Defending the PS 29 vandals — and their parents

for The Brooklyn Paper
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A group of kids, 16 years old and younger, destroyed the playground equipment at PS 29 a couple of weeks ago. We can all agree that what they did, from forming the idea to make a “Jackass”-like video, to pouring the alcohol on the slide, to running away as the flames shot up into the sky, were a series of stupid choices, one worse than the other, leading them to hope that the whole mess would just go away and they wouldn’t get caught. It didn’t and they did.

This is where their parents come into the picture, hiring a lawyer and coughing up $50,000 to replace the decimated jungle gym and turning their children over to the police. Sure, my own newspaper called it “Junk justice at PS 29,” but from my point of view, these parents have joined with their offspring to stand up and take responsibility for the damage that was done.

But I’ve heard and read a lot of negative comments, saying these parents are trying to buy their kids out of trouble, keep these misguided youth from facing the consequences of their irresponsibility, keep them out of jail. This is a bad thing? Is there really a parent out there who wouldn’t do the same thing if he or she had the cash and connections to do it? I certainly couldn’t watch my teenage daughters face time in the slammer without doing everything I could to prevent it.

In fact, I can’t think of a parent of teenagers, who were not already felons-in-training, who would throw their hands up and say, “You deserve whatever you get. I’ll try and visit you in prison, but don’t hold your breath.”

Don’t get me wrong, if this had been my girls, they might be grounded for the rest of their lives, have babysitting wages garnered to repay all that money, fed very thin soup for dinner every night. But these are consequences that I control, not a criminal conviction that would follow them the rest of their lives for a dumb prank done at 16. No question in my mind, I’d be doing everything I could to help them avoid those consequences.

Parents try to control the impact of life on their children all the time. Usually these actions seem morally neutral, like hiring a tutor so your kid scores better on the Stuyvesant test or the SATs. But sometimes, we enter that gray area, families using a fake address to apply to a better school or calling in a favor from some Board of Ed employee. What about parents who convince doctors to put their child on medication that might enhance the student’s test performance?

And we spend money on our progeny to give them a leg up on the competition. It doesn’t matter if Music Together made my daughters smarter, or that I enjoyed meeting other parents, if all the other kids are doing it, I’ll find the money so my kids can do that, too.

I’m just trying to keep my daughters’ futures secure, through education, experience, safety and mitigating the consequences of their stupid decisions. They’ve got to be responsible for their actions, sure, but I’m going to try and control the fallout in a thoughtful, meaningful way instead of letting them face the arbitrary punishment of the blogosphere, newspapers and an overburdened justice system.

Most adults are pretty poor role models for taking responsibility for our actions. I know I’ve fought traffic tickets I deserved to keep from getting points on my license. I know one or two people who cheat on their tax forms or pay cash to avoid sales tax. When was the last time you heard anyone accused of a crime stand up and say, “Yup, I did it”?

I may see the kids involved at PS 29 as unthinking, misguided, idiotic, self-involved, stupid teenagers. But their parents, I suspect, have dreams for their children, that they will grow up, have jobs, and families and come home for Thanksgiving. Perhaps some of the parents hope their child will develop an AIDS vaccine, discover a renewable and clean source of energy, become a great artist, a chef or just a decent human being. I can’t blame those parents for believing in their children and their futures.

Once my daughters are grown, they’ll have plenty of time to screw up their lives. As a parent, I’m just trying to keep them from screwing it up now, before it’s really begun. That’s all these other parents are trying to do, and it makes them real, honest parents who are taking on the struggle. Good luck to them.

Updated 5:24 pm, July 9, 2018
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Reasonable discourse

Cynthia from Clinton hill says:
Fed very thin soup? HILARIOUS!!! well yeah parents did buy their freedom. its done over with, we all know Mom and Dad failed at parenting, they just had to clean up their mess. For the most part, if theses lil dirtbags were blacks or latino their lil buts woudv been in jail eating very thin soup.
May 31, 2011, 2:11 am
T-ster says:
Black or hispanic children would have been perp walked and put on the front page of every newspaper in NYC for "wilding"

There was a 10 y.old African American child arrested in NY about a month ago for pulling off a Muslim girls scarf....arrested and handcuffed and charged with terrorism.

May 31, 2011, 9:58 am
jj from brooklyn says:
i wonder why saint ann's (where these kids reportedly go to school) is off the hook. i wonder if the touch-feely staff there read the riot act to the entire student body. maybe they'll start patrolling the streets around st. ann's, while they're at it. those kids have WAY too much spare time.
May 31, 2011, 3:01 pm
Soledad from Bay Ridge says:
I'm in agreement with the writer. Kids make stupid mistakes, even the best kids and to say that Mom and Dad "failed" at parenting leads me to believe you are not a parent or are a parent of a toddler. Your day will come. Thank God no people were hurt; the kids have been turned over to the authorities and the playground will be restored.
May 31, 2011, 7:32 pm
CHmom from Cobble Hill says:
Ok, I get it. But can you then explain why it took so long for the parents to have their children actually fess up to the community and admit what they did in public? Only one parent had their child turn themselves in after they offered the cash. And then the others followed suit. But it took a lot of outrage and time for that to happen. The money was put up with the stipend that the kids wouldn't have to
I would have liked to see this dad address that issue.
June 1, 2011, 7:18 am
Dad from Boerum Hill says:
Thanks for this lucid piece.

I know one of the kids personally, and he's a kind, thoughtful individual, as well as a typical teenager prone to acts of boggling stupidity.

I'm disturbed by the multitude of bloodthirsty, vengeful comments.

To those who point out racist double-standards in the criminal justice system: You're right! But the problem is incarcerating far too many blacks and Latinos, NOT incarcerating too few whites.

To those who blame Saint Ann's: Where is the school whose teenagers are all grounded and moral? Is it a school with strict, rigid rules? Why haven't they advertised their formula for constraining the teenager's innate recklessness? Is it because no such formula/school exists? Think before you lay blame!
June 1, 2011, 9:31 am
Soledad from bay ridge says:
I just have to say to all the parents who are so critical here. What do you think you would have done in these parents' place? Think about it. You probably think your child would never do anything stupid. Trust me, they all do something stupid eventually, some worse than others. At the end of the day, the playground will be replaced and the punishment will be meted out. But be kind, because someday it will be your turn parents.
June 1, 2011, 10:34 am
Jim from Cobble Hill says:
They committed a criminal act that should bring with it a criminal punishment. When I was their age we played with fire plenty, but we were smart enough to know not to do it on PLASTIC ITEMS and we learned that when we were little embryos AT PS29 in the Mr. Wallace Science Class in 1989! Stupidity should not be rewarded, and I say that since these morons weren't aware of the potential damage of FIRE AND PLASTIC that it is indeed the parents who have failed in teaching basic chemistry and physics to their degenerate children and the all belong in jail. They deserve no less!
June 1, 2011, 1:58 pm
jj from brooklyn says:
i guess the science program at saint ann's is substandard.
June 1, 2011, 7:47 pm
Matt says:
'Avoid the consequences'. Thats says it all. I bet you give you kids trophies for breathing.
June 9, 2011, 3:54 pm
JQ from brooklyn says:
Yeah, Jim, because their parents were supposed to teach them basic chem and physics. Like this dad says, if anyone who ever committed a crime were put in jail, we ALL would be. So have fun with a life behind bars, idiot.
Jan. 6, 2012, 12:41 pm

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