Teen Responsibility - The Cold Hard Facts
by Sally Burgess, Forefront Families LLC
Here in Tennessee we are still reeling from the findings of a recent court case involving four University students either aiding in or raping an unconscious girl in one of their dorm rooms. Their defense was merely that they were too drunk to know what they were doing, thus implying that they were not responsible for their actions!
As the guilty verdicts were read the cameras were aimed straight at the faces of the first two students being tried in this case. One stood stone faced while the other looked quite bewildered as though he couldn't believe he would be found guilty when he didn't physically touch the girl. It was his girlfriend. He dragged her into his dorm room, organized the assault and then videoed and posted the images to his friends!
I must say that I couldn't help thinking the defense lawyers must have been completely out of their minds to imagine that being too inebriated to bare any responsibility would actually stand up in court, or that being party to the act without actually causing physical harm would make one any less culpable! What would cause four bright young students with promising futures to act in this despicable manner?
When is a person responsible for his or her own actions? I believe that it begins at the time he or she understands the concept of right and wrong! This training begins from the time children are toddlers and continues to develop through into adulthood. They learn from parental expectations or values, from schoolteachers, from church or synagogue, and from grandparents or other significant people. They also learn the consequences of disobedience. These young men knew that they were doing wrong and the guilty verdict certainly proved this.
Why do some children NOT understand right from wrong? Again I believe that it begins when parents do not exhibit positive moral or ethical behavior. When parents create mixed messages e.g. say to their kids, "Do as I say, not as I do!" When parents say, "I don't care what you do, just don't get caught!" Children's understanding of right and wrong may also be delayed by emotional deprivation and physical abuse.
My husband, a school counselor and past school administrator believes that a few children he has been involved with truly had no conscience, while many others had poorly developed consciences. Can it be developed in later years? Yes it can, but it is much easier to train a very young child who has a 'clean slate' than to have to deprogram these undesirable learned behaviors later. Some only learn the hard way from the most serious of consequences such as incarceration.
Some people have the misguided notion that rules and laws apply to some and not to others. The term 'entitlement' is an ugly one and, unfortunately, some parents instill this attitude in their children. When the children leave the protection or shelter of their parental 'nest' they soon discover that expectations of those rules/laws in the 'real world' are far more restricting, that no-one is going to come to their rescue and that there ARE consequences for their negative actions.
How do we know that our children are adequately prepared to take total responsibility for their actions?
a) When they own up to their mistakes.
b) When they shoulder the consequences without complaint.
c) When they do not repeat the same errors in judgment.
d) When they refrain from blaming others.
e) When they make wise choices
f) When they do the right thing whether others are watching or not.
To answer the question regarding why four bright students at a prestigious University would act in such a shocking manner, the following excuses could be proffered. Uncontrolled drinking made them lose perspective. They got caught up in the excitement of animalistic behavior. They thought that rules are made to be broken. They didn't think about their actions as being disrespectful toward others. They thought they could do anything they wanted behind closed doors and nobody would know. They didn't appear to realize that what they were doing was a crime. They didn't know that being involved in ANY part of a crime would incur the same penalty.
Are any of the above actions or beliefs excusable? Absolutely not! We do not do our children any favors by not training them to act within the law or by running to their rescue when they break them. Your teens will experience a happy and fulfilled life when they learn to take full responsibility for their actions.
If you have any questions or comments on this subject please feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org, and check out our website at www.forefrontfamilies.org and our blogsite at www.forefrontfamilies.blogspot.com