Gun and other types of violence are prevalent in certain U.S. neighborhoods. Black youth and members of their communities are riddled by homicides and other turbulent disturbances, and it is hard for them to have plans or aspirations beyond the age of 21. Many fear leaving their homes, and are afraid to attend school or even relax on their front porch.
While many young people are busy thinking about what high school or college to attend, some youth who are caught up in a web of violence and struggle have other concerns.
“I had a funeral director tell me he had an onslaught of young people coming into his funeral home to look around and plan their own services…just in case,” said Alvin Rider, a community engagement and outreach specialist for two Chicago-based youth intervention programs offering academic, mental health, and life skills training.
Recently, the Chicago Tribune reported 1,689 shootings for 2016, compared to 2,988 in 2015. This year, 277 homicides have occurred so far, compared to 489 last year. Though disturbing, recent statistics demonstrate that many urban youth have reason to feel threatened, abandoning usual feelings of invincibility shared by their more privileged counterparts who live in safer parts of the country.
Another survey by the Family-Informed Trauma Treatment Center of inner city kids states that “80% [of urban youth] have experienced one or more traumatic events." These tumultuous occurrences are not only dimming young Black people's outlooks on their future, but also prompts various mental health problems that parlay into both prominent and subdued reactions.
With these six tips, parents, guardians, neighbors, and educators can intervene and possibly help troubled youth cope with street violence.
1. Openly talk to youth about the violence they witness and experience.
2. Observe your child’s behaviors and look for changing trends or differences in their usual mannerisms, actions, and reactions.
3. Be honest about your own emotions regarding violence; let youth know how violence has impacted you so that the child knows that he or she is not alone.
4. Interact with an open mind by allowing the child to feel and express whatever emotions he or she wants to share.
5. Remain judgment-free and do not blame or label the child based on his or her actions.
6. Understand that there is a difference in generations. For example, a child who chooses to flee from a fight and tell an authority is smart, not a coward. Remember, these days guns have replaced fists in many neighborhood battles.
The unseen impact of urban violence can provoke residual aggressive, trauma-induced behavior. Youth who have suffered some type of early abuse or violence may seem normal on the surface, but are often deeply affected by what they've been subjected to. By implementing the above tips, hopefully we can offer healing for Black youth who suffer from trauma.
Dr. Summer Matheson is a mental health services clinician and the Chief Operating Officer of the Laynie Foundation, a mental health service provider in Matteson, Illinois that services African American youth in Cook and Will Counties. For more information about Dr. Matheson or the Laynie Foundation, visit www.layniefoundation.org or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Dr. Matheson also encourages youth and/or their parents in trouble to call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or the Laynie Foundation at 708-617-8548.