Raise your hand if you did something stupid when you were 7 years old.
OK, put ’em down, put ’em down. Just as I thought. Everybody has.
Since I only have so much space for this column, I’ll tell you about just one personal incident. When I was 7, I took apart my mother’s antique Mickey Mouse watch. I did not know how to put it back together.
When the whole scheme was discovered, I thought I was going to be taken apart, until Mom thankfully put herself back together. I was grounded for a while – a period of time that finally ended this past October.
WHAT KIND OF trouble did you get into when you were 7?
Hopefully nothing like the kid from Philadelphia.
Last month in that city’s Juniata Park neighborhood, police say three home invaders burst into the apartment of a 51-year-old woman, trashed her home and beat her with sticks, stones, a jump rope, a plunger and a potted plant. That was before they robbed her and left her screaming in hysterics.
You might see where I’m going with this. The oldest of the three suspects is 12. The youngest is 7.
Read that again: Philadelphia police tracked down, and believe they have found, a 7-year-old home invader. This isn’t Dennis the Menace scaring a lady with a rubber snake. This is assault and battery, property damage and theft.
Way back when I covered the cop beat as a reporter in Statesboro, the youngest suspect I ever wrote about was 12. He was a kid whose parents had split up, and one day he decided to take his uncle’s truck to go see his estranged dad. In Savannah. He almost made it, too, until Savannah police pulled him over on the Chatham Parkway.
But that’s not what I wrote about.
WHILE THE KID was waiting to be arraigned for that road trip, he decided to go on another one. This time he sneaked out of class at the rural elementary school he attended, and borrowed a school bus. Some adults can’t handle a bus. This kid managed to make it several miles, to near the center of Statesboro, and finally was stopped by a cordon of police cruisers – but only after he rammed a detective’s car.
When his court date arrived, I had to see what this kid looked like. Remember the kid from A Christmas Story? The kid who played Messy Marvin in those old chocolate syrup commercials? Dead ringer – and he was wearing what had to have been the smallest orange jumpsuit they had in the supply closet, and it was still baggy on him.
Such stories range from the horrifying to the vaguely comical, but you and I probably have read or heard far too many stories about kids getting into serious trouble. They don’t all involve 7-year-olds, but most stories share at least one trait: The kids are miles away from their parents.
And by “miles away,” that can mean physically and emotionally.
A LOT OF FACTORS are at play. Just look around. Households with two married parents aren’t nearly as common as they used to be. Men and women with kids aren’t acting like moms and dads. Too many kids are left to wander or fend for themselves, with no guidance from responsible adults, and with sadly predictable results.
American culture is getting cruder. Folks are getting ruder. And who has time to attend church?
In fairness, there are kids who emerge unscathed from broken or unconventional homes to lead happy and productive lives. There are some of those surprising stories out there.
But the reason those stories are so surprising is because the kids had to fight such astronomical odds.
So what should we do? Improve the odds.
We have to fight for a society that promotes a stronger family unit. When people a generation ago bemoaned the decline of family values, skeptics snickered. Well, it’s a generation later. Who’s still laughing? Certainly not the Philadelphia woman who got brutalized by a trio of grade-schoolers.
Being a parent means loving your child, and guiding your child. Explain to your child not only what’s right and wrong, but why. Being a parent means including a child in your life whose needs you put ahead of yours. And it doesn’t matter whether you’re rich or poor – spending time with your child doesn’t cost a dime.
But please, if your school-age child takes the bus, make sure he doesn’t actually take the bus.