I delivered papers when I was young.  It stunk.  Getting up at 4:30 on Sunday mornings to sort papers for the route, lifting huge bales of unorganized papers and flyers that were callously dumped at the end of the driveway by the delivery truck that barely slowed, but never stopped, was the weekly ritual.  All so I could load the inserts, check my counts and pack the canvas bag that draped over the handlebars of my bike.  I complained all week until Thursday nights when I went door-to-door to collect my fees, getting the meager tips and “thank you’s” that made it all seem so worthwhile.  The rest of the week nights and Saturdays were relegated to mowing every lawn in a five-mile radius or chasing leaves with a rake that I had to buy on my own.

Sunday morning Taboo...

Sunday morning Taboo…

Luckily, my daughters have made the same connection.  They’re baby-sitting phenoms, getting paid at a much higher rate than the measly tips I was able to obtain, and are quite in demand.  One of the proudest moments of my youngest daughters’ life (and mine to be honest), was the day we walked into the local BestBuy together.  A salesman approached us after noticing our perusing of the newest Ipad offerings on display and put on his most serious sales-guy demeanor as he looked me in the eye and asked, “Can I help you with the Ipads?” I said nothing but shook my head and pointed to my daughter, standing next to me with a large sheepish grin spreading across her face.  “I want to buy an Ipad” she said softly, embarrassed and proud at the same time.  He led her to a kiosk where they looked at the different versions and colors, eventually settling on the one she wanted.  All the while she kept shooting glances at me, trying hard to be grown up and contain her excitement at the same time.  It was almost comical when they walked together to the checkout stand where he asked her how she’d like to pay, at which point she opened up her little clutch purse and produced a wad of cash that made them both smile in unison.  She had wanted an Ipad for quite a while, as her friends all had one.  She said it was even more special because out of all of her friends, she was able to say she paid for it with her own money.  Money she earned.  Little did she know that we would have found some way to get her one if she had asked.  Knowing that money is tight in the house, she never asked.

Far from the perfect parent, I often lie in bed at night and wonder if, and hope that I am, developing them into decent, respectful well-grounded kids.  I truly believe that parenting is a lost art, evidenced by the garbage we see in the papers every day.  When parents aren’t neglecting their children’s physical or emotional needs, they’re outright abusing them, physically or mentally.  Oftentimes they over coddle them to the point where they can’t function in a society that expects them to be civil, respectful and responsible.  Of course, once their child crosses the line into some aberrant or deviant behavior parents are quick to assure everyone that they’re “good kids.”  No matter what the transgression.  You can buy your kid all the Ipads in the world and still be neglecting them.  Teach them that they’re accountable for nothing, and they’ll grow up to be accountable for nothing.

I noticed in a local court proceeding that an attorney representing one such aberrant child believes that “it is contrary to contemporary mores or even “taboo” to permit a juvenile of twelve to sixteen years to earn money by obtaining a paper route, mowing lawns, raking leaves, shoveling snow, baby-sitting, delivering groceries…” Really? Does society now frown upon teaching our children to be responsible and hardworking to the point where it is taboo?  When the hell did that happen?  This young man, who is not named publicly, went on a vandalism spree when he was just 11, spraying graffiti on several homes in his neighborhood including one home that had been recently re-sided.  Of course, we don’t call this vandalism anymore, we call it tagging, urban art, an expression of ones feelings and creativity.  He was put on probation and ordered to pay restitution to his victims, something he never even attempted to do.  A year later, the judge who had sentenced him originally, ordered him to find a job to pay for his restitution and extended the length of his parole.  At which point the teen, through his attorney, appealed to the Massachusetts Court of Appeals arguing that making him pay back the better than $1,000 restitution is “punitive” and “contrary to the underlying principle of the state’s juvenile justice system, which aims at rehabilitation, rather than punishment.”

In a nutshell, that explains most of society’s ills today.  We look at being held responsible and accepting the costs for our actions as “punitive.”  Um, yeah.  So what? The concept of punishment is now also taboo and contrary to contemporary mores?   Lost on the attorney is the fact that this kid destroyed property that did not belong to him.  Someone has to pay to fix that.  Isn’t that “punitive” to those who own the property?  Two other glaring omissions from this story; a year goes by and the kid doesn’t pay.  Where the heck are the parents? Are they accountable or even remotely responsible for the acts of their minor child?  And who is paying for the attorney? Doesn’t say, but one would probably be safe to assume that it’s you and I through the public defender’s office.  The great nanny state rears its head again.  The probation officer didn’t oversee his charge to make sure he was complying with the orders of restitution so the other branch of the welfare state defends the child from being punished for failure to do so.  And of course, everyone gets paid, keeps their jobs while the homeowners get to fix their vandalized property in addition to paying the taxes that keep this great circle-jerk funded.

The tough lessons I try to teach my children now seem outdated against new societal mores that I was unaware of and are deemed to be taboo.  But the tough lessons society is missing here are greater.  We cannot sustain a society where no one is held accountable for the consequences of their actions.  When we deem that a punishment is “punitive” and say that with a straight face, we implicitly accept all forms of deviant behaviors and the resulting consequences that come with them.  Whether it’s simple “tagging” of another’s property to breaking and entering, bullying to grand theft, we invite more of the behaviors that we fail to address through punishment, or even simple shame.  And the kids that we protect from these taboos with our new “social mores” become the narcissistic individuals who move on to wreak more havoc through their lives,  unencumbered with the fear that they will ever be called to account for what they have done.