Haddonfield & The Decline Of Parenting

Posted: June 28, 2007

'WE'RE suspending your son because he exposed himself."

That was the way my junior high school vice principal chose to tell my dad I'd flicked a moon in the eighth grade. Not exactly the stuff of Megan's Law, but it got me a butt-kicking at home. Getting caught in my junior year with fake IDs for underage drinking was way more serious, with an even harsher sentence.

Still, the rap sheet of my youth seems pretty tame compared to the sort of stuff we're reading about this month.

In Bucks County, scene of my indiscretions, five teens were recently arrested and charged with arson after trying to burn down a covered bridge built in 1873. (The third such incident in as many years.)

Over in Haddonfield, N.J., 13 teens were charged with burglary and criminal mischief after they held a party and trashed the house of a family who was out of town.

And in upstate New York, 19 seniors were charged as felons and missed graduation because of a prank that wasn't so funny in the post-9/11 world.

My mooning and drinking confessions should make it clear that this is no "holier than thou" sermon. I did plenty that I'm not proud about, which I think gives me the expertise to say that something's gone seriously wrong today when out-of-control teens in Haddonfield are using a piano as a toilet, sexually defacing stuffed animals and spraying a water gun filled with urine around the inside of somebody's house.

The victim of the Haddonfield debauchery is Colleen Falasca. On Monday, she told me about the depth of the depravity that resulted when 60 to 80 freshman and sophomore high school students gained access to her home while her family was in Maryland for an overnight trip.

She said "every single room in the house was violated." Before it was over, $18,000 in damage was done. Sounds like something straight out of "Jackass," which may be part of the problem. Of course, now all the kids are lawyered-up, which, I think, is a more telling piece of the puzzle.

I'm sure my folks would have sought legal counsel had I ever gotten in a serious jam, but no pinstripes would have spared me tough love on the homefront, which seems to be lacking in Haddonfield and elsewhere.

My dad was the disciplinarian for the Moongate and ID scandals, but my mother also stepped up to the plate. And when she did, she wielded a pretty mean yardstick - the kind they used to give out at hardware stores. I was on the receiving end of all 36 inches many times - motivation enough to keep me mostly on the straight and narrow.

I've tried to place myself back in time with sophomore hormones raging in the context of the Haddonfield affair. My hunch is that if told the Falascas were out of town, I would have been game for the party, but no way would I have succumbed to the depravity. And not because of any fear of the police or a juvenile court. I would have been scared to death of how my parents would have reacted.

From this side of the river, the police response in Haddonfield seems appropriate, but what followed in Juvenile Court was a disappointment. Police charged the 13 Haddonfield teens with burglary and criminal mischief, but 10 were able to get the charges reduced with a plea-bargain that required their cooperation in naming the other party-goers.

But then amnesia set in. As Mrs. Falasca told me, "In court, I was very disappointed . . . these people are sworn in, and they're not being honest. How can we even trust what they say?"

THE 10 WHO have appeared in court each received a year of probation and a share of the restitution for damages not covered by the insurance company (a paltry $750). "That was another reason I felt let down by the system . . . With 13 kids involved, [even] if they had to pay back everything, it would've still been under $2,000 [each].

"I think the judge should've ordered that. I also think they should have gotten something more serious - even community service . . . It's like they got rewarded for having this party."

Mrs. Falasca explained to me her other disappointments with the juvenile-justice system: She wasn't given the opportunity to confront the kids who'd already appeared in court due to convenient scheduling that let them plead their case and leave the courthouse before Falasca had even arrived.

She told me she was upset that "they did not get to face me, they didn't get to hear what I had to say . . . I don't even know who these kids are. I know their names, but I don't know them. I don't even know what they look like."

I asked whether any of them had voluntarily apologized for their conduct. Only one, she said. What does that say about parental enforcement of standards of decency?

While she's understandably focused on what happened in court, I'm focused on what they faced at home, where, I suspect, the trouble really began. *

Listen to Michael Smerconish weekdays 5:30-9 a.m. on the Big Talker, 1210/AM. Read him Sundays in the Inquirer. Contact him via the Web at www.mastalk.com.

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