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Burnett's Urban Etiquette

Monday, March 24, 2008

Responsibilty scale tipping

So I was talking with a cop buddy this morning - several of 'em, in fact - getting their insights in a number of phone calls and brief meetings on a story I'm working on.

As one call wrapped up and devolved into small talk, one of my guys brought up the case of a Miami-area woman whose young daughters got snatched yesterday by a guy she described to authorities as a "family friend." The problem was the woman didn't even know the "family friend's" last name. She knew him only by one of several first names he's given police. He had only been in the area a month or so, and she had moved him into her home...with her daughters. This guy was a virtual stranger. An Amber Alert was issued, and the good news is the girls were found alive and safe this morning in a small city about 30 miles from home.

My immediate response to this story from my cop buddy was that the suspect, if this isn't all a big misunderstanding and he really did kidnap those girls, should have unbreakable fishing line tied tightly around his jewels till they fall off...for starters.

My guy laughed and agreed, but then replied something to the effect of "yeah, but you gotta wonder what the mother was thinking."

And he was right. So that comment led the conversation briefly in another direction, to kids who have recently found themselves in trouble with the law. I used to insist that most teens and some tweens have enough sense to know that violent and assault and murder are wrong - the exceptions being some kids who suffer from some form of mental retardation or kids with diagnosable mental/psych conditions that make them prone to violence.

I rarely budged on that issue. But just like with this Amber Alert case, I'm seeing a rash of incidents involving juvenile offenders that are making me ask what responsibility the parents have.

There's a 12-year-old in custody here in South Florida for allegedly beating to death his toddler niece with a baseball bat, because she was crying too loudly and interrupting his cartoons. A 16-year-old here in South Florida is fast approaching a trial date on murder charges after he and a few buddies allegedly terrorized a high school graduation party and fatally shot a party-goer during what was supposed to have been an armed robbery. Also in South Florida, three more teens - two are legally adults now, I believe - are in jail awaiting charges of assaulting a bunch of homeless people in parks and a gas station parking lot. They allegedly killed one of the homeless, and reportedly admitted it during questioning by police. Before a couple of the homeless-killers were caught, they fled the state temporarily (likely with their parents' help or knowledge) to hide with family elsewhere in the South.

I never, ever would have bought that "he didn't know better argument." And I'm not saying these cases have completely changed my mind about that. I'm just saying maybe the kids alone aren't responsible.

These particular parents can't have it both ways. If their killer kids are so incompetent, as to not understand that violent assault and murder are bad, that's not a level of incompetence reached overnight. It had to've been stewing a while. And that would mean the parents were conceivably aware that their kids were ticking time bombs. And if they weren't aware should they have been?

What do you think; is it unreasonable to put some of the legal responsibility on the parents of killer kids, or do you believe the average parent could be completely caught off guard and not know their kid had it in 'im to kill?

It's not a PC thing to say, but remember, one need only look back to the woman who moved a guy whose full name she didn't know into her home with her two young children, to realize that sometimes the parents do share some blame when bad things happen with their kids.

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  • I think in most cases that the parents bear most of the responsibility. We are constantly reading about women who invite guys in their homes who are junkies, criminals, and sex offenders (and sometimes the mothers aren't much better). What kind of environment is that for a child? If they do survive to adulthood, (and many don't) they can have a warped outlook. There are many who manage to grow up without being adversely affected, but most seem to end up just like their worthless role models. One big contributing factor is fathers who won't take responsibility for their children or get involved with their lives in a positive manner.
    Just my opinion.

    By Blogger BobG, at 1:57 PM  

  • BobG, that father's involvement thing is huge. I agree with you. There are more uninvolved sperm donors out there than I ever imagined.

    By Blogger James Burnett, at 2:25 PM  

  • Parents are responsible to teach their kids right from wrong; and when a child acts out in the ways you describe, the parents of that child should be scrutinized closely.

    But I can think of cases where a parent really can't instill a sense of decency into their children; I have a cousin who is a sociopath. He has done terrible things, things that no one in the family would ever consider; his brothers are pillars of the community, but he's the original bad seed. Outside of drowning him as an evil toddler, I can't think of what they could have done to change him. He was literally born bad.

    Of course, most of these kids aren't born bad. We are, for the most part, a product of our environment, and it's up to our parents to provide us an environment with rules, limits and consequences for breaking the rules and exceeding those limits.

    Parents should be made accountable long before it reaches the stage of police involvment; kids work up to violent crimes. They start by bullying classmates, they callously kill "inconsequential" animals and plants, they destroy their toys, their sibling's toys, and their friends toys.

    A parent who brushes off these warning signs should be slapped with stiff penalties; they do their children (and society) no favors when they let their children show wanton disregard for everything around them.

    By Blogger C.L.J., at 2:25 PM  

  • we should have to get a license to birth children.

    kids should be disciplined.

    killers should have key thrown away.

    By Blogger Pamela, at 10:21 PM  

  • Please stop by my blog. I have a few things for you and Mrs. B. Thanks.

    By Blogger The CEO, at 10:22 PM  

  • I agree there are times when bad parenting contributes to the child's behavior. Most of the time, when that's true, it also is very obvious.

    But you can't blanket every parent with the 'bad parent' moniker when a child does the wrong thing. Sometimes, you can do everything a parent should do and the kid will still screw up, especially if they're in the wrong peer group.

    Unfortunately, we can't keep kids under our watchful eye 24/7. And wwe can't stop them from making stupid decisions. Sometimes, no matter what parents do, the worst will happen. All you can do is teach them right from wrong, give them the tools to make the best choices, and hope the lessons stick.

    By Blogger SWF42, at 12:40 PM  

  • Agreed - 100%. You cannot make questionable decisions as a parent and then plead utter innocence when something bad happens. She MOVED HIM IN AND DIDN'T KNOW HIS LAST NAME. Good lord. I left town right before the homeless beatings/killings started and I've been following the case. I hope those kids get it and get it good. No excuse - and yeah, you know darn well their folks helped them flee originally. Ridiculous.

    P.S. Mr. Writer man, you've been tagged.

    By Blogger Melissa, at 1:56 PM  

  • C.J., you said the magic words "product of our environment." We have a dirty environment, and I don't mean the kind that inspires the hugging of trees.

    Pamela, the government freaks me out. But that license thing might not be horrible. What the hell? We need a license to drive but not to create and "manage" life? Still, I don't like the idea of Uncle Sam exercising anymore control than he already has over our lives. Less would be better.

    Monty, I'll stop by this afternoon. I'm replying to comments in between the completion of an article. Waiting for my editor to read it and tell me if he has suggestions or if he's gonna leave it as is.

    SWF42, I know you're right. Some kids are grown and smart enough to know exactly what they're doing wrong when they commit crimes. I guess I'm just moved by so many examples lately of clueless parents who either put their kids in situations that made them more likely to go wrong or had no idea of what their kids were getting into.

    Melissa, that whole not-knowing-the-last-name thing was trippy. I couldn't believe that. I'll stop by later this afternoon to see what I've been tagged with. Thanks for thinking of me ;>)

    By Blogger James Burnett, at 2:27 PM  

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