• 82°

Children must learn that there are consequences to their actions

I met a young man recently, who, in light of what has been happening in our fair city, gives me hope that there is still a chance for our youth.

His name is William M. Ledbetter, a 17-year-veteran of the United States Army.

He came to my office last month, at the behest of his mother, so we could publicize the fact that he had recently been promoted to lieutenant colonel.

I only chatted with William for a few minutes, but I was impressed with him. Perhaps it was the uniform n I, too, am a veteran n or perhaps it was something else. I just can’t put my finger on it.

But as I talked to the colonel, I thought about other young people in this community who will never have the chance to achieve their dreams, to excel in their chosen field or to make their families proud of their accomplishments. They are dead now, gunned down on the streets of Suffolk.

In talking to William, and through a series of emails after that meeting, I discovered that we had a few things in common.

We both had parents who loved us very much and who participated in our lives as we were growing up. And when our parents weren’t around, the neighbors were watching over us as well. It was hard to go wrong with so many pairs of eyes focusing on our every move.

We both had roots in the church, and were involved in activities both in and out of school.

We learned the difference between right and wrong at a very early age, and we also knew there were consequences to be paid for our actions.

And from what I can see, we both turned out OK.

Whenever there are tragedies, such as those that have occurred in Suffolk in recent months, people always say there is nothing for the young people to do, that’s why they get into trouble. And then the first thing the “officials” do is look to see if there in fact are things for the youth to do n such as teen centers and other organized programs.

To me, that is too simplistic an answer. Even if we had dozens of teen centers and other after-school activities for our young people, they wouldn’t attract everybody. Most of the children who would frequent these venues would be the same ones who are keeping themselves out of trouble on a regular basis. Those who are involved in gang-related activities or violence against others are not going to join.

If we want to stop what is happening to these young people, we need to get to the root of the problem. And I think that is a lack of parental supervision and responsibility.

They need mothers and fathers, and grandparents and others who will “keep their eyes” on them, making sure that they are doing the right thing. They need those same neighbors that William and I had so many years ago who, while we may have called them “nosy” then, were doing the right thing by watching over us and reporting any unacceptable behavior to our parents. And then our parents would take action n and that usually resulted in a condition that made sitting down a bit uncomfortable for a long time.

They need schools which allow teachers and administrators to discipline children to teach them a lesson and show others what kinds of behavior will not be tolerated. I find it absolutely ridiculous that a child can say and do just about anything he or she wants in school and not be punished for it.

One of the things that kept many of my school mates and me out of the principal’s office n we were not total angels mind you n was the fact that we knew we would be punished if we broke the rules. And then, once I got home n well, let’s just say it would be a long time before I sat down again.

Teen centers are good things to have, but they are not the ultimate answer.

I hope now that city council and others are looking at this problem, that they look at it realistically, that they don’t just throw a bunch of money at it and hope it will go away, because it won’t.

Adults need to be involved in the lives of their children and the children need to know that actions contrary to those established by a civil society will not be tolerated, period.

Spare the rod, spoil the child has so many implications in today’s society, both figuratively and literally.

Grant is the managing editor of the News-Herald. Contact him at doug.grant@suffolknewsherald.com