Several years ago, we had a problem with teen boys gathering near our combination bookstore and gas station after the neighboring grocery store closed for the day. They'd park their pick-ups and cars in a huddle, and stand in front of them, trying to look tough as the rest of the community went by. For all intents and purposes, they'd taken over the grocery store parking lot (which adjoins ours). They were making people unhappy. They were making me unhappy, too. But I gritted my teeth and decided to wait them out, figuring they'd get bored with the game someday, figuring it would be asking for trouble to confront them.
One day, someone muttered angrily to my husband that 'somebody ought to do something' about those kids. My husband looked across at the kids, studying them, then said he thought the person was right. He grabbed his cane and walked alone over to the pack of teens. I watched with my heart in my throat. The next thing I knew, the kids were crowding around him, looking very happy, and shaking his hand.
My husband came back and I asked him what in the world had just happened. "I deputized them," he said. "You did what?!" I said, before I caught myself. He smiled. "The main thing wrong with those kids is that no one has given them any responsibility. I told them we'd been having a little trouble over here and I'd appreciate it if they kept an eye out for us while they were here." I was dubious, but he assured me it would work.
And it did. He was right. I was wrong. The kids weren't looking for trouble, really. They mostly wanted to be grown-ups, and weren't getting enough opportunity to practice, or enough encouragement in the right direction. So they were building facades.
I think that's true of a lot of teens. And it's one thing I tend to forget.
Amanda Witt has another angle on the subject.
Update: My husband offers a mild correction. What he was giving those kids was responsibility and authority. I consider that an important point. Some of the worst experiences of my life grew out of situations where I had responsibility without authority.
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