- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 18, 2007

Should people be held responsible for the choices they make? The mother of one of Atlanta’s accused “Barbie Bandits” seems to think they should not. At least she thinks her 18-year-old daughter should be exempt from said responsibility.

On Feb. 27, the daughter and a 19-year-old friend reportedly conspired with a bank teller and at least one other individual to rob a Bank of America in suburban Atlanta. During the heist, the bandits were videotaped laughing as they handed a teller a note and casually waited for money. Police said a “considerable” amount of money was taken and a brief car chase followed. The two young women were stopped and arrested about 20 miles down the road.

The younger woman’s mother appeared on ABC’s “Good Morning America” and said, “I want (people) to know that her and (the friend) both are not bandits. They’re little girls that made a bad choice.”

Let’s see … said “little girls” reportedly planned the heist in advance, walked into the bank wearing sunglasses and appropriated funds that were not lawfully theirs. That is robbery, and my trusty American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language — Third Edition tells me a bandit is a robber. So yes, the young lady is a bandit, a criminal. And she deserves, therefore, to be punished so as to significantly reduce the likelihood that she will ever again commit a heinous criminal act, no matter how funny she might think said act to be.

The really interesting part of the mother’s statement, however, is her use of the word “choice.” She most definitely implies that her daughter’s “bad choice” was not really a choice, but more in the nature of an unfortunate accident for which she should not be held responsible. This is an example of the slippery postmodern slope on which the phrase “bad choice” now slides.

A few years ago, teachers began using “bad choice” so as to imply that bad behavior does not say anything about the person. Knowing something about how such educational trends get their start, I suppose someone went around the USA telling teacher groups that saying a child made a “bad choice” did less damage to self-esteem than saying the child did something “wrong” and should be ashamed of himself. (That’s exactly how my teachers told me I’d made a bad choice, by the way, and I seem to have survived the ordeal.)

Teachers then began reporting to parents that their children had made “bad choices.” That wording serves to deflect the defensiveness that is so typical of today’s parents. It’s so much less provocative, after all, to hear that one’s child made a bad choice, but that what he did wasn’t really bad at all. So parents picked right up on it.

Fifty years ago, when a child misbehaved, he was sternly told he’d done something very wrong and should be ashamed. Then he was made to apologize after which he was punished in some self-esteem-lowering fashion. Doing something very wrong clearly justifies punishment. It is not at all clear what is justified when someone makes a bad choice. Talking is what usually ensues; a “therapeutic” conversation that accomplishes nothing.

That’s the point, I submit. Today’s teachers will do whatever it takes to conceal that a child did something wrong and avoid having to punish because not taking such pains often results in punishment being directed at them from parents and administrators.

All-too-many of today’s parents will do whatever it takes to avoid punishing a child because they want their children to like them. So in both cases, accomplishing nothing is the preferred outcome.

In a statement to the media, the same young lady’s hopelessly benighted father revealed his inability to get with the times.

“God gives us free will and it’s up to us what we do with it,” he said. “Any adult has to make decisions and live with them, good, bad or indifferent.”

Is he in trouble, or what?

Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents’ questions on his Web site (www.rosemond.com).

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