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SVC-sponsored YouthReach: At-risk children are not off-limits

A survey of recent headlines about U.S. children will uncover a pattern of negative portrayals. Articles about "kids killing kids" and "children having children" mingle with commentaries on couch-potato teeny boppers who presumably have little substance or intellect. By consistently attaching negative stereotypes to children, teens and young adults, the mainstream media brands them dangerous, destructive and incompetent. Viewing young people in terms of their perceived deficiencies, we often label them "at risk" and essentially ignore their potential capacities. This attitude causes those on both ends of the political spectrum to repeatedly call for tighter supervision and control of youth activities.

This characterization of young people is frustrating for a number of reasons. First, it's obvious that youth do not fit neatly into media stereotypes. Young people across the country are contributing to their communities. Forty-four percent of high school seniors perform community service and Princeton students annually contribute more than 50,000 hours of service. This evidence does not suggest that we are an apathetic, inconsiderate, violent and lost generation.


Furthermore, by defining youth as needy problem-people we create barriers that hinder them from being productive members of their communities. When parents, schools and the media lack confidence in the abilities of children, youth are discouraged from taking part in actions to change the conditions of their environment. A recent survey of suburban youth found that the leading reason some young people do not participate in community service is that no one asked them to serve. No one showed them they have the power to bring about change or provided an easy opportunity for them to incorporate service into their lifestyles.

Clearly, we need to reexamine how we view young people and their role in our society. We need to acknowledge that children are smart enough and capable enough to change the world. We will all benefit by recognizing the positive things that young people — including those often labeled "at risk" — can do and are doing in their communities. Each and every child, teen and young adult has a gift that he or she can contribute to society. The more we celebrate the assets of young people and involve them in community building, the stronger our communities will be.

For these reasons, the Student Volunteers Council seeks to recognize the contributions of young people to our community and to provide further opportunities for youth to use their talents and energy to benefit themselves and those around them. SVC volunteers work to create productive, mutually-beneficial relationships between students, community members and organizations.

As part of this mission, the SVC is sponsoring YouthReach, a week of on-campus activities that celebrate the abilities and contributions of young people to our community and foster increased connections between Princeton students and youth in the area. Scheduled to start this coming Sunday, YouthReach will provide several fun and easy opportunities to get involved.

If you enjoy listening to music, read or write poetry, like to play soccer, take Monday classes, plan to go to Communiversity, shop at local businesses or attend extracurricular lectures and debates, then you can be a part of YouthReach. If you have a couple spare hours, please support community youth by attending YouthReach events.

This is an invitation to broaden your commitment to our community and its young people. Please contact me if you would like to learn more about how you can help mobilize the assets of community youth. Laura Kaplan, the Student Volunteers Council's Awareness and Activism Coordinator, is from Ridgefield, Conn. She can be reached at