Texas “Affluenza” teen could be more like our child than we think

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Not guilty by reason of…prosperity? Last month Texas teen Ethan Couch (story here), received probation after causing the deaths of four pedestrians while driving under the influence. There is understandable outrage that someone would receive a slap on the wrist after recklessly causing multiple deaths. Better yet, that he is deemed a victim…of his family’s wealth. But is this actually anything new?

This certainly would not be the first time someone slipped through the legal cracks due to wealth. Who could forget the original O.J. Simpson trial? Albeit the racial tension surrounding that case, it really came down to hiring some of the best attorneys money could buy. And let us not forget the corporate sharks who have taken millions from employees and investors, but at most receive a few months in prison-lite.

There is plenty of evidence showing those with more means can often beat, if not control, the system. Politicians from both major parties seem more beholden to major campaign donors than their constituents. Despite any rhetoric saying otherwise, both clamored to “bailout” reckless banks. Without missing a beat, those banks foreclosed on the homes of taxpayers whose money kept them in business. Those of us in the 99% can say we are nothing like those people. At least we like to think.

It is always easy to stand at the bottom of the mountain and complain about the trash thrown down from the top. But to act as if we do not float our trash downstream to someone else is simply hypocritical. We like to paint the rich and powerful as the sole perpetrators and beneficiaries of dodging justice. What if, the only difference between them and us is having the resources to do it better?

Unfortunately, we live in a society in which we are constantly letting people off the hook; for the wrong reasons. There are men who let pretty women slide by if they flirt a little. There are women who allow attractive guys to get away with what would otherwise initiate a lawsuit. And what of the high school and college athletes getting a pass on academic and even disciplinary standards?

Is there any working person unfamiliar with the power of nepotism in workplace politics? How frequent are stories of law enforcement misconduct going unanswered becoming? The truth is, there is no shortage of average Joe’s using any edge they can to excuse the behavior of themselves and those close to them. As much as we want to distance ourselves from the Couch’s, we are very much alike.

Families enabling troubled children are anything but uncommon. Sometimes it is complicated by a divorce leaving neither parent wanting to be the bad guy. With others it may be an extreme reaction to overly harsh parenting they experienced. Yet with some, it is simply placing the child’s short-term happiness over their long-term maturity. Whatever the source, the outcome is certainly the same.

My work in education spans several years. During that time I witnessed plenty of parents of humble financial means carrying the same mentality of bailing their children out no matter what. It did not matter what their child did, how much evidence was presented or who was hurt. These parents would go to great lengths to obstruct any chance of their child being held accountable for their behavior.

Time in classrooms also affords time to analyze how much children resemble adults. Sometimes two students would commit the exact same infraction. Other students were quick to tell the teacher about the behavior of a student they disliked. But when a popular peer did so, no one said a word. It is no different with adults. We dismiss the actions of those with traits or positions we admire and respect.

It is uncomfortable to consider how well intentioned parenting could lead to sidestepping a reckless homicide charge. However, it is necessary to do so before casting our stone. If the lesson we walk away with is the rich get away with everything, we have missed the boat. A more applicable take-away may be to reevaluate our willingness to hold both ourselves and loved ones accountable.

There is nothing wrong with wanting the best for our children. There is nothing wrong with wanting to protect them. But to have them be the best, will at times require tough love. This will not always require being strict. Sometimes it is simply letting them experience natural consequences. Swooping in to rescue them at every turn, ultimately robs them of learning to manage their own behavior

Children respecting other people and common laws will either be taught or enforced. Our responsibility as parents and a community is to minimize enforcement by being better teachers. The next time our child is in trouble, we should consider this before throwing every child or teacher they blame under the bus. We must require them to take ownership of their role in disasters derived from bad decisions.

By nature, all human beings commit some evil. Claiming our child is always the victim and everyone else is at fault shows we are naïve or in denial. Is it not better to be hard on them out of love, than to leave it for an officer or judge to do later? Or perhaps they may simply cross a person willing to take matters into their own hands. But, however and whenever such enforcement occurs, love is rarely involved.

By Corey Dorsey

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2 thoughts on “Texas “Affluenza” teen could be more like our child than we think”

  1. Awesome article. I truly believe the stigma is in the system our foundation is built on. That painted picture you mentioned is beautiful to the pockets it applies to. Who wouldn’t want to pay their way out of reformatory? When I was a kid I would’ve gave anything not to get cracked with the belt but I was taught to take responsibility for my actions. But if someone is not taught the difference between right and wrong, their is no distinction. In that case, anything with a barcode is will do.

    1. Yeah, it’s one thing when a kid has parents that just don’t care. But it’s another when the parents actually step in to rescue and bail them out at every turn. Pretty much every teacher and anyone else who works with kids knows what it’s like to have a kid whose parents go ballistic if anyone dare try to discipline that child when they act out. It’s frustrating because what they’re really doing is holding the child back from becoming more mature and responsible. Thanks for the feedback.

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