February 20, 2009
The Times, They Are a-Suckin’

This from my nephew Will Doolittle, columnist for the Glens Falls PostStar.

Usually, I reject the proposition that “times have changed,” especially when the speaker means “for the worse.” The good old days were very bad, in some ways.

But the part of me that wants to say, “When I was a kid ...” flares up when I read stories like the one in Wednesday’s paper about the two 16-year-olds from Cambridge charged with felonies. They were charged when someone called the State Police after spotting a plastic sled the teens had placed by the road, near the house where one of them lives.

On the sled were a soccer ball wrapped in foil, some wire and a battery pack. Also on the sled was a note that said: “If you touch this, you will be shot.”

They had put this hodgepodge by the road Sunday night because another friend, with whom they often play war games, was supposed to be riding his bike down the road that night to join them. But the friend didn’t show up, and the teens didn’t collect their creation right away Monday. Someone else saw it and was scared by it.

I spoke recently with Anthony Jancek, the father of Nicholas, who was charged. Nick had never even had detention before this happened, Mr. Jancek said. Anthony Jancek doesn’t blame anyone but his son, whom he has grounded, he said, “until the court date, at the very least.”

And Nick, on his own, is writing letters of apology to the person who got scared, and to the troopers who had to spend time dealing with a soccer ball on a sled.

Nick’s good manners and his maturity — when the troopers showed up, he told them exactly what happened, Mr. Jancek said — are encouraging. And Mr. Jancek’s good parenting, insisting that Nick take responsibility, is great.

But, as an uninvolved party, you can’t help thinking, “What the heck?”

And right after that thought come the memories of the things you did when you were a kid, and the times you got caught, and the punishments. What you probably don’t remember are the felony charges you faced.

Because, despite all the understandable precautions officials must take, it is crazy to be charging kids with serious crimes for goofing around with each other. We used to understand, but don’t any longer, that kids need some latitude, so they can learn lessons without collecting big black marks on their records.

But times have changed, and for the worse.


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at February 20, 2009 09:39 AM
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