Thursday, June 30, 2005

Individual emotional problems, Individualistic means

The public is apt to be swayed by theories according to which juvenile delinquency is treated as an entirely individual emotional problem, to be handled by individualistic means. This is exemplified by the very definition of juvenile delinquency in a recent psychopathological book on the subject: "We have assigned the generic term of delinquency to all these thoughts, actions, desires and strivings which deviate from moral and ethical principles." Such a definition diffuses the concept to such an extent that no concrete meaning remains. This unsocial way of thinking is unscientific and leads to confused theory and inexpedient practice. For example, one writer stated recently that "too much exposure to horror stories and to violence can be a contributing factor to a child's insecurity or fearfulness," but it could not "make a child of any age a delinquent." Can such a rigid line be drawn between the two?

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Corrupting influence

Some time ago a judge found himself confronted with twelve youths, the catch of some hundred and fifty policemen assigned to prevent a street battle of juvenile gangs. This outbreak was a sequel to the killing of a fifteen-year-old boy who had been stabbed to death as he sat with his girl in a parked car. The twelve boys were charged with being involved in the shooting of three boys with a .22-caliber zip gun and a .32 revolver. The indignant judge addressed them angrily, "We're not treating you like kids any longer . . . If you act like hoodlums you'll be treated like hoodlums." But were these youths treated like "kids" in the first place? Were they protected against the corrupting influence of comic books which glamorize and advertise dangerous knives and the guns that can be converted into deadly weapons?

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Underage punishment options

Streetcar hopping, like streetcars themselves, have gone out of fashion. In recent years children's-court judges have been faced with such offenses as assault, murder, rape, torture, forgery, etc. So it has come about that at the very time when it is asked that more youthful offenders be sent to juvenile courts, these courts are ill prepared to deal with the types of delinquency that come before them. Comic books point that out even to children. One of them shows a pretty young girl who has herself picked up by men in cars and then robs them, after threatening them with a gun. She calls herself a "hellcat" and the men "suckers." Finally she shoots and kills a man. When brought before the judge she says defiantly: "You can't pin a murder rap on me! I'm only seventeen! That lets me out in this state!"

To which the judge replies: "True—but I can hold you for juvenile delinquency!"

Monday, June 27, 2005

Mental hygiene and the delinquent

The term mental hygiene has been put to such stereotyped use, even though embellished by psychological profundities, that it has become almost cliché. It is apt to be forgotten that its essential meaning has to do with prevention. The concept of juvenile delinquency has fared similarly since the Colorado Juvenile Court law of half a century ago: "The delinquent child shall be treated not as a criminal, but as misdirected and misguided, and needing aid, encouragement, help and assistance." This was a far-reaching and history-making attitude, but the great promise of the juvenile-court laws has not been fulfilled. And the early laws do not even mention the serious acts which bring children routinely to court nowadays and which juvenile courts now have to contend with. The Colorado law mentions only the delinquent who "habitually wanders around any railroad yards or tracks, or jumps or hooks to any moving train, or enters any car or engine without lawful authority."

Sunday, June 26, 2005

A defense of children

I remember contradicting him. The real story is not that they want to get out, I said. The story is how they got in. To send a child to a reformatory is a serious step. But many children's-court judges do it with a light heart and a heavy calendar. To understand a delinquent child one has to know the social soil in which developed and became delinquent or troubled. And, equally important, one should know the child's inner life history, the way in which his experiences are reflected in his wishes, fantasies and rationalizations.

Children like to be at home, even if we think the home is not good. To replace a home one needs more than a landscape gardener and a psychiatrist. In no inmate in that reformatory, as far as I could determine, had there been enough diagnostic study or constructive help before the child was deprived of his liberty.

Saturday, June 25, 2005


The children's logic was simple and realistic. The adults said this was not a jail because it was so beautiful. But the children knew that the doors were locked—so it was a jail. The lawyer (who heard some of this himself) was crestfallen. He had never spoken to any of the inmates alone before. "What a story!" he said. "They all want to get out!"

Friday, June 24, 2005

Alone with boys in their cottages

I was told that it would be much better if the director or some of his assistants would show me around and be present during my interviews. Eventually, however, I succeeded in going from cottage to cottage and seeing some boys alone. I told them frankly who I was and finally asked each child, "Supposing I could give you what you want the most, what would you choose?" There was only one answer: "I want to go home."

Thursday, June 23, 2005

An attempt at privacy

I spent some time at that reformatory. It was a well laid out place with cottages widely spaced in a beautiful landscape. I looked over the records and charts and then suggested that I wanted to see some individual children, either entirely alone or with just the attorney present. There was considerable difficulty about this.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

A funny story

A number of years ago an attorney from a large industrial city came to consult me about an unusual problem. A group of prominent businessmen had become interested in a reformatory for boys. This attorney knew of my work in mental hygiene clinics and wanted me to look over this reformatory and advise whether, and how, a mental hygeine department could be set up there. "Very good work is done there", he told me. "It is a model place and the boys are very contented and happy. I would like you to visit the institution and tell us whether you think we need a mental hygiene clinic there."

Tuesday, June 21, 2005


Gardening consists largely in protecting plants from blight and weeds, and the same is true of attending to the growth of children. If a plant fails to grow properly because attacked by a pest, only a poor gardener would look for the cause in that plant alone. The good gardener will think immediately in terms of general precaution and spray the whole field. But with children we act like the bad gardener. We often fail to carry out elementary preventative measures, and we look for the causes in the individual child. A whole high-sounding terminology has been put to use for that purpose, bristling with "deep emotional disorders," "profound psychogenic features" and "hidden motive baffling in their complexity." And children are arbitrarily classified—usually after the event—as "abnormal," "un-stable" or "predisposed," words that often fit their environment better than they fit the children. The question is, can we help the plant without attending to the garden?

Monday, June 20, 2005

1 - "Such Trivia As Comic Books"

Introducing the Subject

"And I verily do suppose that in the braines and

hertes of children, whiche be membres spirituall,
whiles they be tender, and the little slippes of
reason begynne in the them to bud, ther may happe
by evil custome some pestiferous dewe of vice
to perse the sayde members, and infecte and
corrupt the softe and tender buddes."

— Sir Thomas Elyot

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Introductory Statement