Adolescents Find The Adults Chasing Them May Actually Have Good Advice

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Adolescents Find The Adults Chasing Them May Actually Have Good Advice

It looked like an outing in the hills for a rather large family. Youngsters shrieked, laughing, as they were pursued by slightly wayward-looking adults waving toy rifles.

But this was actually a survival game held last January at Jikdong training center in Uijeongbu, Kyonggi province. The adults were probation officers and child caretakers, members of the "regulatory squad" employed by an agency in the Dobong district office in Seoul that monitors businesses for activities harmful to adolescents. The squad was in playful pursuit of youths serving probation for a variety of infractions.

The agency has a dual function. It investigates businesses that sell adult products or offers services to adolescents in violation of the law, such as restaurants that sell liquor to minors. Its offices also turn over to the police problem adolescents, so you would think they would be the last people the youths would want to play with. But the officers have another mission - to re-educate and care for the young offenders. The men and women at the Jikdong training center could have been their uncles and aunts.

"I used to scowl when I heard someone say 'regulatory squad,'" said a 17-year-old boy at the center. "But these people from the Dobong district seem different from the other officers. I am so grateful because they really listen to what we say."

The adults that work for the Dobong district office are ordinary citizens - housewives, office workers, businessmen - who want to help teenagers learn to live decent, fulfilling lives. These apparently unremarkable people are doing extraordinary things when it comes to helping young people. Last year they collected more than 10 million won ($8,000), each chipping in 30,000 won, their daily wage for the job, to buy sacks of rice for the children. They all agreed that they worked for the squad not for the money but to do good, and it was natural for them to spend the money on the youngsters. One member of the squad who runs a computer school offers the adolescents free computer lessons.

The squad sometimes invites professional sex education counselors who work in primary schools in Seoul to help them teach the children and give sound guidance. The leader of the regulatory squad, No Yong-o, who is also president of a guidance group for youth in the same district said, "The purpose of working with adolescents who misbehave is not to separate them off from the rest of society but to help them learn how to solve their problems."

by Jeon Jin-bae

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