What is the effect of a crowd of kids?
On December 27, the Associated Press reported that “700 juveniles” created a massive disturbance at a New Jersey mall, frightening and terrorizing the shoppers in the evening hours the day after Christmas. The teenagers took over the place, kicked in doors, broke glass, went the wrong way in masse on escalators, created enormous amounts of noise, and started numerous fights among themselves. Internal security and city police quickly got the situation under control and charged five minors with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. The mall is located in the southern New Jersey community of Cherry Hill, a short drive from Philadelphia.
Those of us who have experience working with students have little doubt about the potential destruction and chaos which can arise from an unruly group of teenagers, particularly in a crowd of that size. Frankly, it’s terrifying! The gang mentality and unhinged energy of such a huge mob of thrill-seekers would easily become a danger to itself and others, not to mention the property.
Yes, big groups can be scary and horrendous.
Or, they can be sweet and heaven-like.
It all depends upon the context, the setting, the purpose, the preparation, the leadership, and the vision of that gathering.
At YouthCUE, we regularly gather large groups of teenagers under one roof and inside valuable venues. Our average festival is about half the size of the group that descended upon the mall in Cherry Hill. Our largest festival to date was larger; it involved 622 students and over 200 adult leaders.
Juvenile mobs and YouthCUE festivals have much in common. Lots and lots of energy. Hormones aplenty. The full range on the Asperger’s spectrum. Hyperactivity. Depression. Big dreams. Hopes. The desire for a good time. The need to party. Loneliness. Sexual ambiguity and confusion. The innate desire to be a part of something bigger than just ourselves. Secret feelings of guilt. The profound need to belong.
What is most heartbreaking about the Cherry Hill incident is not the property damage nor the fear instilled in the shoppers. Yes, these things are significant. But the biggest disappointment is that a huge group of bored kids with little to no supervision took to social media to gather themselves in a public place to be together.
We don’t know the initial intention of their congregating, but we know that it was, in every way, a fail. It ended up having a purely menacing effect upon Cherry Hill. By the sheer numbers and noise, these students followed a reckless radar and inflicted damage upon a whole community, a sort of careless sucker punch for the pure hell of it. Law enforcement gratefully threw the brakes on the misadventure before it became totally out of control and potentially tragic. This effort in togetherness contained no redeeming value – socially, economically, spiritually, artistically, educationally. Nothing positive came of this, or at least nothing the community can see.
This incident will go to further confirm the already scared adults’ fears that teenagers in general are up to no good and cannot be trusted. Thankfully, there were no fatalities or injuries reported. However, for many adults in Cherry Hill, hope for the future was snuffed that night. And when the hope of adults is dimmed, the teenagers and children will ultimately suffer the consequences. It becomes an endless cycle of hopelessness.
We know there is a far better way to go through the teenage years than that. With every incident of poor adolescent choice we observe, we need to be newly moved and highly motivated to provide creative alternatives for the teenagers in our communities.
With choral music, we have in our hands, in our heads, and in our hearts perhaps the most powerful tool on the planet for shaping teenagers’ lives, communities, and futures. And as we radically impact young lives for the good, the hope of all is suddenly restored.
It’s a new year.
In 2018, our 28th year, YouthCUE is committed to doing more and giving more. Will you join us?
Founder & President, YouthCUE & Minister of Music & Worship at Woodland Baptist Church in San Antonio, TX
Prior to devoting his full-time efforts to YouthCUE beginning in 2005, Randy served for more than thirty years as minister of music at First Baptist Church San Antonio, First Baptist Church Shreveport, Trinity Baptist Church in San Antonio and currently at Woodland Baptist Church in San Antonio. He served as Chorusmaster of the Shreveport Opera Company from 1991-1999.
He has composed twenty-one published choral anthems and has authored the most comprehensive textbook to date on youth choir ministry, entitled, Revealing Riches and Building Lives: Youth Choir Ministry in the New Millennium. With more than six hundred articles published in over thirty publications, Randy Edwards is one of the premiere specialists in youth choir ministry today. He is sought widely as a conductor, clinician, consultant, and teacher.
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