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Advertise on the Tentacle

May 8, 2014

Responsibility in America

Patricia A. Kelly

Banner faces $40K Cleanup” read The Frederick News-Post headline on Wednesday. Sometime between the end of the Willy Wonka play on Saturday night, and 10:30 on Sunday morning, someone blasted the interior of two school buildings with chemicals from the fire extinguishers.


Maybe this was a school kid prank gone awry, or maybe intentional evil. What could have prevented this? What should be the consequence?


When my brother Bob was young, he and his friends “went camping” in a vacant, under construction, house near our home, even building a campfire in the basement. There was plenty of damage, but no legal action, as the families of the young perpetrators entered into an agreement with the builder whereby the cost of repairs would be shared by the families. In our case, Bob was placed on a long term “restriction, and required to pay Dad back for at least enough of his share of the cost to cause him real distress, and probably a good lesson.


The most egregious example of youthful irresponsibility in recent years came into the news again yesterday when the liability insurance carrier for Ethan Crouch’s family agreed to pay $2,000,000 to the family of a teenager left brain damaged and paralyzed after the event.


This kid, Sergio Molina, who, by the way, voluntarily rode in the back of Ethan’s pickup, surely knowing he was drunk, can now only blink and smile, so requires 24-hour care to stay alive, at present in a hospital.


Ethan crashed at 70 mph, in a 40 mph zone, into two parked cars, while his blood alcohol was .24. And he had valium in his blood. Four innocent bystanders were killed, and 12 people injured, many seriously. He was found to have “affluenza,” the inability to understand the consequences of his actions due to the lack of parental teaching and supervision. Instead of going to the rehab facility his parents chose and offered to pay $500,000 for, he was committed to North Texas State hospital indefinitely, and given 10 years’ probation. He’s expected to be out in six to 12 months.


His parents have had their brushes with the law, too, but have not been jailed. They divorced in 2007 and, apparently, Ethan’s father left Ethan to raise himself after that time. They, and their liability insurers, have been settling with Ethan’s victims.


No one has been punished, ever, for giving birth to a child, and then negligently allowing him to become the teenage demon from hell.


Conservatives in politics talk about the issue of personal responsibility vs. government responsibility for the care and feeding of citizens. They express concern about the deterioration of personal character when too much is given to those who are not productive. People do expect a lot, these days.


My brother’s punishment was appropriate. I could see how it affected him, and how seriously he took it. It was long and hard and gave him plenty of time to work as a paperboy, giving his wages to Dad, and to sit at home wishing he was out playing with his friends. That was his last vandalism.


Now the world is more complicated. Instead of throwing the little mercury balls from a broken thermometer into the trash, or the commode, you call a hazmat team. Instead of having a builder repair childish boys’ damage, a professional remediator, at huge cost, is required. What child, if indeed it was some children, can pay even a reasonable share of $140,000 at Banner?


Do government largesse, two career households, the deification of celebrities, public awareness of the benefit of affluence with pressure to achieve the same, contribute to childhood misbehavior? To the view that one is owed? To the view that it’s not necessary to take responsibility for one’s actions?


Should affluent children with great attorneys receive lesser punishments for their crimes than poor children, raised just as badly?


The second question is easy. Bad childhoods among rich, white children should have the same compassionate, wise response as bad childhoods among the poor of every race and religious persuasion.


All should receive consequences, and be required to make restitution.


In answer to the first question, our society as a whole should consider expressing more admiration for true achievers, people like Dr. Ben Carson and his mother, and teaching our children the same. We are the ones who made Miley Cyrus one of America’s one hundred most influential people, according to Time magazine.


I imagine Ethan Crouch, not to mention his parents, would agree with Time’s choice.


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