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The Madera Tribune

Juvenile justice needs new ideas

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webmaster | 08/31/12

I’m writing regarding your article on the $25,000 fine imposed on the parents of boys who damaged a vacant building. That decision will be popular with some people, but as a grandmother and parent, I’d like us to take a look at the other side of this picture.

When I was coming up, children were reared by their (two-parent) family, the church and the school, all working together. Today we have blended families, church attendance is down, Christian religion is forbidden in schools but the kids are taught about other religions. The schools teach that we are not totally human, having evolved from a lower life form. Sometimes, as in the case of wanton destruction, we act as if it were true, but it’s not. (There are still apes ...)

The school also teaches that there is no right and wrong. True, there are gray areas, but there are sure some things that work and some that don’t, and most parents try and point this out.

When kids get to be teens, they are wired to pull away from parental authority just at the time when they need guidance most. Peer pressure rules, and if, for example, the group leader wears his pants at half mast, that becomes the style, no matter how unattractive it looks.

One of my boys was creatively disobedient. Iwould ground him and he would climb out the window. When Itook away his allowance, he stole from me and used the money for pizza for his friends, buying popularity, though if his friends could be bought, they weren’t worth the price. When he refused to do any work around the house Isent him to bed without supper and a social worker said, “You can’t do that — it’s child abuse!” The parent is blamed for bad behavior, but we aren’t allowed to correct it.

Curiously, when he saw me weeding the flower bed, he came out and helped me and did a much better job than Idid, and there’s a message there, but I wasn’t smart enough to find it.

These kids don’t come with instructions. They’re one of a kind; what works with one won’t work with another, and the best we can do is what our parents did, which is now called child abuse.

My boy continued to misbehave and my husband took him and his brothers on a tour of boot camp, which was meant to be a wake-up call for him and a deterrent for the other two. It didn’t take, and the creative one got in trouble. His public defender told him to plead guilty because it was his first offense and if he did that, he would probably get probation, but if he put the court to the expense of a trial, he could go to prison. He pled guilty and did his time.

Then the bill came. He owes for the cot, for his food, for the report put together by the probation department, for the public defender, for the classes he is required to take, court costs, and for the probation officer. The bill came to several thousand dollars. Is the $25,000 in addition to the bills that result from the incarceration?

My boy had not graduated and would not go back to school, saying, “What’s the use?” So he has no diploma, no skills, is not bilingual, and has a criminal record. In the unlikely event that he should get a job, especially in this economy, the powers that be are poised and ready to attach his wages, which could jeopardize the job.

The damage to that vacant building has to be paid for, but the ones doing the paying should be the ones who dumped the paint. The destroyer can become the beautifier. There is a lot of work these kids could do that the city apparently doesn’t have money to pay for. Everyone understands fairness and everyone would know there would be personal consequences to face that would more than take away any of the expectation of fun or excitement for destroying someone else’s property. (Kind of like our parents’ rules.)

It may be time for parents to get together and come up with some fair but effective ways to help our children to be the people God meant them to be, under today’s rules, and to take back our children before more of them are caught up in this really strange, and, in my opinion, truly abusive system.

Elizabeth Phillips,


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