Lesson Learned: Teens and Taking Responsibility for Their Actions
My buddy, Sam, a World War II vet and a self educated lawyer, may not have been the greatest example of what has been called the greatest generation but he would do. When his wife developed health concerns, he did not waver in his devotion. Widowed with three young children, he never complained or faltered. He started out tough and got tougher.
Not that I am recommending growing up on the streets of The Bronx in the depression. To the day he died, Sam carried scars of what he termed "disagreements" he and his buddies had had with groups of kids from adjoining neighborhoods. Asked about his experiences overseas in Northern France in 1943, he would admit, "Yes, the accommodations and the food left something to be desired."
I was friends with Sam's daughters growing up and would see him for holiday get-togethers. Sam would listen with polite incredulity when I would share biographies of the kids two generations removed from his. "So, the 11-year-old burned down his parents' garage," he would say rubbing his chin as if in thought. "I bet he got a big time out for that."
Tragedy Strikes Good Samaritans
We also discussed Ethan Couch--our knowledge of which was limited to what we read. Even Sam's sense of snark was strained when we looked at the CNN website two years ago:
"... Hollie Boyles, and daughter, Shelby, left their home to help Breanna Mitchell, whose SUV had broken down. Brian Jennings, a youth pastor, was driving past and also stopped to help.
All four were killed when [Ethan Couch's] pickup plowed into the pedestrians..."
Rather than going to jail, Ethan was "sentenced" to what Sam might have termed, "Lindsay Lohan Rehab." A judge described as "lenient" and a defense of "affluenza," got Ethan probation in a facility with a Jacuzzi rather than 20 years in jail.
Sam argued that we all would have been better served had Ethan been incarcerated. "His blood alcohol level was .24; completely schnockered is .08. Kids like this are never rehabilitated."
It would be easy to agree; it would be easy to have a sense of outrage and loss--one of the people whom Ethan killed had stopped to help the unknown owner of a stopped car.
I am not an expert on incarceration and recidivism. But I am supposed to know something about parenting. How did Ethan come to feel he could brazenly steal beer from Walmart and commit other crimes with impunity?
Sam argued that Ethan had never experienced the consequences for his stupid choices. "Every time he got arrested before, his parents bought his way out of it.
So let's work our way backward to a simpler "crime and punishment" scenario, one that may be more relevant for my readers: Your middle school child misses a test. It doesn't matter why. She didn't study, she slept in, she forgot, or she got kidnapped by aliens. All loving parents want to intervene with the teacher: "May she take the test tomorrow?" Or worse, a lie: "She had an appointment with the dentist; it wasn't her fault."
My gentle advice is to be sympathetic with your daughter, to listen to her concerns about how horrible it will be to get a zero. And then to let her learn from her mistake. Not because you want to see her punished, but because you want to communicate that she is in control of his own destiny.
A Small Consequence Now Can Avoid a Bigger One Later
A small consequence now can avoid a bigger one later. I have to believe that Ethan's parents rescued, enabled, and softened every possible life lesson that might have come his way. Or as Sam might have remarked about the girl who messed up and missed the test, "She got a bad grade, learned a lesson, and never made the same mistake again? Imagine that."
This article was originally published on davidaltshuler.com.