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History Table of Contents
1991 Summer Conference
 
Summer Conference 1991
Growing up on the Edge: The Emerging Generation and Canada's Future

Institutions

LORNE STEWART,
Retired Senior Judge, Juvenile and Family Court;
Consultant, Juvenile Justice, the United Nations

Much is being said about the needs, rights and responsibilities of young people all around the world.

In June, a group of researchers met in a small little village in the United States. And these professors and Judges were there to study the problems of youth came in from various parts of the world.

A professor from the University of Southern California spoke about the problems of youth gangs in Los Angeles and said something that alarmed me.

He said a lot of young people are afraid of their own peer gangs, which raises an interesting question with respect to our problems in Ontario.

And there was a professor from a University in Holland who reported on the importance of the family and of its problems in the changing global electronic society.

The outcome of that small conference of 25 people from around the world was the formation of the International Institute for Youth, which is now operating with substantial funds in the United States.

Its purpose is to become a sort a of social broker, making it possible for organizations in various countries to share their experiences and to assist one another.

I have been asked to speak about several institutions tonight.

First, I want to say a few words about the family, How are we getting along in our homes? How is this whole institution doing in 1991?

Well, we have problems, haven't we?

It costs so much to do all the things that we'd like to do, the cost of living keeps going up. We are faced with taxes, mortgages oppress us, unemployment hits us, despicable recession retards and thwarts the satisfying of our wants and our needs and we older people are partly to blame.

We always wanted to get the best for our kids. So we buy houses and cars beyond our means, we struggle from day to day to reach the payment of the mortgage, try to keep up with the Jones's.

Of course, inevitably we do have to pay. So, too frequently, everybody has to go to work.

I know something about latch key kids, from sitting in court.

But let's think for a few minutes about the real purpose of the home. Here is where the values and qualities of life are established, if anywhere.

Let us be solidly convinced of that fact. Your home, not the house, not the cars, not the boat, is the most important possession. Let's rate it from one to ten and see where it stands in our minds.

I had a talk with a family some time ago about problems that they brought to me. The matters of values came up, the matter of religion came up, and I said, alright let's talk it over.

What Church do you go to? They had difficulty in deciding what church.

Well what was it, the Methodist, the Anglican, or Catholic or what?', they couldn't answer. Finally the father had a brain wave and he found the answer.

He said: "We are pedestrians."

And I think that perhaps answers that question. In so many ways, we are all pedestrians.

I was down in Nashville the other day and I dropped into Barbara Mandrell's new store and bought her book. It is called, Get to the Heart.

It is a book that you ought to read. It is the story of the tragic experience that she had when her car crashed and she was almost killed, and her two boys were injured seriously.

She tried to give in this book the answer to why she was able to see it through. Her answer was that it was because of the strength of her home and because of the strength of her religion.

I guess life is bound to hold future shocks for all of us. That is why love and stability of the family counts, and it breaks one's heart to hear some of you people discuss your own experiences and what has happened in your family life.

You heard Dr. Catherine Murray talk about the Decima Research that says teenagers are happy at home and with their own generation. Of course, that is an overstatement and you would need to get some pretty wild statistics to prove the case.

I didn't sit in Juvenile Court for 30 years without knowing that there are two sides to this story. There are a lot of kids that are desperately unhappy and react in many different ways.

The Decima study also found that Despite their frequently critical portrayal in the media, Canadian Teens are surprisingly conservative individuals with a solid core of traditional values.

Well, it is true, but let us beware — there are dangers.

I want to talk for a few minutes about the school.

With the world becoming a global village and the communications as speeded up propulsion of electronic messages, one wonders where education should be directing the young.

The quality of our schooling is a basic importance.

A cynic recently said: Our schools, our Universities and our corporate training programs, too often resemble a bottling plant. Move the empty bottle up, squirt in some maths, some poetry, some marketing, some statistics; cap it, gown it and send it on its way.

Now set against that the positive proclamation made in Street Beat, where it says that 90 percent of teenagers studied, said if you can work hard and put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything.

I'll go for that gutsy declaration of 1620 Canadian teenagers.

Finally, I would just like to say something about the community in general.

Parents and teachers are not the only one who bring up the children. The entire community, the press, the police, the courts, the recreational authorities and advertising merchants all play a part, one way or another, in preparing the young for the future.

The media has a lot to do with the choices made for young people. Street Beat was criticized because it did not tell the whole story. After all, it could only report on what it could reach by telephone.

It missed out on those young people whom I have seen in court. The runaways, the street kids, the persistent delinquents and so on. It didn't tell the whole story about drugs and booze and prostitution and violence and other unteachable forms of delinquency.

The media have the right and the responsibility to tell these stories, but I think that the media is lacking in its opportunity to tell the good stories about achieving kids.

We need one another, the young and old. During the blitz the population in London closed ranks as a team with a common purpose of survival. They succeed with a synergy of team work. And that is what we need in Canada today.

A great movie producer put it this way: There is in the psyche of the community a deep visceral desire for peace between the generations. Although it is the present fashion for the young to express their antipathy toward the old by ridicule or scorn or neglect or enmity or attack. And common for the old to disapprove of the manners and morals and actions and wardrobe and music and language and hair styles of the young.

Often when the attitudinizing of the day is put aside, the young and old do and can live together in the home, in the school and in the community.

So let's work synergetically, young and old. As Nippsy Russell said, the best way to be young is to hang out with old people.