Even Good Neighborhoods Produce Delinquent Behavior, When there is a High Degree of Social Exclusion.

By Appreciable Goodfaithpoet

This paper is about the risk and protective factors that are provided for adolescents by the neighborhoods in which they live. I will examine the influence of social exclusion on delinquent behavior. I will define what a neighborhood is. I will then examine the Ecological level influences from the individual perceptions of young people about their neighborhood, to the geographic influence of the global neighborhood, global inequality and the need for effective government leadership in our world.

Wherever there are neighborhoods that have a sense of cohesion and common identity because they have a very large majority of one religion, (In Utah “Mormons” and in other states “Catholics” or “Evangelical Christians” etc.) who believe that they belong to the "one true religion." Sometimes there are two communities that form as a result, the "believer" community and the "non-believer" community. Children who are not of the majority denomination are often rejected and do not have playmates because some parents teach their children not to play with the "non-believers."
The neighborhood environment that exists in each unique neighborhood is a very important factor in helping young people stay away from risky delinquent behavior. These neighborhoods are where young people develop from infancy through to emerging adulthood. These neighborhoods contain many other influences including parental, religious and public educational sources and contributions.
In order to define deviance we must first identify the established norms and expectation of the group in which the activity is taking place. If the majority of people are behaving in a similar way, it is not technically deviant behavior. This makes delinquent behavior a matter of geographic location and historical setting. Even if a behavior is participated in only by a minority, it must still be socially challenged and condemned if it is to be characterized as deviant behavior.
Social exclusion can take place in any community. There are several mechanisms that produce social exclusion in a community. These mechanisms can deny young people the opportunity to feel like a part of the community as a whole.
One way that teenagers mark themselves as “superior” is by excluding others who they perceive as “inferior.” Adolescents become well practiced in the art of exclusion. (Summarized from- Giddens, Anthony, et al. Introduction to Sociology, Sixth Edition, pp. 247)
Lets begin by asking some basic questions; how does the neighborhood in which a young person lives, affect their level of risk for delinquent behavior? What impact does social exclusion have on the level of delinquent behavior that exists in a neighborhood? Or we could ask an even more basic question; what is a neighborhood?
Local Communities are areas that develop naturally as a result of business and residential forces. Business and residential interests compete for land as population groups seek affordable housing. A neighborhood is a smaller portion of the overall community and is a collection of people and institutions that are contained in the same geographic location which is influenced by ecological, cultural, and sometimes political forces. (Summarized from- Park R. 1916. Suggestions for the investigations of human behavior in the urban environment. Am. J. Sociol. 20: pp. 147-154)
Defining the influence of a specific neighborhood is somewhat like defining a family system. If we observe several genograms produced by members of the same family we will see a different interpretation of the relationships of each family member toward the other. The only way for an outside observer to accurately identify the relationship patterns is either to observe the behavior of the family directly or to look at all of the genograms and find the places they agree most often to identify the most accurate reality of that particular family system.
Neighborhoods are difficult things to define and most studies must only look at only one point in time with cross-sectional research. Neighborhoods are not static places and are affected by families moving in and out, the process of aging, institutional resources, friendships, and current norms, which all add up to the collective efficacy of the neighborhood system. U.S. census data does not provide us with enough information about each neighborhood; we must also use systematic social observations by trained observers who use an adequate format to categorize neighborhoods along a range of social and physical attributes. (Summarized from-Tama Leventhal and Jeanne Brooks-Gunn “Children and Youth in Neighborhood Contexts” in Current Directions in Psychological Science. Volume 12, Number 1, February 2003 pp. 30)
I want to place my discussion of risk for delinquency based on the influence of a neighborhood in my own life experience; Bountiful, Utah in the year 1990.
I have tried to analyze the research that I have included in this paper to see whether the research has incorporated cultural influences into the studies. Many of my sources come from the discipline of Sociology which has a great history of research and publication of studies on adolescence and emerging adulthood; some of the best studies on the subject of delinquency come from this discipline.

Individual Level Influences
In the article, “The CANEP Scale: Preliminary psychometric findings of a measure of youths’ perception of their neighborhood environment” by Corinna Bisegger and Bernhard Cloetta, they identified a new scale to determine the perception of young people of whether their environment is safe, clean, quiet, and providing opportunities for social contact with peers. This instrument measures the perception of security in the neighborhood. The same living situation does not have the same effect on every individual; phsychological processes such as the perception of the situation or adaptation mechanisms play a very large role in every individual’s quality of life and health.
My perception of the world has been shaped by the experience of being raised in a family that was very religious. Our family belonged to the dominant religion in our community. The following story may quickly and effectively paint the picture for you about my family background. One Sunday, my family of origin was sitting in Church, all ten of us filling up the second row as usual. I was sitting at one end of the bench and my dad was at the other. Being unsupervised as I was, I pulled a few elastics out of my sock, tied them together and began flipping my little sister. My father looked down the row and saw me doing it so he opened up his bible to a certain passage and sent it down the row with the instructions to give it to me. My brothers and sisters, being as they are, took the liberty of reading it as it came to them. When it finally got to me I read it. The scripture was 1 Corinthians 13:11 "When I was a child I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: But when I became a man I put away childish things."
Now, when I read this I stopped... For a while, then I forgot and started again. My father saw that I was doing it again and sent this scripture down the row, my brothers and sisters also read this, Proverbs 15:5 "A fool dispiseth his fathers instruction: but he that regardeth reproof is prudent."
Now, I am no match for my father's wisdom in things dealing with scriptures, but this time I thought that I had him. I sent up Matthew Chapter 5 verse 22. The last sentence states, "whosoever shall say thou fool shall be in danger of hell fire." But, my dad proving again his superior knowledge sent back down Exodus 21:17 "And he that curseth his father or his mother, shall be surely put to death." After I read that, the problem was solved.
Adolescents’ perceptions are dependant upon more that their social support measures. When we examine Individual support experiences, it can help us to understand the social environment aspect of loneliness. Perception of the wider context which surrounds individual experience is very significant. We must use ecological models in our search for understanding the adolescent development process. The length of time that young people have lived in a community has a significant impact on their sense of community. When young people arrive in a community they may seldom think about their neighbors, however, after they have been there awhile they have a different feeling when they are around their own block as opposed to elsewhere in the city. Young people can even get to the point that they feel comfortable knocking on a stranger’s door in their community if they needed assistance. (Summarized from- Grace M. H. Pretty Et al. “Exploring Adolescents sense of community and its relationship to loneliness” Journal of Community Psychology Volume 22, October 1994, pp. 355) I am thankful for the experiences that I have had at Weber State University that have helped me to see beyond the majority culture and reach out to “strangers” with sincere brotherhood. I had one of the most powerful experiences while taking the Library Studies Skills Class at Weber State University.
The instructor explained about the rare books collection and then offered to give us the opportunity to look at some of these rare books. I was able to hold in my hands, a very old religious text that is connected with my faith in God. I looked around the room,filled with a desire to share the joy I felt. I then noticed a man who was having the very same experience, as he was reading from an old religious text of a different religion. It was apparent to me that this man was of a religion and nationality different than my own. His eyes met mine, and as we saw the tears in the other persons eyes, he said, “These are beautiful,” as he cradled a book in his hands. “Yes they are”, I agreed.
As I looked into his eyes, I realized that this man was a good and honest man. I realized at the same time, that whatever had moved him to tears must therefore be good as well. These feelings banished any fear, suspicion or prejudice instantly from my heart. I felt a bond of brotherhood with this man.
This shared experience, gave me an appreciation for the things that other people hold sacred. As human beings, we hope and yearn for the same things. On that night, I realized very powerfully that those who hold as sacred, the written words that teach civility and morality, have ever so much in common.

Microsystem Level Influences
“Social capital has grown into an important theoretical concept in the social sciences. Within criminology it has been applied in the framework of social disorganization theory and other theories of social control. However, while adult social capital has received much attention, adolescent social capital, and its possible relationship to offending, has not been studied. This gap in the literature is somewhat surprising since criminologists have recognized adolescents as major agents of crime. Social capital can be transmitted from parents to adolescents. There is a strong correlation between adolescent social capital and Adolescent violence and property offending. Adolescent social capital is strongly associated with offending in early adulthood. The intergenerational transmission of social
capital is an important source of social capital development that influences adolescents’ behaviors for years to come. Parental social capital relates positively to adolescent neighborhood social capital and adolescent school social capital. The relationship between parental social capital and adolescent school social capital is as strong as the one with neighborhood social capital. This suggests that parental social capital transmission teaches adolescents the know-how to accumulate social capital in a number of different environments, not only those safeguarded by parents. The intergenerational transmission of social capital has diametrically opposed effects for violence. While adolescent neighborhood social capital increases violence, social capital in school decreases violent offending. The cause for these opposing relationships is likely the different environmental contexts in which both types of social capital exist. While adolescent neighborhood social capital exists in an environment providing adolescents with unstructured activities, the environment in which adolescent school social capital is developed represents structured activities and, by definition, pro-social value formation. It is likely that young adults in the transitional period between adolescence and adulthood maintain their adolescent social capital networks, leading them to engage in the same offending patterns they displayed in adolescence. Social capital networks, and with them offending patterns, likely shift after the young adults have established themselves in adult life.” (Weiss, Harald E., Dissertation Abstracts International Section A: Humanities and Social Sciences, Vol 69(8-A), 2009. pp. 3342.)

The generous amount of social capital which was available to me in my neighborhood as I was developing is the reason that I was able to feel so much support and warmth. My father had been a leader in the local congregation of our religion and had earned the respect and gratitude of many people. All I had to do to cash in on the social capital of my family was to identify myself as my Father’s son and I was showered with affection and praise.

Mesosystem Level Influences
Conceptual and empirical work on child and adolescent development has clearly shown that the boundaries of developmental context must be pushed beyond the walls of the household in order to help us to understand the importance of the neighborhood context in understanding development. In the African American community especially there has been strong evidence that the positive parenting style and economic success of parents have not been enough to insulate young people from the influence of troubled neighborhoods. Youth who live in inner-city environments have added stressors that are not experienced in other neighborhoods. High neighborhood violence, having to ride the bus or train, high noise levels, may be contributing factors in the increased level of delinquency and deviant behavior among those who live in these environments. Studies have shown that community satisfaction plays a great role in the mental health among rural African Americans. Neighborhoods can serve as either risk or protective factors in the adolescents’ experience of life stress. Because many young people are becoming increasingly autonomous, they spend less time at home or in school and more time in their neighborhood. (Summarized from- Kevin W. Allison, Et al. “Life Experiences among Urban Adolescents: Examining the Role of Context” Child Development, July/ August 1999, Volume 70, Number 4, pp. 1019) “Youth violence is a widespread problem with severe consequences. Excess violence exists in noncohesive impoverished communities. High levels of social disorganization, scarcity of economic opportunities, and low levels of citizen engagement are all known to be community-level risk factors for youth violence. Additionally, because witnessing
violence has been shown to be a risk factor for aggressive behavior in youth, neighborhoods with endemic violence may become vulnerable to developing a cycle of violence.”(Measuring Neighborhood Connection and the Association with Violence in Young Adolescents By Rachel Widome Ph.D)
“Extended residence in the neighborhood is likely to increase exposure to, and presumably the influence of, prevailing normative conditions and opportunity structures. Conversely, the educational expectations of more recent entries into the neighborhood are presumably shaped, at least in part, by the characteristics of their previous neighborhood. Thus, according to this perspective, long-term residence will intensify the impact of neighborhood poverty and disadvantage on school dropout. In contrast, the social capital and social control perspectives raise the possibility that the impact of neighborhood socioeconomic distress on school dropout is stronger among short-term than among long-term residents.” (Crowder, Kyle, and Scott J. South “Neighborhood distress and school dropout: the variable significance of community context”) As citizens in our communities follow news stories of horrific crimes in their areas, there is often such a large amount of time between arresting the individuals responsible for the crimes and sentencing them. This unfortunately sends the following message to every citizen; “Don’t worry, if you get caught doing something wrong, our legal system will never get around to punishing you anyway.” Our decision as a nation to be more compassionate toward criminals has only served to increase the amount of criminal behavior and hence, has also increased the amount of injustice and violence toward innocent people that follows such a trend.

Exosystem Level Influences
Police departments that provide good training in dealing with family violence can serve as reliable health sentinels for children exposed to domestic violence crimes. Many police departments have recognized their vital role when they are the first responders to vulnerable populations. This recognition has led to police departments who serve as a public health surveillance system through an effort of Community policing. Community policing is an organization wide philosophy that encourages partnerships and active problem solving through community engagement. This improves the response to families experiencing domestic violence. (Summarized from- “Domestic violence crimes and children: A population-based investigation of direct sensory exposure and the nature of involvement” by Rachel A. Fusco, and John W. Fantuzzo)A process that has worked well in connection with law enforcement in Japan is called reintegrative shaming. This process seeks to involve the community and family directly in the justice system.
“Reintegrative Shaming . . . works as follows. People central to the criminal’s immediate community – such as family members, employers and co-workers, and friends – are brought into court to state their condemnation of the offender’s behavior. At the same time, these people must accept responsibility for reintegrating the offender back into the community. The goal is to rebuild the social bonds of the individual to the community as a means of deterring future criminal conduct.
“. . . it is a familiar practice in other social institutions such as the family. Think of a child who misbehaves. The parent may express disapproval of the child’s behavior and try to make the child feel ashamed of her conduct, but the parent may also reassure the child that she is a loved member of the family.
“These social bonds could also be fostered to increase the power of shame and
reintegrate offenders into local networks of community involvement.” (Introduction to Sociology Sixth Edition by Anthony Giddens, et al. pp. 68)
Some young people maintain a reputation in a community as law abiding and good people. However, because of their affluent parents they have access to cars which enable them to commit their delinquent acts in different cities far from the eyes of local policemen. Young men from lower SES backgrounds may actually cause less trouble in a neighborhood but be almost persecuted by the local police department for causing more simlpy because they do not have a vehicle to transport them to distant locations to participate in their delinquent behavior. (Summarized from - Chambliss, William J. “The Saints and the Roughnecks”)
Macrosystem Level Influences
“The transition to adulthood involves risk. Sociologists have focused on the question of understanding and managing this risk. Much of this research has tried to go beyond family characteristics and examine the possible role of community or neighborhood. There are overwhelming advantages in white suburban middle and upper income neighborhoods. These teenagers and their parents can rely on the social capital of the neighborhood, whereas the teenagers and their parents in the inner cities cannot. Parents in a majority of the suburban neighborhoods in the sample could, in fact, rely on their neighbors to provide a caring and watchful environment for teenagers. The family did not have to operate as a "self-sufficient" entity; it could rely on the neighborhood social capital--built on pre-adolescent neighborhood friendships and on the investment of the neighborhood women and their gendered carework.” (Bould, Sally “Neighborhoods and inequality: The possibilities for successful transition to adulthood.” Sociological studies of children and youth: Vol 9.; pp. 49-66. New York, NY, US: Elsevier Science, 2003. viii, 229 pp.) I love both my neighborhood and America as a whole more than I love any political Party and so I’ll vote for the candidate that will be the best leader for America. I personally worry about the tendency to govern by the lowest common denominator of public morality. We need leaders who have great wisdom, solid integrity and complete honesty. We need leaders who will be champions for families because they know that they are the building blocks of communities. The role of Government is to guarantee freedom, punishing those who are guilty of breaking the law, provide protection against foreign invasion, and to find solutions to the problems in our communities. We cannot ignore problems that prevent families from living in a community with a healthy environment. We need leaders who are full of love for others. Only these leaders can lead others in a cooperative and successful way.
Many candidates and public servants seek to appear to be honest, generous, and caring, without actually being any of those things.
We need leaders who really are commitment to working with everyone to achieve a happy and prosperous national community that will lead this Country toward collective success and the realization of happiness for both individuals and families.
As we look beyond our national neighborhood and examine the global community in which we live, it does not take long to realize that Global Inequality is also complex subject. It is an easy out to simply accept dependency theory and oversimplify the inequality in the world. It seems convenient to accept the view that forces like colonialism are the only reason that some Countries in the Global Community continue to struggle while delinquent behavior runs rampant among their young people.
I have examined the possibility that many of the current theories contain only a part of the truth about this issue. I’ve noticed as I studied a map of rich and poor Countries and also a map of world Hunger, that there seems to be a similarity in the majority of poor and hungry Countries. I noticed that the closer a Country is to the equator the more likely it is to have a high level of poverty and hunger.
Jeffrey Sachs refers to this concept of “technologically disconnected regions.” Mr. Sachs states that these regions are caught in “a poverty trap plagued by tropical infectious disease, low agricultural productivity and environmental degradation – all requiring technology solutions beyond their means.” (Introduction to Sociology Sixth Edition by Anthony Giddens, et al. pp. 285)
Perhaps the negative effects of colonialism find their saddest manifestation in the lives of those who have allowed themselves to be exploited for generations and are no longer able to live happily in either the world of the white land owner or the independent, self-sufficient world of their ancestors. What hope can be found in these neighborhoods where disease and delinquent behavior abound?
Perhaps the most important and vital need in overcoming Global Inequality is the need to help change the hearts and beliefs and capability of those who have been so used and mistreated in this world. Only then, and only using a combination of
approaches through government reform and individual persuasion, will these citizens of the world be able to begin building an economic structure with their great, great grand children in mind.

Summary and Discussion
I agree with those who assert that Governments should never force people to be good. Governments should mainly be in the business of punishing people when they do things that are wrong. Citizens should participate in politics as individuals, and not in affiliation with a religious group as a voting block. There is a need for the separation of the management of church and state.
Imagine that you are the driver in a race and you loose control and spin out on the race track. If you were to regain control one second before impact and were limited to the following three choices, which would you choose? Choice number one would be to turn right and hit the concrete wall and thus destroy your car and die in the process. Choice number two would be to continue straight ahead and hit the end of a metal guard-rail and thus save your own life while destroying your car. Choice number three would be to steer the vehicle left and into the crown of spectators who have gathered to watch the event, thus saving your own life and your car and yet killing six or seven of the fans. What would you decide in the small amount of time that you would have?
Knowing and being connected to those in my community has helped me become willing to die rather than to kill others to preserve my life. I hope that in the future, I will not feel the pressure of time constraints or fall into error because of the terror of experiencing death, if I am ever in such a position and need to make a similar decision. This is the attitude that we must have as we seek to improve the neighborhoods in which we live. There must be determination, courage, and active work motivated by real concern and love for every member of the community regardless of their ethnicity or religious persuasion.
I now view the practices of the most influential group in the community where I grew up differently as I look at these practices using the perspective that I’ve gained during my education. Among the Snomrom uniformity seems to play a large role in their cultural traditions. Harmonious interaction was the goal that led to the code of this group’s traditional worship-day dress. The most interesting manifestation of these rituals is to be found in the powerful cultural and social trends which influence the male practitioners. Social norms require each male to purchase an elaborate and expensive costume made of natural fibers which are dyed to a very dark color. A bib-necklace is also worn over the top of this costume or uniform. If a male wears a different costume to these religious ceremonies he is noticed and extended special warmth and kindness. However, if this male continues wearing non-traditional garb to the religious services, arrangements are made for a used costume of worship-day finery to be provided at no cost to the visitor.
If these gifts are not accepted, the visitor will be treated with suspicion by the frustrated local leadership of the snomrom. This leadership may consider requesting a meeting with the discordant individual about his choice of apparel. The instructions given to these adherents in their sacred books are that no one should be excluded from attending these ceremonies regardless of the composition of their clothing fibers. However, no man, young or old, is encouraged to participate directly in the work of these rituals unless clothed in the appropriate costume, complete with the colorful bib-necklace.
Who are the American Snomrom and where do they live? To answer this question, simply spell Snomrom backward. That is correct! The culture of which I speak, exists among those who are American Mormons like me. Wearing a suit and tie to church on Sundays, is a strange tradition from the perspective of many of those who live in different parts of the world. (In the above section, I borrowed heavily from the Ideas of Horace Miner as found in “Introduction to Sociology Sixth Edition” by Anthony Giddens, et al. pp. 68)
As long as any Church members cherish the idea that they are superior, then that belief may well result in prejudice toward others. Even the mildest for of discrimination is out of line with the teachings of Jesus. One convert believed that he had not been valiant enough to have been born into the church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day saints. He said that he did not mind but that he was glad that he was a member at all. Some LDS people seem to believe that there is a specific hierarchy of spiritual talent that existed before we came to this earth life and that it carries over into the mortal sphere. The highest responsibilities would belong to those born into the homes of those who were already members of the Church of Jesus Christ; following close behind would be converts to the LDS Church; in last place straggled all of the non-Mormons. (Summarized from- “Beached on the Wasatch front” - by Karen Margaruet Maloney from Dialogue a Journal of Mormon Thought. pp. 103)
The kind people in the neighborhood where I grew up taught me that I am a child of God. I was treated with warmth and kindness. I was taught by the example of those in the neighborhood that the most important things I could become in my life are a husband and a Father. However, I have realized that they may have done this only because I was one of them.
It is easy to overlook the difficult situations that some have faced when they are not raised in an area where their family is a part of the dominant cultural or religious tradition. If someone was not of the LDS faith and grew up in Bountiful Utah in 1990, they may have had a different experience entirely. I have been able to realize that I grew up in a community that had a long list of things that were deviant behaviors, drinking Coca-Cola, saying swear words, and listening to music the featured electric guitars as an instrument. I have talked with people who lived in our community while they were growing up and heard their stories about the fact that neighborhood children were told not to play with them because they were not LDS. I may not be able to change every community or neighborhood but I can change the way I view my neighbors and reach out in love and brotherhood as we seek to solve the problem of delinquent behavior in our community together.

Corinna Bisegger and Bernhard Cloetta “The CANEP Scale: Preliminary psychometric findings of a measure of youths’ perception of their neighborhood environment”

Giddens, Anthony, et al. “Introduction to Sociology, Sixth Edition”, pp. 68, 247, 285

Park R. 1916. Suggestions for the investigations of human behavior in the urban environment. Am. J. Sociol. 20: pp. 147-154

Tama Leventhal and Jeanne Brooks-Gunn “Children and Youth in Neighborhood Contexts” in Current Directions in Psychological Science. Volume 12, Number 1, February 2003 pp. 30

Maloney, Karen M. “Beached on the Wasatch front” published in “Dialogue a Journal of Mormon Thought.” pp. 103

Grace M. H. Pretty Et al. “Exploring Adolescents sense of community and its relationship to loneliness” Journal of Community Psychology Volume 22, October 1994, pp. 355

Weiss, Harald E., Dissertation Abstracts International Section A: Humanities and Social Sciences, Vol 69(8-A), 2009. pp. 3342.

Allison, Kevin W., Et al. “Life Experiences among Urban Adolescents: Examining the Role of Context” Child Development, July/ August 1999, Volume 70, Number 4, pp. 1019

Fusco, Rachel A., and John W. Fantuzzo “Domestic violence crimes and children: A population-based investigation of direct sensory exposure and the nature of involvement”

Widome, Rachel Ph.D “Measuring Neighborhood Connection and the Association with Violence in Young Adolescents.”

Crowder, Kyle, and Scott J. South “Neighborhood distress and school dropout: the variable significance of community context”

Chambliss, William J. “The Saints and the Roughnecks”

The Swenson Family Meets a Parenting Education Program at the Grassroots Level.

A Case Study of Tonya and Greg Swenson
By Appreciable Goodfaithpoet

Tonya is a 45 year old mother of two children, ages 16 and 19. Greg is a 46 year old father of four children, ages 20, 17, 15, and 11. Tonya divorced her first husband four years ago and married Greg two weeks ago after he divorced his first wife of 23 years last year. Greg and his former wife have joint custody of their children and Tonya has sole custody of her children. Most of the children do not want to be part of this new step-family. Tonya’s family had adjusted quite well to their single parent life-style and don’t like having to share the house with a bunch of strangers. Greg’s children are still coping with their parent’s divorce and now have to deal with living with new people. Greg’s oldest child recently moved into his own apartment, rather than live with the new step family. His 17 year old child also has expressed interest in moving out. Greg believes that children should be given lots of chores and responsibility. Greg also believes that a man should be in charge of the house and that all the children should respect their father. Tonya thinks that children should be given lots of love and affection, few rules and restrictions and then things will be just fine. Tonya’s former husband is very bitter about the divorce and likes to use the children as pawns. He will tell the children bad things about their mother and ask the children about the new husband. The children are very confused about the new rules and roles in the home. They don’t know if they need to obey their new step-parent. They really don’t like their new step-siblings. Family life is very unclear and chaotic.

An assessment of parenting practices
The parenting practices in the Tonya and Greg Swenson family seem rather polarized. Greg is an authoritarian parent and Tonya is a permissive parent. For this blended family, the challenges of coming together in a positive way are compounded by the fact that this step family would have an easier time bonding if their parenting styles were reversed. Step-Fathers who are authoritarian have very difficult time interacting with their step-daughters. More fuel is added to the fire in the decision of Greg and Tonya to live in Tonya’s home after their marriage. It would ease the situation over territory if they were to move into a home that is new to all of them.
Tonya’s permissive style would be greatly improved if she were to adopt the ideas of William Doherty in his wonderful book “Taking back our Kids” which he wrote to address what he viewed as a growing confidence gap among American parents. This book describes the pendulum swing that sometimes occurs when children are determined not to repeat the mistakes of their parents. Doherty suggested that in avoiding the expectation of unquestioning obedience from their children, that many parents have become afraid to exercise any authority at all.
Greg would do well to adopt some of the qualities that Tonya shows in her parenting style. “If you suspect that your child is feeling sad, angry, or fearful, it’s helpful to try to put yourself in their shoes, to see the world from their perspective. If you find that you are mad, but you can continue to talk rationally to your child, leading to some degree of understanding, stay engaged. Tell your child what is on your mind, listen to his response, and keep talking. If, on the other hand, you find that you’re so intensely angry that you can’t think clearly, take a break from the situation and return to it later when you feel less aroused. Parents should also retreat if they feel they’re on the verge of doing or saying destructive things, such as hitting or insulting their kids. Spanking, sarcasm, threats, derogatory statements, or expressions of contempt should definitely be avoided. Rather than hitting children or lobbing hurtful comments at them, parents should take a breather, promising they’ll return to the discussion when they are calmer.” (Gottman, John “Raising and Emotionally Intelligent Child” pp. 80) We can also learn from the example of other families that the blending of a family can be done in a positive and enjoyable way. “For children and adults involved in ‘blended’ families, the transition can be both challenging and rewarding. A family in rural Kansas has created friendships and connections that are extended to all of its family members. Six years ago two young girls participated in the wedding of their mother and new stepfather. Since then, the girls have helped to raise their half-brother and to support the family cattle and soybean business. The girls’ biological father (a valued parent and friend) is also an active part of the family, visiting frequently, joining celebrations, and involving girls with their paternal relatives. ‘Living here in the Flint hills country on a farm/ranch, we are involved in 4H, and all school activities. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins are also a big part of our lives. I feel very fortunate to be a part of this wonderful family. I guess we forget, or just don’t think of ourselves as being ‘blended’, just a family that enjoys, works, listens, and loves each other to the fullest. The girls are lucky that they have two Dads that love and take care of them. I feel this has a great deal to do with our family doing so well together. The two dads do not compete to outdo the other or put the other down. They are both there for the girls and the girls’ needs. I think the girls enjoy having a little brother.” (Giddens, Anthony et al. “Introduction to Sociology Sixth Edition” pp. 489) “A stepfamily may be defined as a family in which at least one of the adults is a stepparent. Many who remarry become stepparents of children who regularly visit rather than live in the same household. Stepfamilies bring into being kin ties that resemble those of some traditional societies but that are new in Western countries. Children may now have two “mothers” and two “fathers” – their natural parents and their stepparents. Some stepfamilies regard all the children and close relatives from previous marriages as part of the family. If we consider that at least some of the grandparents may be part of the family as well, the result is a situation of some complexity.
“Certain particular difficulties tend to arise in step families. In the first place, there usually exists a biological parent living elsewhere whose influence over the child or children is likely to remain powerful. Cooperative relations between divorced individuals often become strained when one or both remarry. Take as an illustration the case of a woman with two children who marries a man also with two children, all six living together. If the “outside” parents demand the same times of visitation as previously, the tensions that arise from welding such a newly established family together are likely to be intense. It may prove impossible to have the new family all together on weekends.
“Stepfamilies merge children from different backgrounds, who may have varying
expectations in the family milieu. Since most stepchildren belong to two households, the possibilities of clashes of habits and outlooks are considerable. There are few established norms defining the relationships between stepparent and stepchild. Should a child call a new stepparent by name, or is “Dad” or “Mom” more appropriate? Should the stepparent play the same part in disciplining the children as the natural parent? How should a stepparent treat the new spouse of her previous partner when the children are picked up?
“Research on family-structure effects on children shows that girls experience more detrimental outcomes from stepfamily living, whereas boys demonstrate more negative outcomes from single-parent family living. The more negative effects for boys may be because single-parent family living generally means living with a mother only, and thus the male role model is absent. Girls are more likely to bond with their mothers in this type of family. A remarriage that introduces a stepfather may cause girls to feel that their close relationship with their mother is threatened. It is speculated that this is why girls living in step families experience more negative outcomes.
“Members of stepfamilies are finding their own ways of adjusting to the relatively uncharted circumstances in which they find themselves. Perhaps the most appropriate conclusion to be drawn is that while marriages are broken up by divorce, families on the whole are not. Especially when children are involved, ties persist.” (Introduction to Sociology Sixth Edition by Anthony Giddens, et al. pp. 490)

A parenting education program
William Doherty said in his book, Take Back Your Kids, that “We need to understand that today’s child-rearing problems are bigger than any individual family, that they are community problems as well, and that solutions must also come from the community level. We need to fight against the parental peer pressure that is driving us as parents to continually provide more goods and better services for our children.” Anyone who doubts the power of Grassroots Activism should read the full text of “Grassroots Activism: Mothers of East Los Angeles” by Mary Pardo pp. 467 in Readings for Sociology, Fifth edition edited by Garth Massey. This article shows how people can change their communities when they make their voices heard. This article describes how the placement of a toxic waste incinerator in a community caused women to unite, organize and educate themselves and then successfully take on big business in the political and legal arena. The group “Mothers of East Los Angeles was organized by the initiative of one woman who began speaking with her neighbors and friends about how to protect their children from the dangers that this toxic waste incinerator presented in their community.
Neighborhoods and Communities have a strong influence in the risks to which adolescents are exposed. People have studied the effect of communities in producing a tendency toward the delinquency of its young people. Sociological studies have focused on the way that neighborhoods promote or discourage deviant behavior in
young people. Many of these studies talk about the fact that if neighborhoods have a common positive identity and if they are warm toward and concerned with the safety of other people in the community, that this has a profound effect on discouraging criminal behavior. When people move around a lot and they do not know the people who live near them very well, they are less cautious about hurting the feelings of and destroying the property of their neighbors and those who share the community. These tendencies are linked to the lack of closeness that can be formed with neighbors after years of interaction and also by a disregard for the opinions and feelings of others who live in the neighborhood because of this lack of closeness and warmth. A community forms a reputation over time about the acceptability of drug use and the availability of drug use. The reputation of a community has an effect on the adolescents who are from that city or region. (Adolescence and Emerging Adulthood - third edition - a cultural approach by Jeffrey Jensen Arnett p. 435)

In some families, the parents say, "We do not talk like that in our home." This can build a family identity that is free of profanity. In a similar way communities have a similar belief system and mantra that is out among the members of the community. One might overhear someone say, "Here in our city things are very different, you can get drugs very easily and there are a very large number of people who use drugs in this City. It has always been that way and it will always be that way."
The comprehensive school experience and climate can have a strong influence on adolescents’ choices and the degree to which they participate in risky behavior. School environments can have an influence on the amount of delinquency in a community. The young people from different social classes and family backgrounds and environments are sometimes affected in a similar way by their common school climate.
Schools can also have a positive effect on young people when they have a balance between academically successful students and students who are struggling academically. When there are successful students who are committed to following the rules, they can serve as role models to the other students. These successful students set the tone for the school and it discourages misbehavior by the other students. Another important quality of successful schools is having a belief system that permeates throughout the school. Good belief systems encourage the value of learning and success in this area is rewarded. In successful schools there is a fair system of discipline and this led to low levels of delinquency among the students. (Summarized from Adolescence and Emerging Adulthood - third edition - a cultural approach by Jeffrey Jensen Arnett p. 434)

The Parenting Education program that I have designed is intended to tap in to this grassroots effort to improve communities by using the efforts of the families who are in need. The first eleven weeks of this program will be taught by people who are in their last three weeks of the program. These programs are taught in the homes of the families in the community in a cottage meeting setting. The Swenson family was invited to participate in the program by two men from their neighborhood who came to their door and invited them to participate in a program to strengthen their neighborhood. Because this program is run completely by volunteers it is always free of charge. This helps the neighborhood to improve and become more concerned with the wellbeing of the community as it strengthens individual families as well.

Lesson 1
An example of the influences of the past which I identified recently in my life was one that involved the furnace at our house. When we "turn off the furnace for the summer" it has a feeling of great and ceremonious importance and even if the temperature drops down to an uncomfortable level we do not ever turn the furnace back on in order to heat our home during exceptionally cold spring weather. However, my wife and I realized the other day, that we have newer technology in furnaces in our home than our parents had in their homes as we were growing up. Back in the time that our parents were growing up heating the home again with the furnace involved a more extensive process of lighting the furnace again with a match which could lead to being blown up. Due to technological advances during the course of our lives we can now just switch the furnace to "on" and it will light itself and heat the house even it we have "turned it off for the summer." Having realized this unproductive and uncomfortable tradition in our family we will now turn the furnace on and off whenever the house needs to be cooled or heated. That is progress!
A clergyman in our community shared a very interesting story that occurred many years ago. One of the couples in the congregation was really struggling in their marriage and they came to ask for help. The clergyman identified the main problem which originated in the fact that the husband felt that his wife was very wasteful. The main example of this, the husband said, was the fact that whenever his wife cooked a roast, she would always cut the smallest end off and throw it in the garbage. The clergyman asked the wife why she did this. The wife replied that it was what her mother had always done. In an effort to resolve the argument, the clergyman got on the phone and asked her mother why she cut off the end of the roast and threw it away. She explained that when her daughter was living at home she did not have a roasting pan that was large enough and that is why she would cut the roast and throw some of it in the garbage. This information quickly defused the situation and the couple left with a positive feeling of understanding between them.
“In pre-modern Europe marriage usually began as a property arrangement, was in its middle mostly about raising children, and only in the end was about love. Few couples in fact married for love, but many grew to love each other in time as they jointly managed their household, reared their offspring, and shared life’s experiences. Nearly all surviving epitaphs to spouses evince profound affection. By contrast, in most of the modern West, marriage begins with being in love; in its middle, it is still mostly about raising children (if there are children), and in the end, it is – often – about property, by which point love is absent or a distant memory.” (Introduction to Sociology Sixth Edition by Anthony Giddens, et al. pp. 476)
These two containers represent the time that we make available for our families. One container is larger and one is smaller (the smaller container will be too small to even hold one gumball) if we use this larger container and place the gumballs into the container first and then shake the rice down into the spaces, there will be room for everything. The gumballs represent the good things we can receive from our families such as acceptance, love, companionship and fulfillment. If we place the rice into the container first there is no amount of shaking that will make the gumballs fit as well.
The rice represents common daily tasks. The moral of the story is that we must choose good priorities so that we can keep all of the gumballs. Or, in other words, making time in our lives for each other and then choosing good priorities in using that time will ensure that we will build and maintain positive relationships with each other. This example shows the emphasis that we need to have a sufficient quantity of time if we are to have quality time as well.
Lesson 2
“Research indicates that children often suffer a period of marked emotional anxiety after the separation of their parents. Almost all children experienced intense emotional disturbance at the time of the divorce. Preschool age children were confused and frightened, tending to blame themselves for the separation. Older children were better able to understand their parents’ motives for divorce but frequently worried about its effects on their future and expressed sharp feelings of anger. Children tend to bring memories and feelings of their parents’ divorce into their own romantic relationships. Almost all felt that they had suffered in some way from their parents’ mistakes. It is not surprising that most of them shared a hope for something their parents had failed to achieve – a good, committed marriage based on love and faithfulness. Nearly half of children who go through their parents divorce enter adulthood as worried, underachieving, self-deprecating, and sometimes angry young men and women. Although many of them got married themselves, the legacy of their parents’ divorce lived with them. Those who appeared to manage the best were often helped by supportive relationships with one or both parents. (Introduction to Sociology Sixth Edition by Anthony Giddens, et al. pp. 487) Class members would now discuss the needs of their children and offer ideas and support.

Lesson 3
Refusal techniques are very important for parents to learn. Saying “no” is much easier when you offer alternatives. The practice setting for this lesson will be role-playing a situation when young people will be asking if they can go to Mexico for spring break and drink alcohol and engage in risky sexual activity. Your task as the parent is to practice saying, “No.”
In his book, William Doherty said, “My local newspaper has been running a series on alcohol and teens. Kids in earlier generations drank alcohol, often to excess. The difference now, as documented in the newspaper articles, is that parents supply the keg of beer, the house or hotel room, and the funds to enjoy a Mexican frolic of booze and sex during spring break. Most parents who were interviewed were reluctant to let their children go on a Mexican spring break this year, but were unable to say ‘no’: ‘It’s all kids talk about for months beforehand and months after. You don’t want her to be the only kid at lunch not going. How sad would that be?’ This kind of insecure, confused parenting that can’t say ‘no’ ends up handing over a child to the peer culture.”
Mr. Doherty continues, “A college student whose parents had not let her go to Cancun during high school is now glad her parents insisted on a different kind of spring break. Her trip would have centered only on drinking, she said. ‘I cried for a day, but I got over it. I never would have been able to handle this…’ You sometimes have to withstand your kids’ anger and tears in order to deserve gratitude at a later age.”
The final part of this lesson is a role play where parents take turns listening to their children (played by other adults) deeply in order to discover what is really at the root of their concerns.

Gottman, John “Raising and Emotionally Intelligent Child” pp. 80

Giddens, Anthony et al. “Introduction to Sociology Sixth Edition” pp. 489, 490

Pardo, Mary “Grassroots Activism: Mothers of East Los Angeles” pp. 467 in Readings for Sociology, Fifth edition edited by Garth Massey.

Arnett, Jeffrey Jensen “Adolescence and Emerging Adulthood - third edition - a cultural approach” pp. 434

Doherty, William “Taking back our Kids”

Helping Children Become Emotionally Intelligent Parents

By Appreciable Goodfaithpoet

Dr. John Gottman has identified, in his book “Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child,” one of the most important things that we can do as parents to help our “children to be moral and responsible people who contribute to society, who have the strength to make their own choices in life, who enjoy the accomplishments of their own talents, who enjoy life and the pleasures it can offer, who have good relationships with friends and successful marriages, and who themselves become good parents.” (16) One of the most important things that we can do as parents toward the accomplishment of these goals is to coach our children emotionally.
Emotional intelligence is being smart about how other people are feeling, about how we are feeling, and being informed about the impact of these feelings on the world around us. Being emotionally intelligent will help you to calm yourself down when you get upset. Emotionally intelligent people have higher paying jobs, more job security, less legal trouble, better health, a happier family life, are better parents, have better concentration, and are better at understanding other people and what motivates them. Emotionally intelligent people have better friendships, they do better in school, and they show greater wisdom in the decisions that they make about relationships during their lives.
Dr. Gottman tells us that the “path to becoming a better parent begins with self-examination.” (42) There are several, identifiable approaches to parenting. Some of these approaches produce better results than others. Our goal as parents should always be to use only the best tools and parenting styles possible on a daily basis.
Dr. Gottman identifies 4 parenting styles, which are: Dismissing, Disapproving, Laissez-faire, and (The best one) Emotional Coaching. No parent uses only one of these styles all of the time. We each use some of each style at different times. However, when we share principles that can help us improve our parenting, it becomes necessary to put labels on behaviors as a means of discussing them. Yet, we should be reluctant to put these style labels on people as if they are completely and permanently one style or another.
Dr. Gottman teaches us that parents who use the Dismissive parenting style, project their own fear of being “out of control” emotionally on their children by making them feel like their emotions are not important or are not appropriate. Dismissive parents fail to realize the importance of teaching their children that they can trust their own heart. (55)
Disapproving parents take this approach one step further by punishing their children when they show anger or sadness. (57) Children who are raised by parents who use Dismissive or Disapproving styles have a hard time trusting their own judgment, learning to regulate their emotions and solve problems, being able to concentrate, and learning and get along with their peers. (60)
Laissez-Faire parents are on the right track at the beginning, in that they accept their children’s emotions and allow their children to freely express their feelings. Unfortunately Laissez-Faire parents often over-react to the strict policy that was in place within their family of origin, where they were not allowed to express “dangerous” negative emotions. Laissez-Faire parents also miss opportunities to help their children learn from their emotional experiences because these parents set few limits on behavior. The children of Laissez-Faire parents, lack an awareness of how to calm
themselves or escape from painful emotions. (61)
Emotional coaching is the parenting style that helps children learn the most and develop the skills needed to form close and enduring emotional bonds in the future.
Empathy is at the heart of emotional coaching. We begin the life-long process of being a good emotional coach by becoming aware of our own feelings, and giving ourselves permission to express those feelings. The next thing we can do as parents, is to try to put ourselves in our children’s shoes and try to understand what they are feeling and why. We should help our children to identify and label the emotions that they are experiencing. As we demonstrate to our children that we understand and respect the emotions that they are feeling we will be in a good position to be trusted by them. As our children trust that we will not mock or dismiss their feelings, as then realize that they will not be punished for feeling sad or angry, we can talk with them about constructive ways to manage their feelings and set firm limits on behavior that will be respected and followed by our children. Emotional coaching is important because it builds close and intimate bonds of emotional connection and closeness between parents and their children. Emotional coaching helps children to learn the skills that they will need to solve problems in their own lives and to be successful parents and members of society. (67)
Dr. Gottman teaches us that, “When children feel emotionally connected to their parents and the parents use this bond to help kids regulate their feelings and solve problems, good things happen.” (68)
Dismissing and disapproving parents miss the fact that children who witness even heated arguments between their parents which arguments end with compromise, actually learn from and are benefited by witnessing such arguments. (66)
We need to make sure that our children know that we respect them. Our children need to know that we will tell them the truth if we expect them to trust us. Our children need to know that we care about the things that matter the most to them. Reading together is an excellent way for us to find opportunities to emotionally coach our children so that they can win in life. (123)
Emotional coaching does not solve every problem and should not be used when others can hear the sensitive issues that need to be discussed with your child. During times of extreme anger or stress a parent may need to retreat and cool off. (130) If a child has broken a major rule or is trying to manipulate you with your feelings, emotional coaching should be saved for some other time.
Dr. Gottman states that, “When a Mother and Father show hostility and contempt for one another their children suffer.” (138) Divorce can make children twice as likely to experience problems such as dropping out of High School. (144) Parents need to talk with their children about the conflict in their home. (159) Following a divorce, parents need to stay in close contact emotionally for their children. (161)
Fathers are valuable resources for their children in giving them emotional support and guidance. (165) Girls in particular, benefit from a close relationship with their father. “They are less likely to become sexually promiscuous” and are ,”more likely to develop healthy relationships with men when they become adults.” (166)
Parents should stay connected with their children at every stage of their lives. Dads need to help daily in the emotional development and physical care of their children. (177) When children are young we need to help them find comfort for their fears. (204) When our children become teenagers they need our guidance as they seek to establish a positive identity and become part of a positive peer group. (212)
As I reflect on the message shared by Dr. Gottman I am determined to present a parent education work shop. Where I can share some of my own experiences in applying the messages contained in this wonderful book.
I recently taught a class, as a substitute teacher, at an Elementary School here in Davis County. As I was teaching the class, the voice of a school administrator came over the intercom announcing that there was a computer virus on the network at the school and that we would need to shut down all of the computers. After shutting down the computers I continued teaching. I noticed that four of the students, in this second grade classroom, had worried expressions on their faces. These students had been talking to each other while I was shutting down the computers. I did not hear their conversation, and so I asked them what they were feeling. These students turned to one of the girls, their spokesperson, who then asked, “Can computer viruses spread to people?”
Is it any wonder, in a day where swine flu has captured so much attention and required so much activity, that these children would be concerned that their lives may be in jeopardy? I took their concern and worried feelings seriously and explained to them that they were not in any danger. Computer viruses cannot spread to people. The students were relieved to know that they were safe and we continued with the lesson.
Children experience legitimate fears and worries that should not be trivialized or mocked by adults. When we are sensitive to the feelings and emotions of children and help guide them in learning how to regulate their emotions, we have a great influence for good in their lives. Dr. Gottman reminds us in his book that children are “facing life from a much fresher, less experienced, more vulnerable perspective.” (93) When children experience strong emotions for the first time, such as in the case of losing a beloved pet to the confusing state of death, children may feel extremely overwhelmed by such experiences. (92)
I have observed that some children experience fears that are similar to what I remember experiencing during the cold war. As a child, I worried sometimes that a nuclear missile would explode nearby and that I would need to quickly run for cover in order to avoid dying. Children today seem almost as worried about global warming as children of my generation were about the atomic bomb. I have witnessed children who went through their homes turning off all of the lights because they are afraid that the earth will be uninhabitable in a few weeks if the lights are left on too long. The irony here, is that children today may be afraid of both the dark AND the light. We need to be sensitive to the feelings that children experience, to listen carefully, and in some cases, to use our imagination, if we are to be effective in consoling and bringing comfort to the fears that exist in the minds of our children. Dr. Gottman encourages us in his wonderful book to listen carefully as our children play with their toys for hints about the emotions that our children are feeling. (92)
Perception is so important to the emotions that we feel at any given moment. Our perception of reality controls our emotions. As an example, one morning my six-year-old-son was preparing to go to elementary school, as he was zipping up his school
backpack his hand slipped and he hit himself in the face, knocking out one of his teeth. At this point in the story you may have gasped or said in your mind, “Ouch! What a horrible event!”
The other part of this story, the part that changes our perception of the events and thus our emotions, is that the tooth which he knocked out had been very loose for several weeks and each time we tried to pull it out it hurt my son very much. Because of these repeated experiences, my son would no longer allow anyone to touch his tooth. In other words, everyone in the family was very happy that his tooth had been knocked out and nobody was happier about it than my son. The only way that we can monitor and detect our children’s perceptions of themselves and the world around them is by listening very carefully and with empathy.
One semester a student visited a computer lab and began to study. As the student logged on to the computer the student waited and waited and waited for the computer to log on. The student began to think that this computer was not working right but then it finally logged on.
The student typed up the assignment and when it came time to print the paper, once again it took a very long time to send the work to the printer. Throughout the semester the student had the same problem every time he went to the computer lab. At the end of the semester, the student approached the computer lab assistant for the first time and said, “This is the worst computer lab in the world and I have had enough!” I will leave now and never come back to this dysfunctional computer lab!”
The lab assistant asked the student which computers had been tried by the student in that lab during the semester. The student responded that he had used the same computer, the one next to the printer, during the entire semester. The lab assistant kindly explained, “The computer by the printer is the least effective machine in the lab, it has several problems that are not possible to repair. He pointed out to the student that there are no assigned computers in the lab. The lab assistant said, “If you try some different computers you will have a completely different experience in this lab. Making this adjustment will change your view of this lab and help you to really come to love this computer lab deeply for perhaps the first time. If you make this change, I promise that you will have a wonderful experience in this computer lab from this day forward.”
The proceeding story illustrates something important if we consider the computer lab to represent a marriage or a family relationship. Each computer is a different communication tool or approach to loving another person. The computer lab assistant could symbolize a parent, mentor, clergyman, or marriage and family councilor. Sometimes we use the same patterns because they are familiar to us or because that is the way our parents did things. Though these familiar tools can be very frustrating and unproductive, we know they have worked to some degree in the past and so sometimes we continue to use what is familiar. Remember, however, there are no assigned computers in the University computer lab. There are also no assigned communication patterns or approaches to loving our spouse and children, except the patterns we
assign to ourselves through ignorance, impatience and thoughtlessness. Don’t stop trying until you find an approach to loving the most important people in your life that works and helps you to find joy in the marriage and family that you are already in. We know that some computer labs have dangerous and faulty wiring and that sometimes none of the computers are going to work in that lab. However, for the most part our experience in the computer lab is a matter of using the most effective computers or in other words, parenting styles, to accomplish our work of parenting healthy and happy children who love and respect us. We just need to take the time and have the courage to try a few different computers.
In his book “Raising and Emotionally Intelligent Child,” Dr. Gottman has provided us with excellent tools that we can use to raise healthy and productive children who can have happy marriages and become effective parents. Effective parents are desperately needed in order to raise future generations in an emotionally intelligent environment.

West Side Story, a warning about the dangers of not being loved by your parents during Adolescence.

By Appreciable Goodfaithpoet

Globalization is a major theme and factor in this movie. The immigrants choose to come to America from Puerto Rico, because of the promise of freedom from violence and poverty. However, once they are in America it seems that both of these problems are still a factor for them. This situation causes us to wonder if the American dream is an illusion for those caught in a cycle of poverty. We see that the older people in the Puerto Rican neighborhoods do not understand the culture very well and do not realize the effects that it is having on their children. The parents are unable to understand the complaints and feelings of their children as they seek meaning and identity in a new culture. I think that one of the most subtle messages in this movie comes through the absence of the parents in this movie. We hear the voice of Maria's father calling from the other room when Tony comes calling late one evening; however, we never actually see any of the parents in the film. This is a subtle statement about the fact the many of these children have parents which exert little influence in the lives of their children and do not spend time with them or have a warm loving relationship with them. One of the major risk factors for these young people also appears to be the neighborhood in which they live, this seems to be an environment that produces dangerous behavior, even in those who are trying to be good and escape the violence, to find a time and place for deep and enduring love in their future marriage.
Maria is growing up and when she is able to go to her first dance she wants to have a lower cut dress than the more experienced women will allow her to her to have. Puberty has changed Maria, she has noticed and she wants the boys to notice, she
feels pretty. The imaginary audience is wondering, “Who is that girl that is so pretty?”
There is a cultural contrast that is very stark in the relationship of Maria and Tony. Their ethnic groups are in conflict and there is a high degree of prejudice against each group from the other. The Puerto Rican women seem delighted with the new American culture and the men seem to hate dealing with the lack of economic opportunity for people with their skin color. In the end Cheno, who is meant to be Maria's arranged marriage partner kills Maria's American-style-love-at-first-sight-fellow Tony. It is as if one culture is preventing change by killing the other culture. It is a tragic thing when young people who do not feel sufficient identity as part of a loving family seek an identity as part of a violent gang.
As we think about Bronfronbrenner's Ecological Perspective, we can see that the Puerto Ricans have the added prejudice of the police department against them as a matter of racial persecution. In the depiction of the school representative at the dance, it seems quite obvious that these young people attend a failing school with teachers who are ineffective.
Erikson helps us see the search for identity that Tony is experiencing and the confused reaction of this friend Riff. Riff is stuck in the same identity that Tony used to be in when he was younger. (When your a Jet, little man your a king.) Tony has changed a great deal and those changes are accelerated because of his love for Maria. Toward the end of the show Tony must face his most difficult moment of role confusion after his friend Riff is killed by Maria's brother.
The abstract thinking that is demonstrated by these adolescent children is a curse in
a way because it allows them to fool the police department and to escape detection or capture until several people are dead. The imaginative way that Maria's grieving friend lashes out after being mistreated is a very cruel and creative technique, which ultimately leads to Tony's death.
Gender issues are very apparent in this stereotypical story. The women find their value in being attractive to the opposite sex and the men find their value in being tough, aggressive and unemotional.
In the song, "Officer Krupke" we see the difficult situation that these young people are in. These children do not want to go home at the end of the day because they do not receive love there. They come from homes that are challenged by poverty, substance abuse, transvestite behavior, physical abuse, and working moms (some of them as prostitutes.) We see the effect that it has on these young people as they have way too much free time on their hands. They do not feel a close connection to their parents and so they look to their peer group for acceptance, identity and protection. The peer pressure on Tony is strong even though he has decided to reform his life. Doc is a mentor to Tony and Doc seems to be a strong influence on Tony in helping him escape the life that he had before. When the young people are sent to different government representative and employees they must explain that they do not want to work, they don't get along with other more affluent young people and they are not crazy they just want to be left alone by the police and allowed to do the things that will help them find acceptance in their peer group (Which involves breaking the law.) The answer to the question, "Why can't you just leave us alone?" in this case could be,
"Because you are likely to get killed or kill someone if you continue on in this same direction." The young people feel like the police treat them like they are not even human.
Henry David Thoreau jokingly said that the citizens in his community did not even realize that there was such a place as a jail in their community. Thoreau went to the jail to stay the night for refusing to pay his taxes (he was protesting the legal practice of slavery in the United States of America.) He said that he quickly realized that the main use of time at the facility was spent in looking out of the window. He jokingly said that he would have thought that they could find a better means of employing his abilities than to have him only look out of the window. The point that is made by these young people is sometimes valid and the government sometimes only confronts those who are struggling with superior force. There must be some teaching that takes place beyond just giving people a good beating and locking them up for a while. It seems to me that what these young people need is a balance between the unfeeling and hateful police force (who sabotage their own efforts to fight crime by getting information from the people on the street) and the permissive and enabling "doc" who allows them the privacy they desire while they conduct their war council. The main criticism of these young people about the attempts of society to help them seems to be the absence of love from every entity. These young people want to be loved and they feel like all they have is each other. Unfortunately, they are all in the same boat, terribly inexperienced with life and unable to check the impulsive behavior that leads their group into major trouble.
This group of young people, show a very high degree of pragmatism after the fight, in their approach to covering up their activities on the night of the fight. The new leader of the Jets advises everyone to calm down and play it cool so that they can live to old age and die in bed.
The impulsive and sometimes ineffective decision making process that is a part of adolescence is what gets Tony into big trouble and leads to his death. Tony goes to the fight between the Jets and the Sharks without thinking too much about the potential of danger to himself. As a result he ends us killing his girlfriend's brother. If Tony's brain had been more developed he may have realized that the best way to stop the fight would be to alert the police department of its location. Later on, Tony also acts very impulsively when he thinks that Maria is dead. Tony rushes out to find Cheno so that he can die as well. Tony would have been wise to first verify that his lover was indeed dead before seeking out the vicious, jilted Cheno. Tony seeks “suicide by Cheno” (instead of cop.)
In this movie it seems at first that Tony and Maria are very good people and that they have a bright future. During the imagined wedding scene at the dress shop between Tony and Maria, one can observe that they both have loving parents who they imagine are in attendance and they seem caring and supportive. To me this really reinforces the importance of being a good parent so that our children can find happiness and positive peer groups to be a part of as they demonstrate the ability to form close emotional bonds.
Interestingly this movie may actually amplify the misconception of many people that
adolescence is always a period of storm and strife. Parents who watch "West Side Story" may come to believe that their teenagers are going to follow in this same path and that they are little criminals just waiting for an opportunity to act. If parents do not treat their children with respect and trust them to make good decisions they may indeed turn out to be the police-officer-hating types shown in the movie who have learned how to hate authority from a very early age, starting at home.
In Clearfield, Utah, where I live we saw a tragic story in the news recently. A young man walked down to the train tracks, set his school bag down, and then walked in front of a train. This young man died as a result of these choices. This story does not end for our family at that point however, because this young man has a sister who is in my oldest daughter’s class at the Elementary School. It seems that this young man may have been motivated in his suicide because of the constant fighting and hostility that he witnessed at home between his mother and father. This tragic situation really hit home for our family. As puberty has started earlier with succeeding generations the powerful emotions and relational dynamics have also started to occur earlier in the lives of children. Parents have such an important role in helping children to navigate the teenage years. Years that will shape the rest of their lives for good or ill.

When the Alluring World Calls

By Appreciable Goodfaithpoet

My daughter holds my hand,
She's not quite two years old.
She wants to go exploring.
She's fearless and she's bold.

As we're walking down the hall,
She see's an open door.
She tugs and wants to go inside,
She's sure it offers more.

I can read the sign,
Which has been posted there.
Danger! High voltage inside!
I hold her back because I care.

My daughter starts to cry,
She doesn't like what I am doing.
She wants to go inside.
And find excitement that is brewing.

As we now continue,
And once the danger's past,
My daughter stops her crying
And there is peace at last.

My daughter is now fourteen,
She doesn't like the rules.
She sometimes hates her parents,
And thinks that we are fools.

Yet, later in her life,
When she can understand,
She will see it's wise to walk,
The course her Father planned.

(In regard to this poem, I echo the words of J. Paul Hunter et al. who said, “The event described here is fictional. My children are not yet that old and do not feel like the girl described in the poem. I imagined this event in order to analyze and articulate how such an event might feel in certain circumstances. A work of literature can be true without being actual.”)