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"My son is not a bad boy"
August 30, 2001 1:21 PM   Subscribe

"My son is not a bad boy" has become a cliche. But what's the right thing to do when a loved one does something wrong? What about something VERY wrong? What is a parent's proper response?
posted by marknau (31 comments total)

 
You really need to differenciate what the parents say to the media and what they say in the home. Sometimes the parents are totally indifferent/blind to the fact their son is doing something totally wrong but the same amount probably realize their son is pure evil.
posted by geoff. at 1:33 PM on August 30, 2001


I am not sure we can fairly compare hacking to murdering a little girl. Besides, I am sure hacker will have a glorious job at NSA waiting for him when he gets out. What will Lionel have after years of incarceration to go to? Not too much I suspect which is why mandatory life may be the best way to go here. Of course, as a minor, the real question here is where were his parents while he was killing this little girl and shouldn't they be punished... after all he may not be a "bad" boy, but it could be argued that they are certainly not great parents.

Which brings about the argument of when should a child be held accountable for his own actions? When is it still technically the fault of the parents? As a parent, I recognize there will be times my child acts alone but it is still my job while she is at home to make sure she acts in a responsible way or to provide her with an adult who can guide said actions. If my child killed another while I was away (I believe this mother was upstairs sleeping) and the children were in my care, wouldn't I too be at fault?
posted by gloege at 1:39 PM on August 30, 2001


Thank God we live in a society so paranoid about crime that we deem it as OK to put a 14 year old boy into an adult population in a prison and claim that he has any hope of being "rehabilititated" in this loving and nuturing environment.
posted by bob bisquick at 1:48 PM on August 30, 2001


gloege: You make a lot of valid points. I think the reason I believe in the 'wrestling death' case the parents should be partly held responsible is sort of convaluted. You can not tell me that a 12-yr old does not know what kind of injury he/she is inflicting on another human being. I know plenty of 10-12 year olds, a few where I live and a few family members. They obviously aren't brainless drones, they feel bad when they hurt and are apologetic for it. Now I'm talking in small cases, how can this then 12-yr old not know he was inflicting enough force to crush the girls skull?

Now, if this kid DID NOT know that he was inflicting that much force, then there is where the parents' come in. What are they teaching this kid? "Junior, now when you see blood squirt out of your friend's eyes, you're being a little too rough."

It's just so hard to say when it comes to blame, and who's fault it should be. We try to instill good values in our kids, but of course we can not be there 24/7 with them, they have to make some decisions themselves. So, you just hope you push them enough to make the right choices and things like that do not happen.

I also agree with the first poster, the wrestling case and the Mafiaboy case really can not even be spoken in the same breath. Oops, isn't that what I just did?? :)
posted by the_0ne at 1:55 PM on August 30, 2001


Hey bob, that 14 year old brutally beat a little girl to death. What do you want to do, give him a cookie? A couple head-pats? Therapy??

You know, it's funny - they're not old enough to jail when they murder someone, but apparently they're old enough to screw. Quite an adorable little society we live in, eh?
posted by UncleFes at 2:05 PM on August 30, 2001


Bob: Read the story. If Tate has to serve his full sentence, he'll be kept in a juvenile offenders facility until he is 18, and then transferred to an adult prison.
posted by rcade at 2:09 PM on August 30, 2001


Bob, I don't think the point with mandatory life is to rehabilitate him. They want to lock him away and throw away the key.
posted by gloege at 2:10 PM on August 30, 2001


They want to lock him away and throw away the key.

I want him locked up and throw away the key. He's a maniac. He slaughtered a little girl. Game OVER.
posted by UncleFes at 2:18 PM on August 30, 2001


Uncle Fes - but what about the mother whose fat ass was upstairs snoozing while the little girl was in her care and being murdered by her son? Why can't she be locked up as well????
posted by gloege at 2:22 PM on August 30, 2001


To redirect a little bit to the thought that prompted me to post this:
What would any of you do if you were the parent or a family member of either of these two boys?

Stand by him, loudly defending him the whole way?
Go with a Tough Love stance?
Enter a state of denial?
Turn your back entirely?
posted by marknau at 2:22 PM on August 30, 2001


Silly marknau... That would never happen to me...
posted by whatnotever at 2:32 PM on August 30, 2001


If my child hacked and got caught, I would publicly smack her hands and then privately sign her work contract with NSA. If my underage child murdered someone while that someone was in my care, I would beg the courts to allow my child to get the mental help she needed and then would expect to go to jail for negligence and contributing to manslaughter. If my underage child murdered someone outside my care, I would again beg the courts to address her obvious defunct mental state. If it was shown she could not be rehabilitated, then she must go to jail. I would expect some form of punishment as she is underage and therefore I am responsible for her actions. I would love her continually and grieve for any actions on my part that contributed to this state of affairs.

If she is over the age of consent and an adult, I would love her and support her emotionally and expect her to pay for her crimes and pray it was not some example I had set or some failing from her childhood that led her to such actions.

And then I would grieve as any parent would. But to deny her actions, undermine them or defend her actions would not be right. Yes, I can understand the compulsions parents have to protect their children but at some point you have to allow them to take responsibility for their actions or accept accountability as your own.
posted by gloege at 2:33 PM on August 30, 2001


Why can't she be locked up as well????

Well, for one she didn't kill anyone. If you wanted to put every neglectful, lazy, stupid parent in jail, you'd have to implement the "excape from New York" model of prison building. Age 14 is generally OK for babysitting - that is, if you're not a psycho murderer.

What would any of you do if you were the parent or a family member of either of these two boys?

What could I do? I wouldn't be able to stop loving my child, but I have a responsiblity to the rest of society to make sure that he never has the opportunity to do such a thing again. If that means life in prison, then that means life in prison.

And I would forever be ashamed that I failed so badly. And if I had willfully put another child at risk because I had ignored my child's capacity for violence, I would fully deserve whatever legal penalties were appropriate.
posted by UncleFes at 2:36 PM on August 30, 2001


Did she or didn't she? Supposedly Lionel here is mentally deficient. The mother left this little girl alone with him so she could take a nap. Now please note I am not saying mentally deficient = capable of murdering... I am NOT. However, the woman was at least neglectful and at most, contributory to the death of this little girl.
posted by gloege at 2:39 PM on August 30, 2001


Since when is he mentally deficient??

Of course, nowadays when anyone commits a gruesome, heinous crime, they immediately become instant mental defectives.

If he is truly mentally retarded, then I think mom is going to be in the soup, and rightly so.
posted by UncleFes at 2:54 PM on August 30, 2001


if you're a 12 year old kid you cannot: buy beer, vote, get a drivers license, have sex (?), buy cigarrettes, among other things. If you are judged by anything they will ask that your parents to be present.
why is that? well, mainly because a kid cannot understand the consequences of his/her actions.

HOWEVER, if you're a 12 years old kid, and murder somebody, we will assume that you were old enough to understand the consequence of your actions. we will treat you as an adult, not as a child anymore.

That is the message that I'm getting from this. We treat our kids as entities with an underdeveloped rational capacity, unless they do something really wrong.

I agree that a life in prison as a punishment for THIS kid is too severe; but with this kind of punishment we can stop thinking in ways of rehabilitation of people that did something wrong in the past.

If you have children, please ask them tonight: "hey son, can you give a reason to kill somebody? can you give a reason not to?". Please see if they can answer other than "because the law says that killing is bad". Please see if you can answer.
posted by vega at 3:05 PM on August 30, 2001


old enough to kill, old enough to die.
posted by jcterminal at 3:10 PM on August 30, 2001


Maybe life in prison is a little too harsh, but I completely agree that this kid needs to do some time in a juvenile facility parallell to serious therapy, and then more therapy and supervision after that.

I would never, ever, ever want any child of mine in the same room, school or neighborhood as a kid who would do something like this.
posted by tomorama at 3:23 PM on August 30, 2001


we can stop thinking in ways of rehabilitation of people that did something wrong in the past.

I'd like to know exactly how one goes about "rehabilitating" someone of ANY age who beats someone else to death. How do you know if they're better?

Dead is permanent. The punishment for making someone dead should be equally permanent. Someone loved that little girl that Lionel cruelly beat to death. They'll never be "rehabilitated." She will never be "rehabilitated." So fuck Lionel and his rehabilitation. If it is to be life in prison, he's getting a lot better than he gave.
posted by UncleFes at 3:25 PM on August 30, 2001


There are a lot of things that children cannot understand, Vega, and those that you mentioned are high up there on the list, hence their illegality for children. I don't consider murder to be one of those things.

My twelve year old son would certainly understand the consequence of murder. I would think most children from about the age of eight are capable of understanding the difference between right and wrong. Especially when it comes to fracturing the skull and tearing the liver of a child half their age.

I'm not so sure our method of punishment is the right one, but surely they have to be removed from society.

And what about these boys and their mothers? I am getting sick of these parents that turn a blind eye to their children but are the first ones to scream when those same children commit heinous crimes. Something is wrong with these kids alright, and it all begins at home.
posted by Scorch at 3:28 PM on August 30, 2001


If you wanted to put every neglectful, lazy, stupid parent in jail, you'd have to implement the "escape from New York" model of prison building

Dead is permanent. The punishment for making someone dead should be equally permanent. Someone loved that little girl that Lionel cruelly beat to death. They'll never be "rehabilitated." She will never be "rehabilitated." So fuck Lionel and his rehabilitation. If it is to be life in prison, he's getting a lot better than he gave.

Of course, nowadays when anyone commits a gruesome, heinous crime, they immediately become instant mental defectives

I have nothing further to add. Thanks Uncle Fes.
posted by a3matrix at 4:18 PM on August 30, 2001


Firstly, if I was Mafiaboy's father, I wouldn't be the one to talk, looks like the father was planning some physical assault on someone. Maybe Mafiaboy wasn't a totally fanciful nick.

Secondly, perhaps the kid can be rehabilitated, heck, author Anne Perry didn't kill any additional people when she got older. Like why should this kid be punished because his mother wouldn't cop a plea.
posted by bobo123 at 6:59 PM on August 30, 2001


I'm going to try to avoid rehashing the Lionel Tate debate. We had it before, and either you're a blood-thirsty barbarian like uncleFes, or you agree with me and are correct. So we'll leave that alone.
I think the appropriate response is to stand by your kid. In the Tate case, the parents of both Lionel and the victim know him, and know he isn't a monster. We pretty much discount the parents opinions on these matters, and assume that they only think that the child is good because of parental obligation and love. I think we're missing the fact that the parents can't dehumanize the child. Your mom isn't going to think of you as evil, ever.
So parents see the mitigating circumstances, and see the children as what they are...people capable of good, who did a bad thing. So I think there are very few instances when a parent should not absolutely stand by their child. It's a reminder to the rest of us that we aren't dealing with monsters, or evil hackers, but kids. People like the rest of us.
posted by Doug at 7:35 PM on August 30, 2001


I think there’s something wrong with the mother if she “turned down a plea deal that would have put the boy in juvenile detention for three years, followed by house arrest and probation.” That would be closer to being appropriate than life in prison without parole. Since we make a legal distinction between adults and children, and the basis of that distinction is that adults can fully comprehend their actions and are responsible for the consequences, I don’t believe children should be tried and punished as adults. I don’t believe a 12 year old, while he may know he’s not supposed to kill people, fully comprehends the moral implications. There’s a difference between not doing something because you’ll get in trouble and not doing something because it’s wrong. He did a horrible thing, and there’s no way to make it up to the girl and her family, but with counseling and supervision he could understand and truly regret what he did and be rehabilitated.
posted by kirkaracha at 7:51 PM on August 30, 2001


A 12 year old is just not a complete person. In this situation you can go for the revenge-justice method and throw the kid in jail and throw away the key or realize that there's potential for change, especially in children and the last resort should be a lifelong lock-up.

I don't see a good reason to skip the juvie, house arrest, and probation approach for the sake of apeasing the reactionary masses.
posted by skallas at 10:01 PM on August 30, 2001


I understand the desire to be merciful, but I have difficulty with the casual disregard for the victims of these crimes. It doesn't matter to the young dead victim whether her murderer was 12 or 112. Nor does it matter to their families. Why should we do so much in the name of mercy, and so little in the way of justice? I mean, suppose the juvenile murderer is actually, truly rehabilitated, understands his crime, and is genuinely sorry for what he's done. What then? The victims are no less dead; their families are no less broken and bereft - in fact, they are doubly victimized, for the source of their anguish is now able to live the life they took from an innocent; and there is no way that the now-penitent murderer can ever possible make up for what they have done. In short, there is no benefit to those that truly deserve it - only additional suffering for the victims, and the only benefit going to the one person in the entire scenario who's deserving of consideration is lowest.

And that's if the rehabilitation is successful. What if the murderer is one of those demonic fiends who go on to live out vile lives of mayhem and malevolence? Then the mercy you would give is nothing more than once again placing the defenseless in peril. And the latter case is the typical one, not the former.

At the same time, by denying the victims a sense that justice has been served, you create a faithlessness in the system itself. When crime victims don't believe that the justice system can deliver its namesake, and if the crime is particularly emotional or heinous (the Bulger murder in the UK comes to mind), can we really blame victims for setting out and exacting their own measure of justice? I can't. And you can bet that a father who's child has been murdered has a keen and particular sense of what justice entails. It most likely would not be "life in prison."

Just some thoughts from the barbarian village.
posted by UncleFes at 10:27 PM on August 30, 2001


I'm in the UncleFes camp on this one. I would also add that we have a responsibility to protect the rest of society from monsters. That means locking them away. I'm not saying he can't be rehabilitated, but I am saying that bar should be set pretty high. It would be a worse tragedy to release him early and have him commit another such act than to leave him in prison for the rest of his life.

And Doug, what do you by "stand by your kid"? As a father of 4 boys, I'm interested. I see lots of parents who "stand by their kid" by turning a blind eye to their criminal behavior, not recognizing psychological problems, not dealing with the kids as people and holding them accountable for their actions and that's a mistake.

I remember as a kid thinking through these issues and asking my mom, "Mom, if I killed somebody, would you turn me in to the police?" I will never forget her reply, "Yes, honey, and I'd visit you every day in jail." IMHO, that's good parenting.
posted by JParker at 11:03 PM on August 30, 2001


And that's if the rehabilitation is successful.

I see prison rehabilitation as a myth. Prison removes you from society, that's it, there's no magic equation that tells us that in 25 years you'll be A-OK. Or that after 25 years your kid will rise from the dead. Modern justice isn't just about appeasing the victims. Do we let their families dole out the punishments? Things are a little more complex than an "eye for an eye."

The reason why many released prisoners tend to lead "vile lives of mayhem and malevolence" is because prison hardens you and makes you a better criminal. Toss in the stigma of being an ex-con, why wouldn't you get back into the a life of crime? Especially if that's what you're good at.

I'm not making judgement calls on the fairness of criminal justice, but for these reasons I think putting an undeveloped 12 year old in the slammer will only guarantee his failure. That's why we have institutions like juvie for minors. The truly bad seeds will find their way to prison anyway.
posted by skallas at 3:00 AM on August 31, 2001


"suppose the juvenile murderer is actually, truly rehabilitated, understands his crime, and is genuinely sorry for what he's done. What then? The victims are no less dead; their families are no less broken and bereft."

Fes, that statement applies to either scenario. If he's in jail forever, the victim is no less dead. The family of the victim still misses them. It's not like God comes down to earth and makes everybody feel better just because we locked somebody in jail.

And what's weird is in this case, the family of the victim doesn't want Lionel to be put in jail forever. They're fine with him being rehabilitated. So why aren't we?

JParker, I don't mean that by standing by your kids you should ignore them, and let them do bad things...just that if they do bad things, have the desire to see them helped, rather than abandoned in a jail forever where they will, as Skallas says, only become worse.
posted by Doug at 6:25 AM on August 31, 2001


A child takes away another child's life. Why? Because he is over-excited, hot-headed, cruel.

Ten thousand adults all but take away a child's life. Why? Because they are over-excited, hot-headed, cruel.

Throwing Tate in jail for life - with no chance of parole - will not bring the murdered girl back. (I wish that it did.)Instead, it will double the list of those whose lives have been lost to the crime.
posted by Marquis at 7:26 AM on August 31, 2001


The truly bad seeds will find their way to prison anyway.

Yep, on a road paved with the misery of their victims.

They're fine with him being rehabilitated. So why aren't we?

Because, as JParker observed, we (in the role of the justice system) have an obligation to the society to protect them from these monsters. That is the resonsibility that comes with the privilege of the power that comes from enforcing the law. Prior to killing that little girl, we didn't know Tate was a monster, but now we do. The responsibility for the little girl's death rests on Tate's and, perhap, his mother's shoulders; but if Tate is released, and he kills again, that rests on OUR shoulders, because we didn't have the courage to make difficult decisions to protect the defenseless.
posted by UncleFes at 8:58 AM on August 31, 2001


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