So one of the biggest pieces of news for me this week was the story about the 16 year old boy in Texas who was on trial for manslaughter for killing 4 people. The 16 year old had been partying pretty hard by my standards – he had stolen beer from Wal-Mart, gone to a party and had gotten drunk. He then got behind the wheel of his car and had two passengers – I’m assuming they were also teenagers – with him. He then hit and killed 4 people who were on the side of the rode helping other stranded motorists. One of his passengers was ejected from the car and is now paralyzed and suffers other significant brain and physical injuries. He was convicted of the offenses. However, instead of being sent to prison or jail, he was placed on probation. That’s it. You read that right. His lawyers argued that he was the victim of “affluenza” – it’s apparently a psychological addiction to overconsumption, waste and a severe lack of respect for the rules and consequences. The attorneys in this case argued successfully that the parents of this kid never taught him consequences or that there would be ramifications for actions – good and bad depending on the situation. And the judge bought this.
Children at some point, realize that there is wrong and right and that there are consequences. My three year knows that if she hits or doesn’t follow instructions or something like that, she’ll get a time out. My son understands that as well. And they learn this in school/daycare also. My son will lose privileges and be spoken to if he acts up. My daughter gets removed from the play area that she was in if she hits etc. And this 16 year old has double digits on my kids. I can’t imagine that he never learned that there were consequences in school for not abiding by the rules. After all, school is a more stratified version of the real world – lots of rules, some of which beg to be broken. So even if he WERE skating at home, I simply can’t believe that he was so oblivious outside his home. He’s 16 for crying out loud. In New Hampshire, he’d be months away from being treated as an adult for purposes of the criminal justice system – he could go to jail or prison. At 16, while we may not fully formed, we are all aware that there are consequences – friends got detention or got grounded. Some of us may have even had friends who got pregnant – a consequence of having unprotected sex. We all took drivers’ education, which usually includes a segment about alcohol and driving. At some point, the cord needs to be cut – his parents, while they may have been delinquent in teaching their son about alcohol and driving – were not driving the car. At some point, we’re all responsible for our own actions. Assuming it’s true that he really had no clue about what to expect, or about consequences, would giving the kid a slap on the wrist do him any good?
I also feel like this points out the insane discrepancies of our criminal justice system. A poor person runs down 4 people and they’re going to jail simply because they don’t have “affluenza?” What happens if the person were a minority? Would that have made it different?