How to Kill a Kid’s Future

May 10 2018


  • Alejandro Vilchez, CM Trainer
    Alejandro Vilchez
    CM Trainer

Prior to connecting with Community Matters as a trainer, I earned my stripes doing gang prevention and street intervention with young men and women from under-represented and marginalized communities. The young people I worked with were almost always involved in destructive activities that gave them a sense of self worth, belonging and respect. Despite not owning the turf they claimed or even having an understanding of how their rivalries began, they were all too eager to die for a street name, a color or ideology.

What causes a young man or woman to live this way? Is it growing up in a fatherless home? Is it living in an environment where violence is commonplace? Is it listening to “gangsta” rap? There are several reasons why gangs and their related activity entice and capture the attention of our youth. Unfortunately, a common mistake I see many parents and school officials make is to think that gang activity is limited to a particular group of youth who live in a particular community and lack resources that other youth may have. And while these do play a factor, in my experience one does not need to be a validated gang member to have the gang mentality.

I don’t know if society is more violent now than in generations past, but I do see a change in what we are teaching our young people that contributes to the problem of youth violence. In my experience I’ve seen a pattern or formula of how we as adults intentionally or unintentionally cripple the potential of our youth.

# 1: Teach them to hate themselves. This happens when they are denied information and experiences about who they are historically, ethnically and culturally.

# 2: Teach them to hate others. This is a natural progression from the first step. If a young person has little to no self-love, how can we expect them to show love and empathy towards others?

# 3: Teach them to hate school. Notice I didn’t say, "teach them to hate education". Youth are being educated everyday. Hating school is quite easy. Give them no voice and no choice or opportunities to be active investors in the way that lessons are prepared and delivered and the natural result will be disengagement from academics and the school community.

# 4: Teach them to love the media.  We are more connected than ever before via technology and social media. And at the same time we are more detached than ever. We would rather text than talk. “Fake news” has become our headline news and new words like “screen addiction “are now part of our vocabulary. Images and sound bites mold our thinking and in the words of Dr. Ravi Zacherias, “we are a society that listens with its eyes and thinks with its feelings”.

# 5: Deny them skills, talents, interests, experiences. Too many of our schools have cut out the arts, the vocations and even sports programming. When we limit the offerings our youth can receive to surface, uncover and foster their God-given talent, they will devise, create and deliver it on their own. And without guidance, it’s often destructive.

Let’s put all these ingredients together. What will we have? A young person walking around thinking they are bullet proof with a fearless yet unrealistic attitude towards life.

All is not lost though, because these same steps can be turned around and used to save a kid’s future. Young people spell love like this…T-I-M-E. When we take the time to invest in who they are rather than what we would like them to be the investment usually pays dividends in the form of confident, self-aware, educated, resilient and empathetic youth. The formula for working with youth involved in gangs and other destructive activities is pretty simple:

  1. Prevention takes more time but requires less money
  2. Intervention requires more time and involves more money
  3. Suppression / Enforcement requires less time but requires the most money

As parents, mentors, teachers, youth pastors, social workers and change agents, what are we willing to spend our resources on? The formula for killing a kid’s future is already in motion and we’re good at it. It’s time to deliver a new formula that affirms and promotes vida (life). When we teach them to love themselves, love others, respect school, limit their media intake and invest in their abilities, the outcome is promising and infectious.  

Alejandro Vilchez is an independent consultant providing training, facilitation and community engagement services. He is a trainer for Community Matters and is the lead consultant at A V Consulting working with non-profit private agencies, schools & universities and local governments in the San Francisco Bay Area and across the country.

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