Teen Behavior & Accountability

Archived Q&A and Reviews

Regarding recent public notice and debate of teen behaviors at Willard and BHS involving rape and arson , I would like to point out that there appears to me to be an attitude of apparent despair on the part of many adults in position of authority to teen uncivil and unlawful behavior. Various reactions I've observed over the last year point toward an attitude of profound pessimism an neglect.

Last year our car was stolen by two BHS girls, apparently for a joy ride, since nothing valuable was taken from the car. The way we know about this was that a day later the girls were stopped due to an off duty highway patrol officer noticing their erratic driving. (They trashed the transmission and put an estimated $2,000 worth of damage in the rear end of the car). He discovered that the car was stolen while checking their id's. They were caught red handed. We were called and collected the trashed car. The result? We were unable to collect any damages. There was no insurance coverage for the drivers, and no parental involvement. When the case was brought to the local courts it was thrown out FOR LACK OF EVIDENCE. We could not even get from the local police the identities of the juveniles in order to try and have our insurance make collection. The lesson to the children involved in this incident, and probably their friends who knew of it, was HEY COOL.

Our guess is, in this instance, the authorities knew the family of these girls had no ability to financially rectify the situation. Even if there was a financial judgment the money could not be collected. However what seems to be missing in this equation is that financial fairness does not represent civil fairness and civil responsibility. Not all transactions (even legal ones) are issues of money. How is it that the adults in position of legal responsibility can turn a jaundiced eye, can dismiss the behavior, sweep it under the carpet? It certainly was not an action that benefited (educated and nurtured) the teens involved.

For every incident that gets reported to the public you KNOW there are many that are not. This was one of the un-reported incidents but it represents an example of the problem.

Where was the sense of civic duty to educate the girls involved? A lesson in getting by is a lesson far more costly to society than the $2000 in damages we paid to restore the car. How is it our local judicial system deliver this kind of judgment? Why couldn't the girls have been given a requirement of social service to work off their actions? This, in essence, was a profound statement of LACK of caring to these teenagers which said We don't care what you do. OR We are too busy, or to pessimistic to deliver any consequence to your action.

When situations that involve illegal and violent activity by teens are covered up, silenced, shrugged off, left unreported, unchallenged, and unpunished (and by that I mean responsible and fair discipline), the message, fundamentally is, we do not care. It is not protection of juveniles to hide the facts. Yes, their identities should be protected and yes, they should be allowed a chance to make amends without a criminal record. But no action or slow action and no consequence is not protection of juveniles. This represents a disorder in the adult mindset. Our teenagers need a clear message that they ARE part of civil society, we do care enough to follow up, and they do have to bear the responsibilities connected with their actions in the world.

Your letter is insightful and struck an important chord. Research done at UC Santa Barbara in New Zealand and Australia with perpetrators and victims shows that face to face meetings in such cases with a trained court social worker or police facilitator to discuss apologies, hear everyone's side of the story, and arrange reparations (often not monetary, but community service as you suggest) serves often to turn the life around of teens and others who are taking big risks while harming others in the community. It provides for community building, taking responsibility and healing for both sides when done right----the professor whose work on this is published is Tom Scheff, UCSB.

A wonderful resource person at the Berkeley Police Dept, if he has not retired, is the juvenile bureau counselor who meets with teens and parents when the police SEND the teens to him----he is a thoughtful and helpful counselor in these situations and makes demands of the teens ( write a serious essay about your actions, and what you plan to do with your life....) as well as advising them of the legal consequences of continuing down the troubled path--- I am wondering why this type of intervention was not used with these girls?? you might call and speak to him---the BPD can give you his name. He is retired from the Berkeley schools, I believe---- good luck. Anon.