04/13/08 — Brutally early start: Attacks among the very young reveal a deepening horror

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Brutally early start: Attacks among the very young reveal a deepening horror

Unless you have been under a rock this week, you probably have seen the videotape of the teenagers who decided to attack a classmate when she arrived at one of the girls’ Lakeland, Fla., homes this week.

The hoodlums lured the teenager to the house and then attacked her, beating her head into a wall, knocking her unconscious and then continuing to pummel her after she came to — all of it caught on videotape.

Disturbing, isn’t it?

Talk now is that the teens involved will face adult charges for their roles in what can only described as a brutal and disgusting attack. And that is exactly right. This was a violent and premeditated attack that resulted in significant injury. It is no way a school prank or mere mischief.

How the world has changed.

In the old days, incidents like this were almost unheard of. An assault would make the news because it was so unusual — and the sign of a sick and twisted young person.

Today, these incidents make the news because they are becoming more commonplace.

And lest you think that was the only bit of horror, you should know that 10- and 11-year-old girls are facing charges in Erie, Pa. Their crime? They decided to beat up a fellow student on a playground — one of them choosing to stomp her victim so hard that she broke the girl’s hip.

Can you imagine a child of that age being able to do something like that? Her lawyer is claiming she does not understand the gravity of the charges against her, and therefore cannot possibly face the most severe punishment. She is just too young.

It seems like there is no such thing as “too young” anymore.

So there’s the horror. Now, what’s the solution?

There is the obvious — too much violent behavior and too much reinforcement that being a bad girl is “cool.” The incredibly tragic examples from Hollywood and the music world don’t help either. There aren’t many examples of good role models anywhere these days.

And that leads to one of the most important reasons to start thinking about parents and environments as well as education and socioeconomic status when you decide it is time to do something more about showing young people a better way to live.

There simply aren’t enough parents — rich or poor, uneducated or accomplished — who know how to say “no” and to set limits anymore.

Too many children are left to the devices of their peers for long hours — no supervision, no limits, no guidance. It is no wonder so many seem to have no knowledge of what proper behavior is. They are teaching themselves.

If we are going to make life better for our children, we have to become a united front when it comes to expecting a certain level of behavior. We need to demand academic achievement, personal responsibility, honesty and honor. We have to tell them that bullying of any kind will not be tolerated — and that there are consequences for those who choose to ignore the warnings. We have to be determined to expect more and to offer more guidance, help and alternatives to wandering the streets. We have to demand that parents who aren’t doing their job face repercussions, too.

This week’s incidents are not just horrifying, they are tragic, for both the victims and the perpetrators. These are not life experiences a child should have.

But if we want to make sure something similar doesn’t happen here, we are going to have to open our eyes and steel our resolve — and be the role models, watchdogs and advisers Wayne County’s children need, even if their parents can’t or won’t be.

Published in Editorials on April 13, 2008 12:03 AM