Electronic Resource Centre for
Human Rights Education:
Critical Choices for Hungary
Critical Choices for Hungary
Youth at Risk
Written by: Ferenc Hammer
The transformation from child to adult is beset by problems. In Hungary today this change is more difficult than ever. Everywhere in the country people have to cope with previously unknown problems. Perhaps it is the youth who face the greatest challenge. These years are the ones which will define their futures.
Youth at Risk
Statistics present us with a sobering picture: in 1985 there were 161 youth crimes per ten-thousand citizens - in 1994 this figure had reached 192. One fifth of young criminals committed their crimes under the influence of alcohol, and although the authorities cannot adequately measure drug use, it is common knowledge that it is on the rise.
In May of 1992 eleven percent of those under 20 years of age who were searching for a job remained unemployed, and year after year more and more children quit school at fifteen. This is not just a problem for the young. The hundreds of thousands of unskilled workers living off of state support are a burden on all taxpayers.
Who are the Youth at Risk?
There are those who consider every young person who differs from their imagination of a 'good' young person to be at risk. Those who believe in this point of view ignore the fact that the change into an adult involves a struggle to be different.
Others feel that without a moral upbringing many young people are lucky to avoid the traps of modern society. Still others feel that youth at risk are simply those who are tempted by drugs and alcohol. And still others feet that long-term unemployment, and poverty that is passed on from generation to generation is what puts the young at risk.
What Should be Done?
In what follows we will introduce three choices, each dealing with the problems of the youth; choices that go beyond the statement "there's something wrong with young people today." Hopefully your group will discuss the choices, and decide what values and practical steps can lessen stress on the young.
The education system and unemployment were intentionally omitted from this synopsis. Public will in itself cannot create jobs, build schools, or raise teachers' salaries, but public will can prioritize which will provide the foundation for decision-makers when restructuring the education system, or when exploring opportunities for job creation. In other words: only the public will can define public interests.
The three choices in this synopsis each have their own advantages, disadvantages, and costs. Knowledge of each choice is important when we, as citizens, decide what medicine is best to cure the ills of the young.
Effective and Immediate Help For Those in Need
While parents and schools argue about who is responsible, youth at risk are often shrouded in misunderstanding. Some adults feel that only harsh punishment will help the "little evil-doers". Still others feel that the mistake lies in the way the young are brought up.
For those who support choice one, for whatever reason, today's youth is in need of assistance. As this assistance cannot be expected from the family, responsibility falls on the shoulders of doctors, psychologists, social workers, and other professionals.
People who support this choice generally believe that the state should spend more on the services offered by such professionals. It is better to invest in prevention than it is to deal with the consequences of neglect, such as juvenile crime.
Fruitful work in this field requires more than just more money for professionals: professionals require more authority as well. Often social and family workers can only intervene when the problem has become severe, and then only with limited powers, even if earlier intervention is in the interest of youth. Therefore supporters of choice one feel that professional, institutional services cannot be neglected in this age when the family and other traditional institutions are incapable of supporting our endangered youths.
As an example of an area where experts can help, some believe that corporal punishment abuses need to be examined. It may well be that international organizations have worked out corporal punishment policies, but many still seem to feel that corporal punishments have a place in education today. Many teachers feel that if it did them good in their youth, it can't hurt their students either - and this is surely one of the motivations for the teacher brutality we hear about in the press. Many parents, on the other hand, feel that they have the right to administer such punishment. Brutality against children occurs nationwide everyday, and the cases we read about are only the tip of the iceberg. Supporters of choice one say that expert intervention is desperately needed here.
Nevertheless, despite the costs and dangers inherent in such programs, their advocates argue that in the vacuum of family and community support structures they can provide real assistance that, while expensive in the short term, will result in long term savings in the prevention of more serious problems later on.
The Solidification of Traditional Values
According to supporters of this choice, greater emphasis should be placed on values such as family, role-setting, honesty, and cordiality. People can be seen as members of one big family, and those organizations which profess traditional values should make it their mission to take their message to the young, especially to those who are in trouble.
In the absence of moral orientation all of today's youth can be, seen as at "risk". The fact that more and more juveniles are in trouble shows that current methods of raising children which are not based on moral values, are failing. Alcohol, sex, drugs, and violence (through television, films, videos, and rock music) have all found their way into youth culture. Those young people with strong moral backgrounds can say no to these dangerous challenges. Their resistance is worth more than late coming assistance.
Parents should play the major role in the moral upbringing of their children. There is nothing more important than the example provided by parents.
Unfortunately, as a result of the high divorce rate, there are more and more single parent families. In addition, in the current economic situation, parents of whole families are often forced to take second jobs. In the long run this has a deteriorating effect on the child-parent relationship. But this does not mean that all is lost, say the supporters of choice two. There are institutions which can supplement, or even take place of the moral upbringing traditionally provided by parents. Many church organizations, youth and scouting groups, and even regular sports and camping events can contribute to an ethical education.
Many feel that student jobs can teach responsibility and self-respect. Some feel this is the most important aspect of military service.
The role of schools is also very important Supporters of choice two claim that there is no such thing as value-neutral education. "Ideology-free" education means that teachers don't dare take a stand concerning life's everyday events. They don't teach what is right and what is wrong, what is moral and what is unacceptable. This has a destructive effect on the moral development of the child.
Personal Relationships and Positive Examples
The young cannot be convinced of the value of honesty, respect, and self-control if they cannot see that these values lead to success in the world around them.
It is understandable that today's youth ridicule the "now everyone has got to stand on their own two feet" attitude of the previous generations. In this economic situation, even hard work will not guarantee the young with economic security.
Youth at risk feel that they have nothing to lose. They will not be brought into line by authoritarian preaching, and they do not want healing, claim the supporters of choice three. Instead, they feel that real chances and opportunities should be given to the young so that they can make their way for themselves - so that they too can prosper, if they wish. They feet that they would be best served through central and local social programs.
For example: central and municipal programs are necessary to improve the academic chances of disadvantaged youth, even if these programs are outside the school system. For these programs to be created there is a need for dialogue between local residents and their schools so that teachers can see what parents feel will improve their schools, and to communicate what they can do to reach these goals.
The school is not just information 'gas station'. It should regain its role as an
important hub of community life. Such a hub could create a community where people look
beyond the report cards of their children, and actively deal with the challenges faced by
the young, say supporters of
There are things that all parents want for their children: health, a happy childhood, successful school years, good friends, a productive career. They want their kids to move from adolescence to adulthood smoothly. Most parents think and act with these concerns in mind, and there are groups of concerned parents and other citizens in society who have joined forces to achieve these goals together. But youth problems are stubborn. One of the reasons for this is that however many ways there are to solve individual problems, the complex character of the threats endangering the lives of our youth require policies and programs designed individually in each community: What works in one place might be a waste of time elsewhere.
Cooperation between individuals, institutions and experts is difficult, because people regard different things as the roots of youth problems. One can blame parents, teacher, the schools, the government, the economy, the television and even experts for the current crisis. Unfortunately simple witch-hunts for sinners do not offer us with a lasting solution to the problem: and indeed, sometimes meaningful discussions turn into mud-slinging because of such finger pointing. It is much more important to achieve a shared understanding of the problem, and to identify the roots of the problems together.
There is no society which can afford to neglect the capacities of citizen cooperation
in resolving youth problems. Be they parent associations, local governments, social
workers, or church groups, groups can offer their own special perspectives to youth. Since
Hungary became a modem society each generation has regarded itself as entirely different
from those preceding it. Indeed, today's young people think and speak and amuse themselves
differently than the young of previous generations - they regard work and money
differently than their parents. These differences have to be kept in mind if we want to
address youth problems. Today's global urban culture has overwhelmed the traditional
communities of the past. However, just because we do not stop our car on highways to talk
with someone coming from the other direction, does not mean that we have to completely
give up the aim of a new kind of 'traditional' cooperation and coexistence. When we act as
individuals we can be consumers, students, clients of offices, employees, or retired
people. But if we wish to influence communal or public matters, we have to employ a
different identity: we have to act as citizens. If we act as citizens, we can achieve a
somewhat richer role than simply waiting for better times: we can cooperate with others,
and we can initiate action. The issue of youth problems offers a rich possibility to
develop cooperation. To be a parent sometimes is a stronger feeling than any kind of
cultural or professional preference. But any action has to start with talking, and talking
is the first step to understanding.
Electronic Resource Centre for Human
Critical Choices for Hungary