Friday, December 13, 2013

Getting away with it...

Okay, here's a word for you: Affluenza.

Apparently this word has been around for a while, but it's new to me, based on a case in Texas that I've been reading about. It seems that back in June, a sixteen-year old boy and his buddies went to their local Wal-Mart, stole some beer, and got drunk. Way drunk, in fact. CNN reports that his blood alcohol level was at 0.24, three times the legal limit if he had even been old enough to drink. We know his blood alcohol level because the kid proceeded to drive while drunk, caused an accident, and left four people in the other vehicle dead. Additionally, two people riding in the bed of the pickup the kid was driving were seriously injured.

The case, of course, went to court, where the kid's lawyers proceeded to claim that he was not legally responsible for his actions because his privileged, wealthy parents had never set boundaries for him. And that "affluenza defense" was apparently enough for the judge, because she sentenced him to 10 years probation but no jail time. Needless to say, the families of those killed are not happy about this outcome.

My first reaction to this is to question why it would matter whether or not his parents set limits on him. At 16 years old, surely the kid has been exposed to the idea that some things are wrong, if not actually illegal, and that there are consequences for doing them. But then I remembered the stories I've heard from teachers I know who talk about the "not my child" parents who don't believe their kid could ever do anything wrong and who fight against any punishment being given out when their little darlings get into trouble at school. So, yeah, I get that the kid might not realize that there are consequences for him. Which would make him a budding little sociopath in my book, but whatever.

The bigger problem is that there are kids of all socioeconomic levels who, for whatever reason, don't get good parenting, including that they don't have any effective limits placed on their behavior. But, by and large, when a wealthy or upper-middle-class kid gets in legal trouble, the reaction is often, "oh, poor baby" (essentially the judge's reaction in the current case) and the kid gets off with a slap on the wrist and a warning not to do it again. But if it is a poor kid who does the same thing, if you try to point out that the kid had a horrible childhood, bad parents, and a deprived living environment (because I'd call a kid that had no limits at all set on them by their parents deprived, but that might just be me), the judge would most likely say, "Too bad, so sad" and hand down a stiff sentence - maybe even try the kid as an adult and send him (or her) to real prison rather than juvenile detention or probation.

So, the fine American tradition of the double standard is alive and well in juvenile justice. And, oh, how difficult it was for me to not put quotation marks around the word "justice" in that last sentence, because there is no justice there.

Now, before you go off thinking that I just don't like rich kids, let me be clear: I'm not trying to say that the kid in this case should have gotten a stiffer sentence because he comes from a family that is better-off. But I think I am saying that maybe there should be some kind of consequences for the parents of kids who get in trouble essentially because they've taught their kids either through their parental behavior or by straight-out telling them that they're special, that they won't have to suffer the same consequences as other people when they do something stupid. You know, like steal beer, drink underage, and then drive drunk. I think this should be the case for all parents - rich, poor, and in-between.

Maybe I just don't understand because I had parents who set up limits on my behavior. These weren't especially strict limits, to be honest. Once I got to the age where I could go places on my own or with friends, I pretty much could go where I wanted and stay out as late as I wanted...with the provision that I let my parents know where I was going and who I was going to be with. Oh, and that if I got caught lying about were I was or who I was with, I would be on restriction for pretty much the rest of my life. They also taught me how to behave - you know, don't do anything illegal, treat others like you want to be treated, and don't mouth off to authority. And really, that's all it took to keep me out of trouble when I was a kid. And now that I'm an adult, as well.

The potential for trouble when I was a kid was there, believe me - I had some friends in junior high and high school who were in trouble a lot. But just that little bit of guidance, along with the understanding that I was going to be in deep shit if I did misbehave, did the trick. How hard would it be for parents to put forth just that little effort? Incredibly difficult, apparently.

But, yeah. I don't buy the affluenza defense, just like I never bought the "Twinkie defense". That's from the 1970s, so if you don't know what that is, go look it up.

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