Citizen Wausau

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Teens Make Bad Decisions

by on November 15th, 2012

When I was a teenager, I was a mess. I was dealing with some heavy stuff psychologically and my hormones were out of control. I got my driver’s license when I was sixteen, and I totalled my first car a few months later by slamming into a tree because I was distracted by my new kitten that I had in the car out of her kennel. I was the only one hurt. I was cited for reckless driving, and I totally deserved it. I made a lot of very bad decisions as a teenager, and it’s a miracle I didn’t hurt other people (except for my family because I broke their hearts).

This afternoon a teenager did something really, horribly stupid. For whatever excuse – it could have been texting, phone, music, etc. – he didn’t notice a crossing guard’s STOP sign, and he ran right into a group of school children. More than a couple of those children were hurt, and one was taken to the hospital. It’s tragic.

To make this situation even more upsetting for the families of those kids, the driver fled the scene. Yep. It was a hit and run… a ridiculously irresponsible, callous thing to do. I mean, what kind of monster would do such a thing? Let’s hang the bastard.

I found out about this tragedy on Facebook tonight. The local media outlets were very good about getting the information out. I scanned further in my feed, and I saw an update from a dear friend of mine. He told his friends that his 5yo daughter was traumatized and in shock tonight because she saw something really terrible happen. She was in that group of kids crossing the street. She fell down, tore her dress and hurt her leg trying to run from the car. This dear, precious little girl, so close to my heart since I was her Sunday School teacher a couple years ago… she’s in shock tonight because she witnessed one of her friends get injured by a hit-and-run driver in a situation where she was supposed to be safe. She was being ushered across a street by a crossing guard. I cried for her, and I said a prayer for the family of the girl who was taken to the hospital.

The driver has been cited for felony hit and run. We won’t hear a lot about him in the coming months because he’s only 16. As much as my heart breaks for the students hurt, a portion of my sympathy also goes to the driver. I hope he has a good support system around him to help him get through whatever consequences he’ll be facing (and I hope he faces them). He’ll learn a lesson, and hopefully he’ll resolve to be a model citizen in the future.

When I was his age, I felt invincible. I had all these new privileges. I had so much more freedom. I thought I was totally awesome and way smarter than the adults around me. I drove too fast, and I was reckless with more than just the car I had. I see myself in the driver who hit those children, and I’m sorry… but I will not be calling for his public hanging like I saw some people respond with news of the accident.

As a grown-up, I know that if I were to accidentally hit someone, I would be obligated to stop, help out the injured if I could, and face the consequences from the police. I imagine I would be crying and shaking and absolutely freaked out, but since I’m a grown-up, I think I could get through it. If I were 16yo Cheryl though… my first instinct would be to get the hell out of there. And because 16yo Cheryl doesn’t completely understand her role and responsibility in society, she might just run. I wouldn’t blow off the event and go party, though. I would be traumatized and shaken, and I’m pretty sure I’d turn myself in later, hopefully with an adult I trust and had confided to.

It’s so easy for us to be hostile towards criminals. They, by definition, do something that is fundamentally contrary to the common good. They hurt people or things. Sometimes they need to be “put away” to help keep the public safe. The goal in their punishment is sometimes rehabilitation rather than public protection. We want to help them want to be better citizens. We want them to have a better framework of morality and judgment. That’s why I’ve always supported Treatment Instead of Prison, for instance.

I’m a good citizen. I vote, I don’t speed, I volunteer in my community, and I have a smile on my face for strangers and a hug for those I know personally. But it could have been me. What if I had been the one to screw up and hurt someone or even kill someone? That kid didn’t wake up this morning, grab a loaded gun and say, “I’m going to seriously hurt or even kill someone today.” Some kids or adults actually do. This isn’t that kind of situation. It’s tragic, and he made another bad choice by running away, but I think he still deserves our mercy and support.  ((Assuming he didn’t actually blow off the event and go party only to have someone else turn him in. I don’t know what happened, but I tend to side on mercy’s side and assume the better of people.))

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