I've gotten to thinking again about the "affluenza teen."
If you're not familiar with the term "affluenza," it's a word used to describe the so-called affliction of over-privileged youth who were so spoiled growing up they never actually learned the difference between right and wrong, or how to take responsibility for their actions. It was successfully used as a defense tactic for a teenager who was drunk driving and killed four people in 2013 in Texas.
He had been charged with four counts of intoxication manslaughter and other charges for injuring others. He could have gotten up to 20 years in prison, but instead, he got just 10 years of probation, which his mother actually helped him violate by sweeping him off to Mexico. They were just caught last month, after someone spotted him in a Twitter post about playing beer pong. The teen was detained and is still in Mexico, and the mother was brought back to the States. She was in jail on a $1 million bond for "hindering apprehension of a felon," but her bond was somehow reduced to $75,000, and she posted it, so now she's out again.
There are so many things wrong here, it makes me crazy. This should never happen again. Clearly, the legal system let him, and the rest of us, down in this situation.
But I'm here to talk about the mom letting the son down. We, as parents have to teach our children to be responsible. How could you live with yourself knowing that happened and your child had no remorse?
You can't teach them at 16. Being in jail might have woken him up, but teaching has to start when they're little. And no parent should be able to get away with saying, "Well, I just didn't teach him right from wrong because I thought he didn't need to know that." That's one of the most important things we can teach them. We owe that to our children as parents. Otherwise, you're raising a teenager like that one.
When do you start? You start when they're very little. You start with teaching them to put their toys away as toddlers, and that if they want something, they have to ask for it. All those things are teaching them to be responsible and respectful. When they're really little, you can do these things with them, and talk about why this is what you have to do. There should always be communication going on with each of the tasks.
When they're little, they're most receptive. Sometimes parents think, "Well, it's easy. I'll just do this for them." Then they're teenagers who think that they don't have to do anything because someone will do it for them.
If it's something that's important in your household, it's important to teach the child their part in it and to be responsible. You're teaching them to be a responsible member of your family, and then you carry that responsibility out into society. We all have jobs to do, including following rules that keep other people safe.
After you start giving children little jobs to be responsible, if they don't follow it, let there be a logical natural consequence. Say your daughter really wants to wear her favorite nightgown, but she spilled syrup all over it and instead of putting it in the hamper to be washed, she left it on the floor. Don't scramble to wash the nightgown for her. Impress upon her that when she doesn't put dirty clothes in the hamper, she might not get to wear what she wants. It's not going to kill her not to wear that nightgown.
At Enterprise Child Care, we put milk in small pitchers and let the children pour their own. They love getting to do that, and sometimes they spill it. We don't scream and holler. We say, "What do you need to do? You need to get a paper towel and clean it up. And you need to be a little slower and more careful next time you pour."
We don't want to miss those opportunities to teach when they're about little, minor things. When they get a little older and get a bad grade or miss playing at recess because they didn't do their homework, don't rush to handle it with the teacher. Allow the child to face consequences for not doing what he or she should have done.
They need to practice taking responsibility and dealing with whatever the consequence is. If we're not explaining how important it is to accept your consequences, they're going to think there are no consequences.
Parents simply must give their children that solid foundation about actions and consequences, so kids can make that leap to the consequences in their minds before they even make the mistake. Then they're likely to make better decisions. It's really a shame that the teen in Texas didn't do that. Four people lost their lives because of it.
Suzi Brodof is executive director of River Valley Child Development Services in Huntington. It offers child care at Enterprise Child Development Center, after school programs at Meadows Elementary and the Explorer Academy, and other services for children as young as infants up through elementary school.