No. 37

Former President Hoover once said, "Children are our most valuable resource." I've said the same thing many times and because of my extensive work with the public schools, I have been able to see and understand some things from first hand experience. If I had to decide on one single thing in today's times that impacts a youngster's future more than anything else, I believe it would be along these lines. Because of the tremendous changes in our society over the past two or three decades, not only from the standpoint of technology, but also the breakdown of traditional moral values, our young people today are subjected to more "peer pressure" than at any time in the history of public education.
Because "peer pressure" is so strong, kids want to be "in" and they will do almost anything in order to be in. As a friend told me recently, they want to be in even if it kills them. Unfortunately in thousands of cases each year, it does kill them, whether it's from drugs, alcohol, suicide or any number of other things that are peer pressure related. Fear for their safety is another concern but that’s another story.
Here in Conway, Arkansas, where I live, we have a great community. We have one of the very best school systems in the state, a strong economy and some of the most compassionate civic minded people in the world. At Christmas time last year I volunteered to ring the bells for the Salvation Army and learned that Conway is one of only two communities in the United States where the entire fund raising effort of ringing the bells is made up entirely of volunteers.
Of course, Conway, like most communities in our country, also has problems. Some time back the vice principal of the high school came to speak to the Lion's Club where I am a member. He told us about the gang activity in our community and our schools, as no less than 16 gangs are operating at one level or another. Our school people, along with local law enforcement are on top of it and doing a good job, but there is always the possibility that it will get out of hand, as it has already done in many communities across the country.
The thing I remember most about his presentation is when he said, "Don't stick your head in the sand and pretend it doesn't exist, because it does." Unfortunately many good kids are pulled into gang activity because they want to be "in" and also because gangs use fear as a way to recruit new members. They tell many unsuspecting, naive kids, "You become a member of our gang and we will protect you."
I believe you will agree that when a young person gets involved in a gang they are headed down the wrong road and in time this can have devastating consequences. The reason I have shared this with you is because while law enforcement and school officials already know this, many parents do have their heads in the sand and don't think it could happen to them.
Now, let's go back to that quote by President Hoover: "Children are our most valuable resource." It's my belief that the best way to help a youngster to stay out of a gang is to constantly tell and show them that you love them, communicate with them and tell them over and over again that they have value, worth and potential. In short, give your youngsters a reason to have hope and help them realize that they have a wonderful future in store for them. It's fine to be "in" if they are in the right things. (EDITOR'S NOTE: Jim Davidson is a motivational speaker and syndicated columnist. You may contact him at 2 Bentley Drive, Conway, AR 72034.)