Giving kids a good alternative

Published 8:52 pm Wednesday, September 2, 2009

When it comes to keeping kids out of trouble, there really is no substitute for a substitute.

As just about any parent can testify, telling a child not to do something often has the effect of increasing the interest in that banned activity. Giving the child something else to do, however, can serve to distract him and refocus his energies on something productive.

Tell the average child to stop watching television, for instance, and you might experience a few minutes of peace while the TV’s off, but not many half-hour sitcoms will have concluded before the television is back on or the child has found something more mischievous to occupy his time. Even the most well-behaved child is likely to at least begin complaining once the blessed silence hits the half-hour mark. Give that child a constructive task, however, and you might be surprised how long he’ll keep himself occupied, especially if he has been trained from an early age to make constructive use of his time.

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The same thing holds true for keeping kids out of trouble. Sadly, just telling children to stay away from gangs, drugs and violence really isn’t all that effective. Instead, kids need a positive substitute for those negative activities that can seem so appealing.

King’s Kids of America, located right here in Suffolk, offers nearly 300 children and teens exactly that kind of positive substitute. Operating for nearly 20 years at various sites throughout the city, the program aims to train children in a variety of areas intended to promote personal responsibility, leadership and positive decision-making.

The program was the brainchild of the late Bishop Obadiah Colander, who wanted to help develop children’s minds, bodies and spirits and to strengthen them against the temptations of this world. Today, Executive Director Betty Knight and a couple of dozen other volunteers continue to follow Colander’s vision. They celebrated the opening of the organization’s seventh site on Tuesday.

The program has a faith-based component, but much of the curriculum involves simple, secular ideals that are overlooked or ignored by the school system and parents — things like manners, sexual abstinence and leadership.

A measure of the program’s success with children: Commonwealth’s Attorney Phil Ferguson said Tuesday that he couldn’t remember seeing former active participants in Suffolk’s criminals courts.

King’s Kids is just the sort of intervention that can help turn the tide for Suffolk children. Congratulations to the adults who are involved for its continuing success. And kudos to the parents who allow their children to be involved with the program, realizing that they need to do more than just prohibit their kids from hanging out with the wrong crowd — they need to promote their involvement with the right one.