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Kids Are Not the Problem (Part I)

Updated: Mar 22, 2019

By Linda Sheridan, 2019.02.28

I am venturing into the latter stage of a human life and I am amazed that after all of the learning through experiences, observations and endeavors I have yet to come to any meaningful conclusion about the way things are. This fact is most evident when it comes to the youth that we encounter on a daily basis. What I want to talk about in this blog series is the misconception that we know anything; that adults ‘know best’ and that kids are the illogical, emotionally erratic ones.

A number of years ago I set out to design a program that would mitigate graffiti vandalism by promoting art in the public domain. This would solve a multi-million-dollar problem while gifting the city with a cultural inheritance. It soon became clear that San Diego’s young people were frequently the culprits of this vandalism and our city had a harsh, judicial response to those crimes.

These markings under bridges, on sidewalks, and along freeways, which are generally referred to as graffiti vandalism, are loaded with information that adults could use to discern what is harming today’s youth and even why they express themselves with graffiti in the first place. Those of us who, by virtue of professional or personal success, feel sufficiently wise and knowledgeable tend to think we have the answers these young people would benefit from to create stable and productive lives as a result of adhering to our messages. Answers that would quickly lift them from any deep dark hole they may find themselves due to the vulnerability of their circumstances or acts they have committed fending off this vulnerability.

How foolish. “How can you help anyone you don’t listen to first?”, has become a mantra in our organization. How can anyone know or understand what a person or circumstance truly is without looking and seeing from their side of the street? Too often helpers are looking from across the street, or from a conference table deciding what is best for kids while coming up with solutions to what is concluded to be their problem. In winding up this process a sufficient scientific label is created to describe the youth and their situation. The use of these labels not only differentiates these vulnerable young people from what may be called normal, we tend to stop thinking about the issue and looking for what we may not know.

I began going into dugouts, caverns and back alleys to capture marks on the walls so that I might understand why this activity called “graffiti” was so prolific throughout the world, what was in it and why it remains constant even though there are serious legal consequences for kids as young as 11. I was amazed at what I saw and read. Because of this experience there is nothing else I can do as long as I am standing, breathing and thinking.

What did I see?

Next segment next week…

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