Sunday, December 18, 2011

Socialization: It Is A Process

Whether our young people are armed with a gun, knife or bad attitude, either can be extremely dangerous and sometimes lethal. The past couple of months we have witnessed some acts that clearly reflect youths who skipped over the socialization process and jumped right into the streets. A stabbing of a youth at the Easter Monday Family outing at the National Zoo; a 16 year-old youth at a detention center overwhelms a guard escapes detention and takes the guard’s car to get away. This is the stuff of which movies are made; and Ra-heem Jackson armed with a $50,000 college scholarship is shot 11 times 20 feet from his back door; oh and did I neglect to mention the Metro where youth assault adults at will and take their I-phones and other worldly possessions. And you ask what has socialization got to do with this? Socialization is an internal Geiger counter that starts ticking the moment you encounter a situation that is contrary to your value system, upbringing and social mores. Without a socialization guide stamped in the brain, reinforced by moral and family values, the fall back is instinct or impulse, the lowest levels of reasoning.

We call ourselves a civilized society and even mock other countries by calling them third world or underdeveloped. But when I explore our social culture it is blotted with degeneracy that blinds many especially our youth who do not have superman lens to penetrate to core where the “good stuff” is hidden. So the scum rises to the top, free for the taking and the cups of our youths are running over with it. Those of us who opt for the civil society have a mandate to protect our young and we do this through a process called socialization. It is an invisible coating of rules, values, principles, and beliefs that guards against whims that can lead one down the primrose path of destruction. We have all been tempted from time to time to stray from the path of righteousness, but fortunate for some of us the pull of social gravity brings us back to the correct path. So why now throw out all the rules and each child seems to make rules for the moment. Is there any wonder we stare wide-eyed and in shock as our youth act out behaviors that shock the conscience. Random shootings, random stabbings, random robberies, all suggest not a way of life, but impulsive behavior that puts everyone at risk. It is unpredictable, often with no particular target. It is the luck of the draw of who happens to wander within the field of vision when one is summoned to “just do it, shoot, stab, kill, rob, rape…..against such randomness, we, the public has no protective defense.

We have to go back and get the book that laid the social foundation for the majority of us law abiding citizens. Socialization is a process perpetuated by institutions (family, church, school, government.) While it is ideal that the family takes the lead, if it defaults there are three other institutions that can step in unless they are all dysfunctional. Looking at the current state of our youths, need I say more? One of the first indicators of one who has been socialized is a code of behavior that respects authority. Respect has to be instilled at an early age to prevent the human will from overpowering it. If negative behavior is rewarded with smiles and hugs it grows by leaps and bounds and not in incremental stages like positive behavior. Limits and boundaries must be sacrosanct so that a child understands the serious repercussions of dangerous behavior such as touch fire and it will burn and go to strangers and you may disappear, etc.

So we start off with the basic rules of socialization that are easy to enforce and not very time consuming to teach; but by the time a child is 8, it become harder and harder to lay the social foundation because they’ve been developing skills to evade most of the rules and it takes diligence to reinforce them. So we pretend we do not see the indiscretions. They will grow out of it; no they grow into it and perfect the negative behaviors while we are sleeping. And when they are 14/15, the gap between their value system and that of the civil society has become a gorge. For our society to be where it is today with our youth, each institutional safety net must have had a hole in it and our youth are now in free fall. It is going to take longer, and more resources, human and money to rescue them from the pit into which they have descended. There are no quick fixes. When we should have been looking we turned away; when we should have been listening, we turned a deaf ear; and when we should have been nurturing, we said go away. Now they are in our faces and we have nowhere to turn or run.

Girls We Left Behind

The Washington Post article, Monday, November 14, 2011, “Violent incidents between female students on rise authorities say, ‘on the playground, in high school hallways and on college campuses across the country’, ” reminds me of the nursery rhyme, there was a little girl who had a little curl right in the middle of her forehead. When she was good, she was very good, but when she was bad she was horrid. What is the matter with our little girls who turn to violence to establish their space, self-esteem and standing? Horace Hall, associate professor and researcher on adolescent development and identity formation “credits the uptick in female violence to changing views of femininity, low self-esteem, lax parenting, poor communication and conflict resolution skills and a desire to avenge slights.”

What we see today are girls who have been left behind as women competed, struggled to survive or clawed their way to the top or to gain a foothold into an entry level position. A belief that one must be an attack dog to gain respect is a figment of some playwright’s, reality show creator’s or song writer’s imagination. This phenomenon is being perpetuated by the media because people have a fascination or get some kind of “kick” out of seeing women and girls fight, as one spectator said, “they jeer them on…no one intervenes.” It is just another cat fight, but these cats are growing up to become lionesses and they kill. Four female students have been charged with killing other female students since March.

The disturbing behavior we are witnessing among girls is not innate it is learned. It is a response to a form of social abandonment. Who is nurturing our girls? This rage and zero tolerance standard enforced in schools and the society at-large is landing our girls in the juvenile justice system at a faster and an alarming rate than boys according to statistics from “Girls Study Group,” a 2008 US Justice Department report. Arrest of girls increased more than those for boys in most crime categories between 1991 and 2000; arrest for simple assault among girls increased by 24 percent between 1996 and 2005 while arrest for boys for the same period dropped.

Once there was an aura around girls that signified they were special, needing protection, nurturing and a unique developmental pathway was created for them. What we are witnessing today is a continual downward spiral of abandonment of girls causing them to fend for themselves against sexual coercion from men and older boys, bullying, abuse and neglect. We can stop this free fall through systematic social engagement. We can demonstrate real empowerment through expectations, exposure, safe environment, positive experiences, critical thinking, problem solving, situational judgment, self-worth, dignity and a support system that binds it all together. Trust and knowing that someone is monitoring, watching and intervening in their lives allows girls to be girls and provide critical markers for girls at crucial turning points in their lives. What will________think about my behavior? If that space is blank, then it becomes filled with no one cares, and reactionary impulsive behavior becomes the order of the day.
Girls are special! Girls connect and when they connect it is for life. We need to pick them up out of the dirt, dust them off and connect them to the lifestyles that will fill the void of violence engulfing them.

Isaac Fulwood, former DC Police Chief, states, “We see it everywhere today—females cursing, fighting, behaving aggressively on Metro, on the street. We need to figure out something quickly to deal with this.

The irony is that we know what we need to do, but do we have the will to do it—provide the human touch-time. We need to rewrite the script for our girls. They need the same thing that we need to be successful—to be connected to a pathway that for many of us commenced when we were born and one we followed throughout life with zigs and zags and positive people who supported us along the way so we would not fall completely of the track. We had to define and redefine and side step dangerous pitfalls. In one of our many conversations, Dr. Height told me the following story in our discussion about how women dress in the work place. “Some suffragettes were on their way to a protest rally and they passed a hat shop so they went in and purchased some hats. A passerby asked the ladies why they were wearing hats to a protest march. Their response, just because one is going into battle, one does not have to look like a battle ax.” But look at us today-- we made it and so can our girls if we CONNECT THEM.
Our girls need to be taught how to fight smarter, not how to hit harder.