Several new books present readers with vivid pictures of how kids cope with the challenges of living in the city
CHILDREN IN DANGER: COPING WITH THE CONSEQUENCES OF COMMUNITY VIOLENCE By James Garbarino, Nancy Dubrow, Kathleen Kostelny, and Carole Pardo Jossey-Bass 262 pp., $24.95; TODAY'S CHILDREN: CREATING A FUTURE FOR A GENERATION IN CRISIS By David A. Hamburg Times Books, 376 pp., $25; BEFORE THEIR TIME:FOUR GENERATIONS OF TEENAGE MOTHERS By Joelle Sander Foreword by Robert Coles Harcourt Brace Jovanovich 188 pp., $16; THE DIARY OF LATOYA HUNTER: MY FIRST YEAR IN JUNIOR HIGH By Latoya Hunter Crown, 131 pp., $1 6Skip to next paragraph
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GROWING up has become a perilous journey for children living in the inner cities of the United States.
When asked what he would like to be when he grows up, a 10-year-old in Chicago responds: "If I grow up, I'd like to be a bus driver." Children surrounded by violence don't count on making it to adulthood.
Another young boy living in a dangerous neighborhood in Boston takes comfort from an empty deodorant bottle marked "guaranteed 100 percent safe." It never leaves the side of his bed.
Many suburbanites can't begin to fathom what it is like to be a child in the contemporary American inner city. The dangers and stark realities of daily existence are simply unthinkable in many cases.
Through the power of publishing, however, a range of authors are bringing the plight of inner-city children to the attention of the reading public.
Children in Danger: Coping with the Consequences of Community Violence overflows with heart-wrenching stories like the two cited above. The book is co-authored by James Garbarino, president of Chicago's Erikson Institute for Advanced Study in Child Development, and his research associates Kathleen Kostelny, Carole Pardo, and Nancy Dubrow.
In their 1991 book, "No Place to Be a Child: Growing Up in a War Zone," Garbarino and his colleagues studied the experiences of children in war zones around the world: Mozambique, Nicaragua, Cambodia, and the Middle East. "Children in Danger" explores the urban war zones of such US cities as Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York.
The book defines urban war zones as places where "violent crime, gangs, drugs, and poverty catch children in the cross fire of community violence."
In Chicago, for example, a gang imposed an early-evening curfew for everyone living in a public-housing building. Violators were threatened with being shot.
The children in these areas often depend on schools to provide the stability and safety they don't find in their homes or neighborhoods. But, as this book points out, "Schools themselves are no longer safe places for children."
Schools in many inner-city communities don't allow children to go outside and play at recess because of gunfire. On the South Side of Chicago, teachers often push file cabinets up against classroom windows to block stray bullets. Shootings frequently occur inside schools as well.
"Children in Danger" chronicles the psychological toll that a dangerous life can have on children. Yet the book also explores the resiliency of many children, citing the finding that up to 80 percent of all children exposed to dangerous conditions are not negatively affected. Some children actually grow stronger in spite of their stressful surroundings.
Throughout this book, the authors refer to research in a wide range of areas affecting urban children. But, they point out, few researchers have probed youthful resilience. Who are these resilient children and what shields them from the damaging effects of day-to-day violence? The authors devote a chapter to this issue.
The key for many children is finding someone to count on. "For most children, healing childhood trauma depends on the strength of adult-child relationships," the authors write. "Few children can do the job on their own: the challenges are too great, their resources are too few."
Much of this book is burdened with references to research, and the academic writing weighs the pages down at times. Nevertheless, enough stories about real-life children are interspersed throughout the book to make it well worth pushing through the weighty portions. Unforgettable gems pop up every few pages.
For example, the young girl in Northern Ireland whose brother, mother, and grandfather were all killed in violent incidents. When asked whether this has changed her belief in God, she answers: "Not in God. In man."