Youth Detention Officers’ Concern for Troubled Youth

Dr. Freda M Bush, December 2016

The Holiday season is a time associated with parties and special dinners, an abundance of tasty treats and special drinks that tempt us to overindulge. Likewise, the innumerable opportunities for gift shopping in decorated malls and convenient on-line stores can challenge the budget of one with a giving heart. During this season of celebration it is difficult to consider restraint and discipline. Yet to get the most enjoyment with the least regret, that is exactly what we all need to do.

Young people have an even tougher time exercising restraint and discipline than we adults do. The teen brain is “a work in progress”. Until about age 25, cause and effect are not always clearly associated, making it a real challenge to be consistent with rational behavior and decision making. Yet, with the help of mature adult input made with love, strength and under control, healthy choices can be made.

Last month I spoke at a conference on the physical and emotional aspects of teen sexual activity. Because of recent events, I was surprised and delighted at the number of law enforcement attendees. More than a third of the nearly 200 attendees were uniformed law enforcement officers. These officers were part of the Juvenile Detention Division of two local Sherriff’s departments.  They expressed concern over the sexual behavior of the youth because sexual activity or actions as result of sex is so often a significant part of the reason for the youth being brought in to detention. Therefore, the officers wanted to learn as much as they could about the physical and emotional consequences of teen behavior and motivation. They also wanted to know how to better approach the teens and positively influence them for the future.  Needless to say, my hat is off to the Sheriffs and Deputies of the Sherriff’s Juvenile Detention Centers in Richland County and Orangeburg County, South Carolina.

I challenged the officers to “make it personal” and to think about their thoughts and behavior when they were the ages of the youth in their units.  They were to consider the circumstances of those youth that are the same or different from their own at those ages and then fast forward to today. Was there any empathy or compassion that arose even momentarily? Could they think of anything that would have made the difference for their lives?

Now armed with this information, they can apply it to any situation. Yes, keeping the end in mind from the beginning and practicing restraint are valuable perspectives that will serve one well as a teen or adult during the holiday season or anytime in life. Remember what my grandmother said?   “When you know better you do better.”

Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!