Making the punishment fit the crime
“Do you have Dr. Pepper in a can? You better let him out!”
My, but prank calls are considerably more sophisticated – and dangerous – than when I was a kid.
Seems today’s trendy stunt is to concoct an elaborate tale about a kidnapping, worry your loved ones to their wits’ end and waste tons of public time, energy and money as officials search for you.
It happened twice Monday.
The case first reported involved 12- and 13-year-old cousins who decided it would be a giggle to disappear from a local mall, then text-message their parents that they were being held against their will.
The second involved a woman who wanted to get out of a date. She told her would-be suitor she’d been kidnapped. He called the police, and she kept law enforcement busy tracking her, as she described being hauled around south Sacramento in the trunk of a car. All the while, she was home.
The one true thing we know about the cases: Both were colossally stupid, incredibly immature stunts that wasted a lot of public resources.
What we don’t know, though, about the first in particular: That the girls are dumb and mean, that their parents are bad and that MySpace and cell phones are to blame.
Did the girls do something stupid? Clearly. Does that mean they’re stupid? Not necessarily. Do they need to learn about good judgment? Absolutely, starting now.
Do they have bad parents? Your honor, that’s assuming facts not in evidence. Do their parents now have huge problems on their hands? Oh, yes.
Are MySpace and cell phones factors that weren’t around when I was 12? Certainly. Did MySpace and cell phones make the girls do this? No. They’re just technological tools, and tools that aren’t going to go away.
Meanwhile, the public clamors for vengeance. “Lock them up with the scum of the earth” said one person who commented on modbee.com. Shave their heads to humiliate them, suggested another.
Well, let’s just throw them in the river, and if they don’t drown, we’ll know they’re witches.
I suspect none of that would work in the long run, though it might make folks feel better about having extracted their pound of flesh.
That’s an easy trap to fall into. I find myself doing it already, with my kids.
Like the other night when Little Guy was determined to avoid brushing his teeth. “Fine,” I growled. “Then you’re not watching ‘Little People’ tomorrow morning or ‘Thomas’ tomorrow night.”
Talk about your classic overreaction. Even if he’d understood what I was saying – and he didn’t – the punishment clearly was way in excess of the crime.
As it would be to throw these girls in jail with the scum of the earth.
Even if these girls are total reprobates – and, again, we don’t know that – they’re young enough that there’s hope for them.
So make the punishment fit the crime.
If they were my kids, I’d start with an apology to the police officers. Line up every cop involved in this case and make the girls look them in the eye. And maybe the officers can share some stories of what families go through when kids really disappear.
If they were my kids, cell phones would be gone, for a good long time. So would mall trips. They’ve shown that they can’t handle these privileges responsibly, so they’ll lose them.
If they were my kids, I’d keep them too dang busy to have time to dream up wild schemes. Whatever fines or legal costs they racked up, they’d pay off, by working for me at minimum wage for however many hours it takes to cover the tab.
But I’d keep them busy at the Salvation Army, a nursing home, a Habit for Humanity project. Anywhere that would show them the world is about more than cell phones and malls.
I’d assign them projects. Do something once a week to make life better for your family, your friends, someone you don’t even know. Anything that would show them the world isn’t all about them.
Come to think of it, I think I’ll start doing these things with my kids right now. Because I’d rather start early than have to implement something after trouble has started. And maybe trouble will start anyway. With children, you just never know, no matter how much you want to kid yourself that you do.
As parents, we can only teach, shape and pray. Ultimately, we cannot control.
Copyright 2007 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.