The Internet discussion reminded me, neighbors must be involved. The blog centered around a seven-year-old boy who broke into four homes, trashed houses and abused neighbor’s pets.

The question was, “What should neighbors do?”

I read 27 responses without one suggestion about helping this child. Comments included, “…arrest the parents,” “…put the kid in juvenile hall,” “…insist the cops take action,” “…file charges,” and “…take the family to court.” Others said, “…call CPS (Child Protective Services),” “…mount security cameras to get evidence,” and “…you are living next door to a future Jeffery Dahmar (the notorious serial killer).”

No one even considered the idea that the neighbors might sit down together, get to know each other better, and find a solution to the problem. Yet neighbors can have an enormous impact as they increase the safety for everyone on the block.

A “circle of support” from neighbors can be critical for a child’s health and safety. Here is one example:

As a crime prevention organizer, I was helping neighbors work together to stop burglaries. After my presentation, one neighbor wanted to know what to do about brothers, aged 6 and 8, who he suspected of stealing tools out of his garage. He had reprimanded the boys but their behavior only got worse. That sparked a discussion as neighbors compared notes. They soon discovered the boys had vandalized other property by uprooting flowers, smashing potted plants, denting garbage cans and throwing rocks at pets. A mother added that she was concerned because the boys bullied her children.

Listening to the discussion, a father angrily stated, “I tried to talk to the mother, but she slammed the door in my face.” An elderly man said, “I called the cops. They talked to the mother and nothing changed.” Everyone agreed the boys would end up in juvenile hall if their bad behavior didn’t stop!

After much discussion, the group decided to get involved. The decision was made that two tactful neighbors would try to talk to the mother.

At the next meeting, everyone was anxious to hear what happened. One older woman who had talked to the mother reported, at first she was defensive. However, she and another neighbor calmed her fears by saying they had come to offer their help. The mother invited them in. As the conversation continued, the mother burst into tears, explaining that her husband was a drug addict who took their money and left. She was struggling to pay the mortgage and support the boys. Her full-time job left her tired and unable to control her children.

That was the turning point, as neighbors befriended her. The mother received emotional support and neighbors included the boys in picnics, movies, and other activities. Several men took the boys “under their wing.” The boys had patient mentors who helped them learn how to handle their anger.

Years later, I saw the mother and asked how her boys were doing. She stated with great pride, “They are doing great!” The youngest was on the football team and the older boy was in college. “I couldn’t have done it alone,” she added with a big smile. “My neighbors came to my rescue and changed our lives!”

Good neighbors have been a “circle of support” for families since time began. Without discipline and respect for others, children are lost. Neighbors can help create a sense of community and turn destructive behavior into an opportunity to save a child’s future.

- Take your child by the hand and go door-to-door to meet your neighbors.
- Give neighbors permission to call if your child misbehaves.
- Bring neighbors together to become a “circle of support” for children.
- Set up a phone tree or e-mail list for neighbors.
- Organize a fun activity such as a block social to give neighbors a chance to know one another.
- Talk about problems and brainstorm solutions – instead of saying, “let the cops handle it.”
- Promote community involvement to help stop child abuse and neglect.

Don’t wait until children get out of control. You can reach out and create a youth friendly neighborhood today!

Author's Bio: 

Stephanie L. Mann is the author of 3 national crime prevention books. “Alternative to Fear: Guidelines for Safer Neighborhoods,” helped launch “Neighborhood Watch.”

For more information: