BEHIND bars or on a cold slab. That's how many young black men end up. And their dilemma is much worse than anybody thought, according to new research by the folks at Harvard, Princeton, and Columbia.
In general, too many young black men are majoring in nots:
They are not graduating from high school, not going to college, not getting jobs, they do not know how to ignore conflict, they do not know how to refuse becoming immersed in drugs and crime, and they do not know how to treat women.
Also, many of their parents are not tuned in, many of the young men are not in good schools, they do not have good role models, they do not understand that nobody cares about their style, and most of them do not understand that because they won't likely to make it into the NBA, NFL, or the entertainment world, they need to be equipped for other, much less glamorous work that will not put their names in lights.
The research does not ignore institutional racism that buffets young black men. And there is talk about solutions. Some ideas are esoteric while others will require changes in public policy. Policy makers must address the issue, and that may take a long time, both because changing policy can be a slow process and because policy makers drag their feet on issues in which they have no vested interest.
Meanwhile, I'm offering practical ideas culled from years of knowing what my forebears did for their sons and from observing families working hard to keep our sons from going astray. This doesn't address the single-woman head of household issue. Nobody has all the answers. And while the principles are applicable to daughters, this is about sons. I am not an expert. I am the mother of daughters.
First, let young black sons know who's in charge. Parents are not their young sons' friends. The goal of parenting is not to be popular. Set boundaries and stick to them. It's easy to relent after a long day's work. Don't. Losing sleep and rest to address an issue will pay off.
Teach respect. Do that by respecting yourself and your sons. They are people, not objects for verbal or physical abuse.
Stay involved in their lives. Be so well-known at school that you are readily greeted because you attend activities, not because there is trouble.
So what if you cannot afford vacations. Put your sons in the car and go different places. There's plenty to do that doesn't cost money, or costs little. Afternoon trips can result in years of memories.
Give sons duties. Teach them to cook, clean, tend to their clothes. None of that is girls' or women's work. Teach them table manners and social graces. Get library books for help.
Speaking of clothes, put the trends away sometimes. Teach sons when they are young to wear ties and dress shirts and pants and shoes. Pass up the $100-plus sneakers.
Say no, often.
Unplug the tube. Don't let sons think their only option in life is rapping on BET, being cool on MTV, telling jokes on Comedy Central, or playing sports on ESPN.
Black sons also need numerous other tools to manage well as minorities in this society. They must know how to respond to racism, discrimination, and stops by police.
Understand that being rearing sons is exhausting work. It's a sacrifice, in terms of finance and time. Deal with it. There is life after they leave home. It's a worthy investment.
None of this addresses education or what's vital for them to to do well in school. There are plenty such suggestions available.
One more thing: Teach them about God. If you don't know much yourself, it's time to learn when you have children.