- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 28, 2005

When my children were teenagers and they didn’t meet the curfew their parents set, do you think we paced the floor waiting for them to come home to give them a scolding that surely was bound to go in one ear and out the other?

Not on their lives. And guess who went to fetch them? Their father, or me, or both of us were not a welcoming sight.

Nothing gives a child more incentive to bring their shakin’ booties home “from the club” in order to beat the curfew clock than the surefire embarrassing knowledge that Mom or Dad will show up at the club, too. Not to dance, but to haul them outta there in front of friends, foes and, God forbid, the boy or girl they had been flirting with all night.

Years later, we laugh about it, but they still talk about the terror that struck their hearts — not only of us, mind you, but also of the resulting peer pressure — when we went to collect them to make a parental point.

That point — one that seems to be lost today on so many parents — is to instill the unmistakable idea that you are in charge and your children must live by your rules.

Being a parent is not for weaklings. Most children do tell you later that while they may not have understood the parental commandments as a child, they appreciate them as an adult.

All that said, I am fully aware that my children were fortunate enough to benefit from living in a two-parent household, surrounded by large extended families. Being a single parent, even as I have discovered later in life, is as mammoth a challenge as any adult will ever face. Single parents need all the help they can get from all corners of the community.

It certainly shouldn’t fall to the police to round up teenagers and take them home after hours. But it is law enforcement’s responsibility to do a much better job of community policing by protecting property and the public, especially its children, which they seem hard-pressed to handle, given the rise of juvenile violence.

Yet, as another Ballou High School student was killed in a drive-by shooting after leaving a club early Sunday morning, D.C. officials, including Mayor Anthony A. Williams, Ward 8 D.C. Council member Marion Barry and Principal Daniel Hudson stood on the sidewalk and spoke in front of television cameras and talked out of both sides of their mouths.

Lavelle Jones, 16, was the fourth person with ties to Ballou to die violently in the past 14 months.

On the one hand, Mr. Williams continued his track record of making more empty promises about providing more youth services. On the other hand, he and Mr. Hudson seemed to shift the blame to parents, saying a 16-year-old should not be out at 2 a.m., the time Lavelle was shot.

Disciplining children is not the government’s responsibility, Mr. Williams and Mr. Hudson, a respected educator, said curiously, skating around their own responsibilities. Talk is cheap.

As usual, these public officials fell back on simplistic solution swords. Surprise, the city’s curfew is not working; it needs to be strengthened, they contend. No, what 16-year-old boys need is enrichment activities or job-training programs that keep them interested enough to stay out of trouble and out of “the club” at 2 a.m.

It is disingenuous for politicians to suggest Band-Aid solutions to juvenile crimes, including unenforceable measures such as outlawing the sale of adult video games to minors and imposing curfews for those younger than 17.

Need they be reminded that James Richardson, 17, was killed inside Ballou on a school day? Need they be reminded that most juvenile crime occurs between 3 and 6 p.m. when most parents are at work and there are few, if any, government-sponsored after-school activities?

How can politicians lay all the blame on parents but not include them in the public discourse? Mr. Williams locked out the Ballou High School PTSA and failed to invite the parent most recently affected, Adriene Jones, 34, to his public relations party.

Was it because he feared Ms. Jones would tell the truth? “If the mayor can quickly get a baseball team together, he should be able to do something for these youth out here,” she reportedly said.

Bad timing? No, bad manners. Bad manners compounded by insensitivity, as these officials appeared to shift blame for Lavelle’s death onto his grieving family as they prepared to bury the aspiring journalist, who by all current accounts was “a good kid.”

Somehow, we have bought into the unconscionable notion that we should care only if “a good kid” meets an untimely or tragic death. The undesirable deserve to die? Even when government officials have not provided opportunities in educational, recreational or vocational resources that may help parents keep their children on the “good kid” path?

A lot of taxpaying parents cannot afford those amenities.

Even if they’re able, no matter how doting, diligent and disciplined a parent may be, some children are just determined to behave badly for all sorts of reasons.

However, that complex “culture of violence” that Metropolitan Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey is so fond of seeking cover behind, does not begin and end at the parents’ doorstep.

What we forget each time we are faced with yet another child’s untimely death is that we are all parents and we all should feel some responsibility for all children, not just our own. Parents, especially those going it alone, need everyone’s help, most especially from sensitive, sensible, trustworthy government officials who should be most able to come up with better, more sound solutions than an unenforceable curfew.

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