Can teenagers live in harmony with the rest of us? At 3 in the afternoon, when they are dismissed from the area schools, it seems that the loud, large groups of 13- to 19-year-olds are taking over the sidewalks, and perhaps civilization as we know it.
They yell, chase each other, run into traffic toss garbage around and swear like truck drivers. And that is on a good day.
It is bad enough when they do all that on the street, but when they get into stores they can really seem out of control. Sometimes, they go into a store in a vociferous group while one member of the posse buys a pack of gum.
So it’s no wonder that the merchants get frustrated. Frustration leads to anger, and that can make for an uncomfortable situation.
A Fifth Avenue store was a recent flashpoint. A group of black students was asked to leave after the storeowner said he had a policy — which was not posted — that allowed only three kids into the shop at any time. Then, a group of white students that numbered more than three was allowed in the same store.
As a result of that incident, a group of black parents at the Berkeley Carroll middle school formed an organization called “Harmony Merchants.” The group asks the local storeowners to post store rules so that all the kids know the rules and can be assured that the rules are being enforced fairly. The participating stores will have decals identifying them as Harmony Merchants, and the rules will be posted on boards given to each store.
Martha Walker, an artist and parent of a Berkeley Carroll teen who initiated the Harmony Merchant idea, thinks that this will help with community relations in Park Slope.
“We have many schools with teens,” she pointed out. “Aside from Berkeley Carroll, there are the three schools in the John Jay HS building [on Seventh Avenue], MS 51 [on Fifth Avenue and Fifth Street] and MS 88 [on Seventh Avenue and 18th Street]. There has to be a way to make the neighborhood welcoming to the students and safe for the shopkeepers.”
She has a point. We all have to live together. The students do not want to feel discrimination and alienation, and the Park Slope residents and shopkeepers do not want to feel overrun by the students.
The Harmony Merchants program is a great idea. If shops make rules and post them for all to see, they less likely to be arbitrary or randomly applied.
“This program is good for everyone because it helps the merchants and keeps things fair,” Walker said. “That way, the kids can feel that they are all being treated equally and with respect.”
As for the kids, some will be getting lessons in civic behavior and community duty. At MS 51, Principal Lenore Berner is initiating a “Town Hall” assembly meeting for each grade. At the meetings, she’ll talk to kids about being part of the community, keeping it clean and respecting the neighbors. Other schools should follow with such meetings of their own.
Parents can help, too. As the parent of one of these middle-school children I am careful to teach my daughter that public behavior is important — and that throwing away trash and not screaming to her friends are the basics.
Goofing around with pals and blowing off steam after the long school day is fine, but there need to be rules (posted and fairly enforced!).
The merchants should do their part by joining Harmony Merchants. The schools should pitch in and educate the kids (bring back Civics class, anyone?). And we parents should set examples of good behavior and make sure our kids know the rules.
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