and guidance. The younger generation is not devoid of values, but has developed its own: "be tough, be cool, get your kicks and have a laugh!"

We do not want to go back to the old values that one was forced to obey. We'd much rather like to see different values being conveyed in a different way. Counter Balance is opposed to a zero tolerance approach. Our children deserve better than that.

Which values?

In the way of Raising Children After Auschwitz obedience to authority is no longer a virtue. Nor is there one correct set of values in our multicultural society. The idea of putting up and shutting up is no longer an acceptable strategy either; it is better to express and share emotions.

Respect is the new standard for harmonious coexistence. Respect for being different, respect for life, nature, culture, animals. Respect for things as well; it's not right to immediately replace things that are broken, as if the old is without value.

Co-operation is the new value, considering others, communicating properly. To be honest about one's feelings and needs, and to listen to others.

It is then possible to have responsibility. This also means being prepared to answer questions. Spoilt children haven't learned to be responsible.

Respect, co-operation and responsibility imply self-control, self-guidance. This implies social skill. Why teach math, but not such an important skill? Self-control is not the same as obedience. You learn this through opportunity: by being able to make your own choices, with someone to watch over you, whether you succeed or not. Children don't learn this by staying inside, or by being driven around in cars, but by playing outside on their own.

How to transmit these values?

We plead for personal involvement of individuals with individual youths. A personal voice that appeals to your behaviour. Not only a functional approach. This is only possible at smaller sized schools. This is possible in families that provide boundaries as well as room for responsibility, communication and personal contact. It's possible in children's' homes where personal contact is a standard, that allow for a different approach and where people are not treated identically - because people aren't identical. It is essential for personal contact to listen to the youth, to their experience, their inner world.

There also needs to be room for the experience and expression of 'negative feelings', such as jealousy. This is different from trying to control the youth's behavior. It's not the same as leaving them completely to their own devices, either.

Values are conveyed by applying them on one's own life. This requires self-control, co-operation and especially respect - for the child - from the parents and other educators.
It also requires a personal way of conveying, hence a personal way of interacting - which takes time. Educators should be there without trying to pass that responsibility on to others, or to the state.


Respect for other people's differences requires a society consisting of individuals.
Well, the process of society's individualization seems to have gone far enough now, if not too far. Attention should now be paid to the people's communities. If their organization is of a smaller scale, then it is easier for their members to establish contact between one another. What we're seeing now is, on one hand, progressing individualization, and on the other hand, an increase in the size of communities. We've already scaled down our families - let's take on the classes and neighborhoods.

Useful projects

Empathy, warmth and autonomy are the key words, said Adorno. Thus, teach the children empathy, to feel what others feel. Give them warmth and teach them to give warmth. Teach them social abilities. Useful projects are projects in which youths are guided and appealed as a person in a personal way. So they learn autonomy and to be a member of a community that cares.

Projects in which a personal coach guides one or some youngsters appeared to work quite well. For example, soccer clubs have coaches, club members who coach the younger club members, not only to play soccer but also to behave well. 

There are also projects in which children learn to think about values and norms. Other projects learn them to recognize feelings, their own and others', and to handle emotions.

Modern school do not only teach arithmetic, reading, etceteras, but give also service after  school time in order to guide the children in their free time by a lot of activities. 

A good example are the Moroccan fathers who patrol their own neighborhood to guide their sons and to appeal them in a personal way in their own language and style.

The crux is to create and allow a personal involvement with the young people and to approach them as an individual, as a person. 

Price for 'neighborhood fathers'

The project of the Moroccan 'neighborhood fathers' in Amsterdam has won the Hein Roethof price 2000. 

The jury was impressed by this project that started by private people after the riots in Amsterdam-West in 1998. 

The fathers decided to patrol in the streets to enlarge the social control in the neighborhood.
Dutch newspapers, 31 Oktober 2000

European price for neighborhood fathers

The Amsterdam's neighborhood fathers project of the Foundation Al Mawadda has won the European Price for the Prevention of Crime. The price is connected with about 11,000 euros. 

Other candidates for the price came from Great-Britain, France, Denmark and Belgium. There was also a second Dutch candidate, the project To know and to be known of a Dutch swimming pool. 

The Foundation Al Mawadda, active in Amsterdam-West, had already won the Hein Roethof price, the Dutch equivalent of the European price. 

The awarded project started after serious riots between police and Moroccan youth in April 1998 in the same area. 
Dutch newspapers, 19 December 2000


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