- The Washington Times - Friday, August 16, 2002

Yes, it's hot, hot, hot. But gone are the days when teens cooled themselves off on somebody's stoop after dark within range of Big Momma's watchful eyes. Now, believe it or not, the teeny-boppers can be found "hanging out" at steamy go-go clubs such as the Spot, DeRevolution and the New Hot Cafe in Prince George's County.

Well, that was until county police Chief Gerald M. Wilson became alarmed after four recent homicides involving teens and young adults ages 15 to 23. They all had one thing in common: They had just left the New Hot Cafe.

Capt. Andrew Ellis, police department spokesman, said since late May, 43 youths, some as young as 15, have been arrested on gun and drug charges in the parking lot of the Marlow Heights Shopping Center, where the New Hot Cafe which has since been shut down was located.

So Chief Wilson announced this week that his department is going to crack down on the county's teen curfew. They will be checking identifications at most of the music and dance clubs.

Now, I ask you, what in the world were kids as young as 13 doing hanging out in the New Hot Cafe in the first place? More important, where were their parents that they didn't know that their children were frequenting what is essentially a nightclub although it doesn't serve booze?

Capt. Ellis agrees with my sentiment that public educators and public-safety officials cannot be good surrogate parents, no matter how willing or how hard they try. It's also questionable what affect some government grants geared toward juvenile crime are having, given the recent spate of killings and maimings. This year alone, 52 percent of the county's 80 homicide victims were under 25 years of age.

Take note that the U.S. attorney for Maryland, Thomas M. DiBiagio, is investigating the state's juvenile justice crime-fighting initiatives administered by Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend including more than $500,000 in grants earmarked for nonprofit organizations contracted to rehabilitate juvenile offenders in Prince George's County.

Yet, none of these funds or laws takes the place of proper parenting. Good manners, personal hygiene, public decorum and respect for person and property are the purview of basic home training.

Curfews alone cannot address the complex problems posed by hard-core gangstas and street crews. Only consistent and substantive adult intervention and supervision will work.

This is another "feel-good" measure that demonstrates that far too many parents are abdicating their parental responsibility to knee-jerk politicians and ideas.

These lawmakers in effect afford parents an escape hatch. They take the difficult "tough love" decisions out of the hands of weak or weary parents, who either can't control or don't care to control their offspring.

Children, particularly preteens, need rules and boundaries. And adult authority must be established early on to head off bigger problems later.

Having raised children myself, I didn't need government help to keep my children in line. They fortunately had a large and loving extended family to show them the way.

I didn't need the police to go after them if they broke their curfew. Nothing gives teens more incentive to be punctual than the unmistakable knowledge that their parents will embarrass them by showing up to collect them from their favorite hangout if they break the rules. Once when my teen charges asked me to drop them off a block from their destination, I took that as my cue to not only deposit them at the front door, but also to park my car and go inside and investigate exactly what or who it was they didn't want me to see.

Granted, some children will not heed house rules. Some parents, especially single mothers, actually need the help of the law to rein in unruly teens, particularly growing boys. But studies indicate that curfews have a negligible affect on intractable juvenile crime. Strict enforcement and punishment are necessary on one end. Equally important are preventive programs that provide positive alternatives on the front end.

This is not Prince George's County's first attempt at enforcing the curfew, which was actually enacted in 1967 and fines parents from $50 to $250 for progressive violations.

The curfew law rightfully holds parents accountable by imposing the fine against them even though some sanction such as community service should be imposed on the youthful offender. Teens, too, must learn that they must be held accountable for their actions.

Closing the hot spots is a must. And curfews may help. But in the end, you might just have to send them back to Big Momma.

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