Americans have over the years learned some nasty behaviors: smoking, driving without wearing seat belts, killing or maiming each other.
"We've recognized smoking is a learned behavior and made you unlearn it. People are wearing their seat belts when they travel."Well, violence is a learned behavior and people can unlearn it, too. We have not only changed behaviors but also changed an attitude," Beverly Coleman-Miller, president of the BCM Group in Washington, D.C., said during the two-day Troubled Youth Conference.
The conference, which attracted about 800 participants, concludes Friday at Snowbird.
We're becoming too used to violence, she said. The number of children under age 14 nationwide in hospital emergency rooms for gunshots and stabbings rose 1,800 percent in the past couple of years. One-fifth of students bring a gun to school. And 80 percent of people who died violently last year did so because of "interpersonal conflict."
"Now there is no emergency. We just have a condition we live in."
While she believes America needs more police and prisons, that alone is not enough. "We have to find out what is going on.
The bottom line is simple, Coleman-Miller said. "If we admit that we cannot watch and guide their every move, we must admit that the only power we have over our children is to make them care about the outcome of their behaviors."
She offered several suggestions to do that:
- Involve youths in finding solutions to violence. "Do not think for one second you can solve this problem of youth without youth. They are the ones who understand what is happening."
Some cities have included children from jails and those with excellent grades together on task forces on youth violence prevention.
- In schools, she said, only one thing works: Peer mediation and conflict resolution.
- "Forget about the class trips to monuments. Take them places that will change the quality of their lives." She suggested that students be encouraged to watch teacher contract negotiations, where people are angry but don't physically harm each other as they work through things. "Let them see that conflict is normal and doesn't have to end in damage to another human being."
- Mix it up. The same people keep trying to solve the problems in society. Throw all kinds of people together in the quest for solutions, including artists and "bean counters." Labor union representatives have skills the youths should learn. Harvest those skills.
"We must cross-fertilize," Coleman-Miller said.
- Make schools and hospitals "gun-free zones," with mandatory sentencing for violators.
- Tell private enterprise "we don't want any more banquets or luncheons." Instead, ask to borrow their marketing directors, the people who "can make me drive 10 miles out of my way to buy Adidas. They can tell us how to market nonviolence in our cities."
- Help children process what they see and hear. For every drive-by shooting, there is a child who is watching but is unable to decipher what it means without help, she said.
- Finally, Coleman-Miller believes that Utah has a unique situation because of the strength of the LDS Church.
"There is no state more ready to address the issue of violence from a church than Utah."