The St. Petersburg Times reported on an incident where police put an out of control, five year old girl in handcuffs. Was it justified? Let’s go to the video-tape

OK…maybe this tape doesn’t show the whole story. But the sight of a child being put in handcuffs does strike and emotional cord. I don’t know that this was the right course of action at the time. But not shown on this tape is the following behavior:

She tore papers off Dibenedetto’s bulletin board and desk. She climbed on a table four times. About an hour had passed since she refused to participate in a kindergarten math lesson, which escalated into a series of defiant and destructive acts.

The tape, which lasts about 30 minutes, begins with Dibenedetto alone in the classroom with the girl, saying the child’s name frequently as part of her commands.

“You need to stop,” she tells her, using her hands to make the sign language signal for stop. “You don’t get to wreck the room.”

Using her radio, she calls for help from teacher Patti Tsaousis. She also asks the school office to call the girl’s mother and tell her the school will have to call Pinellas Schools police if the behavior continues.

Word comes back that the mother would not be able to make it until 3:15 p.m. It is shortly after 2 p.m.

A short time later, the girl is heard off camera breaking a ceramic or plastic apple on Ottersbach’s desk.

“Oh, you broke her apple,” Dibenedetto says. “That is so sad.”

Throughout the 23-minute segment in the classroom, the assistant principal tells the girl many times to stop, that her actions are “not acceptable.” She tells her she needs to take her to her office to prepare for her mother’s arrival.

The girl responds to each request with a curt, “No.” When the girl reaches out to strike them at times, Dibenedetto and Tsaousis tell her to stop and hold their hands up in defense.

Incidents like this are playing themselves out in classrooms across the country. Although, very few probably end with a child in handcuffs, you would be surprised by the epidemic of out of control school children defying and attacking adults. Yes, the balance of power has shifted in schools. And most teachers, as well as administrators are powerless to take back their rightful place as authority figures in the schools.

When I was in school, it was a given that the teacher was the authority figure in the classroom. This basic assumption is no longer the case. As a former public school teacher I have seen students defy, curse at and in some cases even attack teachers and administrators. Where do you think these children are getting the idea that it is ok to physically attack adults? At home!

Discipline and respect for authority is primarily taught in the home. This is where a child learns that there are consequences for their choices; good and bad. They also learn that there are boundaries and limits to their behavior. They also learn the concept of respect for authority at home.

When I was growing up, I never thought of calling adults by their first name. My parents always taught me that to do so was to put myself on their level. And that until I was grown (supporting myself and paying my own way), I was not on their level. Yet today, I cannot tell you the number of times I have had an adult introduce me to their children as “Craig”. Such a minor interaction may seem insignificant. But it is just one of the many ways that we undermine the concept of authority in our society.

We have bred a lack of respect for authority. Television, rap music and violent video games have shouldered the brunt of the blame, but who is letting these youngsters partake of this trash? Pop culture is not the only culprit. We as parents are partially to blame! We have given into the mentality that we should be friends with our children.

Let’s be real! Our children do not need more friends. They need parents! They need parents who love them enough to discipline them; to teach them self-control and respect for authority. They must learn that every choice they make has consequences; good and bad.

If we, who claim love our children, do not teach them these lessons; they will be forced to learn them from a system that does not love them; the criminal justice system. And I do not relish the thought of my child in handcuffs. Do you?

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Also of interest: A commentary I wrote a few months ago “Train Up a Child” further discusses our role as parents.

Craig DeLuz

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