In response to the increasing concern about juvenile delinquency, Iíd like to offer two suggestions.
The age-old practice of oral storytelling is a viable tool that can be used to reduce juvenile delinquency, particularly in the area of diverting youngsters at an early age from starting down the path toward delinquent behavior.
It may seem like a stretch, but storytelling can have a powerful and very positive influence on the lives of kids. Itís such an old communications art form that many people overlook its value in reaching and motivating todayís kids. Iíve seen it work wonders in recent years.
The stories that seem to captivate young listeners the most are true stories about real people -- great achievers. Many of these achievers, including past U.S. presidents, had a difficult time during their youth. But they managed to overcome those difficulties and attain great success in their chosen field. They could have followed a path that led to misery, but instead made the choice to follow a productive path that led to success and a fulfilled life.
Todayís kids need to know about such achievers. These highly successful individuals can become role models. And the best way to implant these stories in young minds is via a real person standing before them telling stories of great achieversí lives. Often a question and answer period follows the story presentation. It becomes a very personalized experience.
Iíd like to see an organized effort to recruit storytellers on a community level to plan and present special storytelling sessions at schools and libraries. Storytellers could be parents, teachers, librarians - anyone interested in encouraging kids to build their lives constructively.
I first saw the value of oral storytelling first hand when working as a counselor at Boys Town, Nebraska. Later, while serving as chairman of the Santa Barbara County Juvenile Justice Commission and Delinquency Prevention Commission I had another chance to see the positive impact of storytelling. And today, when presenting storytelling programs at schools, libraries and the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library I see the continuing positive influence of storytelling on kids and youth.
Kids tend to get jaded by watching stories on electronic screens, large and small. But when they listen to a story being told by an individual, they form their own images just the way they want them in their own minds. Therefore, they have a stronger and more lasting effect in their lives.
Another important method of directing kids in the right direction is by opening channels of communication between teenagers and law enforcement officials. During the 1970s, I produced and hosted a long running series of programs on KEYT-TV, the ABC affiliate in Santa Barbara, titled "Youth and the Law." This series featured candid discussions between teenagers and law enforcement officials.
Many teens who participated on these programs commented later that their direct dialogue with officers gave them a new respect and a more positive perspective on persons involved with law enforcement.
The spoken word can redirect lives, for good or bad. We need to use them in a smart and positive way to help todayís kids.
C. 2001. Jim Woodard is a professional storyteller and writer - an active member of the National Storytelling Network (NSN). He maintains a Web site at www.storyteller.net/jwoodard/ His e-mail address Storyjim@aol.com. He also writes a nationally syndicated newspaper column and freelance features on business, youth development and storytelling.