Five teen-agers derailed a train at Fair Lawn, N.J., a few days ago. The train’s engineer was killed. When reporters asked residents why these youths did this, the summary of responses added up to one word: boredom. “If you got no money,” said one 17-year-old, “this is what you have to do—you hang out by the tracks.”
“Just hanging around, nothing to do,” could be the wail of millions of teen-agers in the United States. Not just this summer, but every summer. This year there is even more unemployment afflicting these youngsters and prospects for job-training programs under Reaganomics look very dim. But the problem of listlessness and delinquency among the young goes deeper than an inadequate number of paying jobs. It reaches to the core of a society that provides youth with little vision and less purpose or useful work outside the job market.
Of course, here are many useful activities ,and volunteer organizations that welcome young people into their ranks. Every community offers such opportunities. Hut these endeavors do not shape the dominant culture that interacts with young people today—a culture of drugs, transient entertainment, schools that teach memorization of wooden knowledge and scores of corporations selling teen-agers everything from video-game addictions to booze.
The corporate culture has seriously affected the middle class home. As times get tougher and consumer debts deeper, those parents are away at work when their sons and daughters come home from school. Or if they are not employed, the parents’ prime worry is getting a job, not bringing up the children. Besides, many parents see their children as out of control anyhow and into patterns of behavior with chemicals and new technologies that are far removed from the parents’ experience when they were young.
Among poorer families the growing-up-bored syndrome turns to alienation. Four of five Puerto Rican children drop out of school in New York City. Black teen-age unemployment is over 50 percent.
Decades ago, the Boy Scouts, the Girl Scouts, the 4-H Clubs were formed to provide constructive outlets for learning and enjoying life together as youngsters. These groups are still around but they are striving to keep from suffering faster declining numbers and interest.
In a recent series on teen-agers in the Washington Post, author Dan Morgan wrote: “They are deprived of responsibilities and cut off from real-life activities that are important to the adult community. They are waiting — waiting to be grown up. And they are bored.” Morgan described a 1979 Gallup survey of youth that concluded there was a strong desire among youth to serve others. Gallup observed: “The problem we face in America today is not a lack of willingness to serve or to help others, but to find the appropriate outlet for this.