AUGUST 18, 2006

Teenagers, they can be anything but easy.  I’ve come across enough of them in my day to know it.  Which is why I decided early in my career that I did not want to work with, investigate, or provide any type of intervention for juveniles.  Sure, there must be some good ones out there, but the kids that come through here are smart-mouthed, arrogant, insensitive, disrespectful, know-it-all punks.  You know how people say that someone being really irrational or immature is “acting like a child?”  Well, there’s a good reason for that expression, and here’s an example.

Years ago, I was working a beat with my partner when we noticed a young kid behind the wheel of a fancy, brand-new car. He was driving erratically, and when we pulled up behind him and lit him up he turned into the Tasmanian Devil and took off. But the chase didn't last long; after only a few blocks, he over-negotiated a right turn and went up over a curb and into a storefront. We grabbed him as he was trying to make his escape through a dress shop and brought him back to the station.

The kid was obnoxious and uncooperative, answering all our questions with insults and curses. He was underage and obviously under the influence of alcohol. When we ran his high school ID we discovered, not exactly to our surprise, that the punk had been listed on a number of prior police reports, for everything from stealing food from the cafeteria to threatening harm to teachers who accused him of cheating on exams. Since this little angel was a juvenile, we were obligated to contact Juvenile Hall and present our case to them for booking. This case did not qualify, which meant that only thing left to do was contact the parents and release the kid into their custody.

When I gave the parents a wake-up call, the father picked up. As I started to explain the situation, he very gruffly claimed that it was impossible that I had their son in custody, as he was asleep just down the hall, and then suggested I harass some other family in the middle of the night. I then suggested the father go check his son's bedroom. He sat down the phone, and when he returned, I could hear a slew of expletives being muttered to his wife. The father switched from disbelief to anger as I explained what had happened, relayed the sad ending of his brand new car and mentioned the monstrous bill he would be receiving from the owner of the building damaged in the crash.

An hour later, the father was leading his son out of the station. He controlled himself when we were nearby, but as they walked away I heard the father let out a tongue-lashing like I've never heard and saw him smack the kid on the head a few times. I admit that at first I was happy to see the kid suddenly so silent, listening miserably as his father lit into him about how he hadn't raised his son to be like this etc etc. But as the father's voice, still spewing insults, faded, I couldn't help but wonder if that was really true. At that moment, it didn't seem like the apple had fallen too far from the tree.

I know I'm not the first person to point out that a lot of delinquents we see in here have had trouble at home, that most have grown up with difficult parents, and that a lot of the time they're learning their behavior from their parents. I've also noticed – and to be honest, as a father this sometimes worries me most – that a lot of the worst kids we've picked up over the years are the offspring of preachers or cops. I've thought a lot about why that is, and I don't know if it's because those teenagers are acting out or because they feel they are somehow above the law – could be either, or both. All I know is, I sure as hell don't want my boys to end up like some of the kids I've brought in to the station over the years.

I'll be the first to admit that it's hard being a parent in today's world, and that I've made my share of mistakes. Unfortunately, teenagers aren't the only ones who sometimes have trouble controlling themselves. But I've tried to be understanding, and have made an effort to stay calm and not overreact when there's a problem. I've always tried to make as much time as I can for my sons, though with my hours it isn't always easy. All I can hope is that I've modeled good moral character for my boys. And that I've watched my language around them. Because what I've learned over the years is that when it comes to teaching your kids, it's not just what you say, but what you do that counts.

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