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Tuesday, August 31. 2010
Don't steal, don't lift
The deal is the social contract and the contract of civility.
By some fluke, in the past month I have consulted with three teens who have run afoul of the law, including one 16 year-old who could be facing many years in jail.
Not one of these kids realized or had ever considered that what they had done was criminal. It got me to thinking.
In my parents' generation, the kids took a course called "Civics." It was about our government, laws, civil behavior, civic responsibility, how to be a citizen of a free republic, etc. It was replaced, in time, by some strange Dewey-ish thing called "Social Studies" in public schools (but private schools, like mine, never did "Social Studies). My guess is that nowadays it's about recycling, respecting "others," and appreciating Serbian cuisine and folk dress.
When I met with the parents, I discovered that the parents had never discussed the laws with their kids. They figured they had "basically good kids."
Whatever that means.
I'd like to launch a movement to re-institute Civics. I'd like to see kids get classes from cops and criminal and non-criminal lawyers about the laws and the legal process. I'd like to see kids taught about being a citizen in a free repubic, and their duties and reponsibilities. I am certain that not all parents convey those things today, but if kids aren't taught these things they will find out the hard way. It takes lots of people to teach a kid how to be an acceptable member of society.
A good parental example is a good start, but not enough. They need feedback and simple information.
When I went to boarding school we had daily chapel. We acknowledged God and Jesus plenty, but most of the brief homilies were about how to be a decent member of a community. Those messages stuck, even to wanna-be sophisticated and wanna-be jaded young hipsters like I tried to be.
The core of the problem is the modernist assumption of "basic goodness." Frankly, that is pure BS.
A 16 year-old boy fondled a precocious and eager 14 year-old in his car after school. Another kid told the parents, parents called the cops, and the 16 year-old is facing many years in jail on pedophilia counts. The prosecutor has him as an adult pedophile. Nobody ever told him.
It's not the sort of topic that comes up over the dinner table, but somebody could have and should have told him about the laws.
A teen served booze to some minor friends while the parents were out. All in good stupid teen fun, but when one kid came home blind drunk and puking, the parents decided to make a case out of it against the teen (and her parents). The parents saw $ signs, but the state's attorney saw worse. He had his career in mind.
It's understood that teens do mindless things all the time. How many pregnant teens are there in the US right now? Somebody needs to inform these kids about the seriousness of seemingly-innocent (if foolish) actions and behaviors, which can ruin their lives.
Parents, of course, but some community reinforcement might help unless they are totally insulated from real life. A teen - or an adult - can ruin his life for good with a momentary stupid impulse. Somebody has to warn them, because ignorance of the law is not a defense. If financial firms have huge compliance departments to make sure everybody knows the rules, why not our kids?
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No doubt the kids need to know the law. OTOH, I live in a pretty conservative community and a fellow was running for sheriff promising to go after drugs, i.e., marijuana. He didn't get elected. As one parent told me, he sure didn't want his kid going off to jail for x years because of an experiment with drugs. The laws really need to make some sense.
Reminds me of my Ph'D advisor telling of a Texas sheriff chasing after him and his buddy, firing shots from his .45. "He wasn't trying to hit you, was he?" I asked. "Of course not," he answered. These days the sheriff would probably get fired and the kids would end up in jail. A certain amount of good sense seems to have gone by the way in trying to replace social pressure and low level enforcement with iron clad laws. In practice it is just a way to avoid responsibility.
This all happened at the same time religion went out the window.
Kids who are brought up with their family's faith know what's right and wrong.
I've had the "precocious 14-year-old" conversation with my son, I hope in sufficiently clear detail. I haven't had a similar conversation with my daughter, mostly because she has been shy about dating anyway and she finds the teen boys to be beneath her notice.
Some states have a "Romeo and Juliet" version of the age of consent, usually based on a three-year gap -- thus an 18-year-old and a 15-year-old don't constitute a crime, but an 18-year-old and a 14-year-old might. I don't know where to draw a line protecting teens or children who may be precocious and eager but aren't ready. We need some form of line.
I live in a rural area of New Jersey. Yeah, we have them. Everything is a felony here. Move 50 miles east to Newark, stuff that is worth jail time here doesn't even raise an eyebrow.
There are two separate problems. Kids raising themselves, with too much unsupervised time in neighborhoods without nosy adults who know them to keep an eye on them (children of single parent or neglectful homes, children of exhausted dual wage earner households)--this group probably would benefit from knowing the law, and getting advice from adult authority figures.
The second group of kids is the kind I am surrounded by: kids who have every material advantage, whose parents are married, who are mostly bright, who know perfectly well what the rules are, but who think that the rules do not apply to them. Parents whose first response when a kid gets into trouble is to call an expensive lawyer (whereas our generation might have had our hide tanned). You can't do much with people who think they can buy their way out of every difficult situation, who have grown up observing their parents doing just that.
One thing my kids observed in their high school which tried to institute zero tolerance policies (I think Federally mandated?) for drug or alcohol use, was that the more timid teachers would simply become blind because they were so terrified of angry parents who would demand that a teacher be fired if they reported little Fotherington being drunk and disorderly in math class. While I agree that all kids do dumb things, I think it is dumb to have such draconian policies (I think immediate suspension and possible expulsion) that they do not get enforced. This leads the kids to have zero respect for the rules. A bit like our immigration policies...
I've always been a big believer in the kind of exquisite psychological torture/embarrassment dished out at my British boarding school for misbehavior. A typical one might be for some silly girl caught with a village boy to have to sit in front of the whole school, and everyone would of course know why, and the littlest girls would giggle "eee she was snogging with a yobbo!" Nowadays, this would be called cruel, but the girl would at least take care never to be caught again. No parents or police needed, just peer mockery and scowls of staff and (worst of all) no cake at tea for a week.
A far bigger problem is the overcriminalisation of society.
"16 year old arrested on pedophilia charges for fondling 14 year old" is just insane.
They're both kids, kids do that all the time with no criminal intent or purpose. There's no sex, just snuggling and kissing, at that age they're falling in love, hormones fly, it's NATURAL.
But some adult sees it and goes berserk because he's not had his nookie for weeks now that he's married and calls the cops.
Kids experiment with a beer now and then. I'm sure you did at that age, no harm came from it I think.
I know my parents would have (in fact did) encourage me to try some wine and beer at that age, so I'd learn what it is and does in a controlled environment.
If parents do that now, in the US, they're thrown in prison (and apparently so are the kids).
If laws make no sense, are so numerous that it's impossible to know what's legal and what isn't, and are enforced seemingly randomly (no surprise, as even the police and prosecutors often don't know what the law is), how in hell can you expect people to adhere to them (especially kids, and people who've not gone to law school)?
See http://www.overcriminalized.com for some examples of chilling stories, including a kid getting thrown in police prison for eating a french fry on the subway.
Somewhere along the way (probably in the Haight-Ashbury era) the concept of judgement (as in being judged) lost its relevance and power. The cry of the hippies was "who are you to judge me?," and so we stopped judging. And so was lost the concept of "Good Judgement."
Good judgement is a balancing of consequences and context and selecting a behavioral path that leads to good outcomes. When people don't use good judgement there seems to be a rash rush to create more rules to define behavior. It just doesn't work. We must find a way to teach and reward good judgement again.
I am all for more Civics courses. And History, and Behavioral Psychology, and Ethics, and all those old school topics that made students think.
But really is a teen serving teens alcohol isn't the same as someone of age serving alcohol? I think half the problem is that we baby them. At the age when our parents were raising families these poor kids can't even have a beer. The new Eve of Destruction would have to say "old enough to kill but not for drinking" In our crazy society everything is available but forbidden. No wonder they have no respect.