One of my all time favorite cartoons shows in the back ground a house that has been burned and wisps of smoke are still rising. On the side walk in front of the house is a mother squatting down to talk eye-level with a little girl about 4 or 5 years old. The caption says “Mommy and Daddy are not mad at YOU, Marilyn, we’re upset at the naughty thing you’ve done.”
While I guess that this cartoon is aimed more at “modern day” permissive parents, I see a much deeper meaning in this way of thinking.
I see it in families whose lives have been “burned down” by their children, and the parents say to them or about them “it’s not him, it’s the DRUGS” Some how these parents aren’t able to get mad at junior, but only be mad at the “naughty” thing he’s done.
Banks don’t get robbed in isolation. Someone has to plan and execute that plan to rob a bank. Drugs don’t rob banks to buy themselves, PEOPLE rob banks and liquor stores and houses in order to get money to buy drugs.
”But it’s a sickness, he can’t help himself, it’s the drugs that do it” is so often the plea from the parents and loved ones of these repeat offenders who continue to break the law and blame the drugs or bad companions.
While the 4-year old arsonists like “Marilyn,” even if she did it deliberately, needs help and understanding that she did a really naughty thing and that it must not happen again. However, if this were her 15 year older brother who poured gasoline in the house and struck a match, now we have a different set of facts, and a person who was old enough to know what they were doing was wrong and would have terrible consequences for everyone. At this age, where the older “child” has some real ideas of the consequences of the arson, to reach that child (if they can be) and turn around their thinking and behavior is very problematic. Many attempts to “save” such a teenager from their choices are not successful, even with the best therapy and resources and the most caring parents.
As a society, I think, we need to focus more on the behavior that is problematic, rather than on the “reason” someone does it. (Unless a person is totally out of touch with reality or so severely retarded mentally that they can’t comprehend what they are doing is wrong).
There have been many arguments of what is the “age of reason” at which point a child can be and should be tried as an “adult” because we do know that children’s brains are not mature, in fact, though 18 is now “of legal age” to be responsible for yourself, we know that the brain’s executive function doesn’t fully mature until about age 26. There is some variation on that age, we know and as well as kids with higher IQs have a better understanding intellectually, though maybe not emotionally. There is no “one size fits all” or “one age” fits all, but the law has to have some standards, and it varies from state to state to some extent.
I think though that as a society we need to put the shame, blame and consequences on the people who violate the laws and mores of society…we need to get mad at them. People–me, you, everyone, needs to be responsible for their behaviors, to accept the praise or blame, and the consequences, and for violence, those consequences should be severe.