Dr. Jessica Johnson: Teenagers need to “come to themselves”

The dangerous and deadly trend in Columbus of teenagers stealing Kias and Hyundais has unfortunately been on an upward trend since January. Many of these teenagers are part of a gang known as “The Real Kia Boys”, originally from Milwaukee. Young people in other states have adopted this nickname due to the growing popularity of such car thefts on TikTok, YouTube and Instagram. On these social media platforms, there are videos with instructions on how to steal Kias and Hyundais using USB chargers.

The cars that were stolen are newer models and, according to a Columbus CBS report in June, the total number of thefts increased by 1,000 from last year. A third of these thefts involve Kias and Hyundais, and this increase in crime has made owners of these models extremely vulnerable, as many vehicles were stolen during the day. Law enforcement has few resources for investigations, and their advice to buy aftermarket steering wheel locks or alarm systems hasn’t provided much assurance.

What particularly tore me apart watching were the pleas from parents for help from their sons who are involved. About a week ago I caught a late night interview of a mother and father who literally begged the police to arrest their 14 year old son.

“I called the cops for my son; they let him run away from home,” the mother said. She was very remorseful and apologized to the car theft victims, saying she and her husband had raised their son with respect. She also mentioned that her son tried to get support from a juvenile behavior center but was turned away because he was not considered a suicide risk. He has now been arrested and his parents are hoping he will get the professional help he needs to get out of the wayward path he is on now.

Stories like this make watching the evening news akin to reading police reports online. Snapshots of young black boys parade across television screens who have not only stolen cars, but committed serious violent crimes. This week, two teenagers, ages 15 and 16, were charged in the fatal shooting of two Columbus residents. In August, a 16-year-old murder suspect was arrested by Columbus Police SWAT and four suspects, one 21 and the other three 18, were charged with aggravated robbery.

I wondered what drove these young men to crime. What were the disconnects at home and at school? Was peer pressure a dominant influencing factor? Do they have fathers or father figures in their lives? In the case of the 14-year-old arrested as part of the Kia Boys in Columbus, it was painfully evident in his parents’ interview that his father felt helpless talking to him.

Many of the boys involved in the Kia and Hyundai robberies are repeat offenders of non-violent crimes, and detention centers do not hold them for long periods. With children being quickly released from the juvenile justice system, it’s no surprise that many casually return to crime without fear of serious repercussions.

I believe the juvenile justice system needs to engage more with parents to connect them with the programs and services needed to help young offenders change their ways.

I also believe that these young men need what I call a “come to themselves” moment, like the parable of the prodigal son. Now, the young people caught up in crime I’ve seen on the news in Columbus have little in common with the young man in the prodigal son story, mostly because they’re not from wealthy families.

However, Christ mentions that this young man “came to his senses” when he hit rock bottom, which for him was hunger and acute poverty. He came to spiritual revelation that his life was worth far more than he had become.

The young men involved in these criminal follies in Columbus must have this same kind of moving reflection. They need to know that their life has meaning in the eyes of God and that they can make a difference with the right guidance, mentorship and, most importantly, a sincere desire to change. They need a vital wake-up call before it’s too late.

Dr. Jessica A. Johnson is a lecturer in the Department of English at The Ohio State University-Lima. Join her at [email protected] or on Twitter @JjSmojc. His opinion does not necessarily represent the views of The Lima News or its owner, AIM Media.