Juvenile crime is now a major concern. If we had not been alerted before now we have seen the evidence with our own eyes. It was mainly young people involved in the recent riots in London, Croydon and other cities in the United Kingdom. Parents are alarmed, the media alerted, police at full stretch and politicians scrambling for an answer. The reality is that this has been a growing problem for some time and with the ages of some of the offenders hardly into double figures, small wonder that there is such concern.
In the last few decades, the opinion of parents and others involved with recalcitrant youngsters has been that they would grow out of it. Perhaps the improvement in education gave them hope, or the life style they could give their children - so much improved on theirs - meant the children would get off to a better start. This optimistic view has now been overtaken by the very real fact that some of our children have turned to crime. They have told us so behind their masked faces on television: ‘we have nothing, others have plenty so we will take what we want.’ There is no fear of the law, discipline has obviously not played a part in their young lives. Now in prison cells throughout the country they may be learning for the first time, that crime does not pay.
I believe one of the answers to the problem of this total lack of conscience is for parents to renew a now forsaken tradition of preceding generations - the old fashioned Happy Hour. Since this may understandably be confused with a more recent innovation, let me explain. The Happy Hour enjoyed in those days ran from 3 o’clock to 4 o’clock on Sunday afternoons.
During that time a high proportion of parents took a brief respite from their children. They were quite simply ‘sent’ to Sunday School. If there was an element of hypocrisy on their part (most parents were not church goers themselves) it was overlooked for altruistic reasons – Sunday School was good for children.
Speaking personally, and with the benefit of hindsight, I have found this to be true. In the course of time Sunday School leads to Youth Club and this keeps many young people off the streets. When Teddy boys, Mods and Rockers were buying flick knives I was playing table tennis with my friends at the Youth Club, run by volunteers from the local church. People who had known me from my days in Sunday School.
The teaching I received in Sunday School and subsequently church, introduced a spiritual dimension into my life. When drugs were reputed to have a spiritually awakening effect I was not drawn to experiment with them when I became a teenager. I knew that lives had been changed by spiritual experiences within the framework of the Christian faith.
My instinct, therefore, was to turn to God, not drugs. I was not a particularly good or even a sensitive child, but it was obvious to me that this was the first direction in which to look.
I discovered that the funny little choruses I remembered from Sunday School had within them the seed of truth. ‘A little talk with Jesus’ may not have made things ‘right, all right’ as the song went, but it certainly made a difference. One that was significant enough to ensure that praying over problems became a worthwhile activity to pursue.
When my parents sighed with relief at the arrival of their weekly Happy Hour, they could not have foreseen the benefits that would pass down to generations to come. In turn I took my children to Sunday School and now they take theirs.
Churches throughout the country still run Sunday Schools. They may have changed the name, the time and the songs. They will have updated the teaching methods, but the message stays the same. They still tell children ‘the old, old story of Jesus and His love.’
It remains the best answer (and in my opinion the only lasting answer) to the problems, whatever they may be, that our children will face in the dangerous uncertainties of the 21st century.