I watched with concern as yet another unruly group of teens created chaos in Center City on Monday, purportedly with the help of social media.
The group circled City Hall by the hundreds, fighting amongst themselves and wreaking utter havoc until law enforcement responded. About 20 were cited for disorderly conduct, while at least four were being investigated for assaulting other teens in the group.
It is not lost on me that the teens were largely African American. That fact will fuel the preconceived notions of those who desperately want to see a link between race and unruly behavior. Those same people will happily gloss over the behavior of white young adults who riot after sports victories at colleges and universities.
Youth, and its reckless pursuit of boundaries, is the common denominator between the two groups. But there is a key difference as well. University students in suburban locales riot in celebration of their privilege. High school students in Philadelphia rage as a result of their lack.
That’s because Philadelphia’s children — and black children in particular — comprise a large percentage of impoverished Philadelphians.
A report by Philadelphia Citizens for Children and Youth (PCCY) found that 38 percent of Philadelphia’s children lived in poverty in 2015, and a whopping 58 percent of poor families in Philadelphia were black.
Poverty does not make one more likely to participate in foolishness. But poverty means parents may not have the time or resources to address every youthful indiscretion.
If you’re working three minimum wage jobs just to provide adequate housing for your family, you’re less likely to have the flexibility to take a day off for parent-teacher meetings. If you’re dependent on mass transportation, you are less likely to be able to transport a child to numerous after school activities. If you’re a single parent trying to juggle home and work, it’s more difficult to provide a teen with the extra time and attention they so desperately need. If you have not attained a high school diploma or its equivalent, you are not equipped to help a child with the advanced homework they will receive in secondary school.
Add to that the fact that all young people — no matter their economic circumstance — are seeking to pull away from parental influence, and the difficulties become apparent.
Yet in spite of all that, many impoverished parents do the job extremely well. But not every parent is superhuman. Not every family has the structure to overcome poverty’s obstacles. Not every child can be saved.
This is especially true in the age of social media, where children fill in the gaps from their home lives with superficial relationships and artificial “likes.”
When a child is missing guidance from a parental figure, it’s easy for them to seek that leadership from the crowd. It’s easy for them to become a follower. It’s easy for them to be swallowed up by misguided peers who are popular on social media.
Parents across the economic spectrum do what we can to make sure our children have phones. But as the downside of social media becomes more apparent, we must take the extra step of learning what our children view on those devices. Then we must do something beyond pushing a button or sending a text. We must make time to talk to our children.
Just as they are seeking boundaries to cross, and pursuing “likes” from peers, and longing for popularity, our children are seeking guidance from parents. If we want to stop them from being faces in the crowd, or images on a screen, or bodies on the street, we must do everything we can to provide it.
Listen to Solomon Jones weekdays from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. on 900 AM WURD.