In early February this year (2016), media articles and social media sites were flooded with differing views on who’s to blame for the deaths of two teenagers in #Masterton following a police chase. Amongst the varied views, a few opinions that jumped out at me came from those that blamed the police, parents and the community.
Let’s first consider the views of those that blamed the police for the crash. I’d be interested to know what the alternative was? Aside from the fact that the police had stopped their chase prior to the crash, what would have happened if the police had ignored the obviously speeding car and these lads had crashed into an innocent driver on the way to work for an early morning shift? Had the innocent driver been my loved one – father, mother, uncle, aunty, cousin, son, daughter, husband, wife – I certainly would have blamed the police for not stopping these lads when they had the opportunity.
Then there is a core group of social media commentators who have strong views on why they think the parents are to blame. While sometimes that is the case, it will be unfair to speculate and throw hurtful words at the parents, without knowing the facts. Unfortunately we seem to have created a culture where the rights of normal parents to discipline their kids and teenagers seems to have been taken away at the expense of a minority of child beaters and abusers. This sadly means that many parents are “threatened” by their unruly teens that they would call the police and make a complaint if the parent tries to discipline their child. For instance, I know of a normal regular kiwi parent who had a phone call from the school that their teenager had not turned up to school. As a responsible parent, this person had driven around town, found the teenager, held their arm and asked them to get in the car. Another teenager made a complaint to the police that this responsible kiwi parent was abusing their child which led to the police knocking on their door. This parent felt that they had lost their right to even discipline their child. What then is the solution to “disciplining” unruly teenagers?
The third group of commentators felt that it was the community’s fault. Well intentioned social worker Alan Maxwell was “angry” that “these kids have such limited choices and the community is so apathetic to it all.” He went on to say that that they were just “bored” and that if “we” don’t give them things to do they make “stupid choices.” In my view, however well-intentioned and passionate his point of view is, this only instills a kind of quiet arrogance amongst teenagers that they can get away with anything. I remember once observing a friend who politely spoke to an unruly teenager who was dumping rubbish at a private building and dirtying the walls. A person who called themselves the “elder” suggested to my friend that we had no right to speak harshly or “put down” a young person because that would “hurt” them. !!!!!!!
Kids and teenagers need to be loved, protected and feel secure. However, this is not achieved by providing them freedom without boundaries. Mr Maxwell says that “At some point, as a community, we have to take responsibility, otherwise these kids are not going to be the only ones [to die] this year.” In a way Mr Maxwell is right. As a community member I do think we need to take responsibility.
We need to take responsibility and change the airy fairy way society is asked to handle teenagers. Let’s work toward creating strong, free, honest, ethical and responsible teens. This means that we are allowed to tell them firmly where their boundaries lie and enforce the boundaries; direct them to the amazing opportunities available to them and encourage them to put their minds to use so they don’t get “bored”; teaching them that stealing (cars or anything else) is not the right thing to do; advising them that the choices they make as teenagers can have a lifelong impact not just on them but their families too.
Let’s get responsible by giving back responsible parents the right to discipline their children in a safe manner. Let’s give them the right to give their teenagers a strict curfew time. Let’s give them the right to make them get their teenagers into the car if they are out past their curfew time. Let’s give parents the right to say No to their teenagers.
Let’s get responsible by not making excuses that the teens were “bored” but point them to the abundant boredom tackling opportunities available in New Zealand’s door step. Let’s train youth workers to teach teens that they can indeed go for a walk, swim in the river, climb trees or go for a push bike ride (things we did when we were kids and when no one needed to keep us from getting “bored”). Perhaps then come 10 pm tiredness will set in and the only place a teenager will want to go to is to bed.
This entire saga is sad in so many ways. Naughty though they may have been, it’s devastating when young people go before their time. I am not suggesting that we become so strict that we create robotic kids that are “perfect”. We have all made mistakes as teenagers but for most of us the kinds of things kids these days think they have the right to get up-to was not tolerated by society. Life had more boundaries. These boundaries kept us safe.
Perhaps, contrary to what Hollywood portrays, teenagers are not “mini–adults” and we need to become more “responsible” and create more boundaries to keep these teenagers safe until they become mature. This way they can have a lifetime of adventure without having their life snuffed out in their prime because of a life lived without boundaries.
Let’s find that middle ground where teenagers can create positive fun filled child-hood memories and live to tell the tale.
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(Sneha Gray is a writer and dream catcher who currently lives in the Sunny Bay of Plenty)