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Archive for Saturday, April 30, 2005

5-year-old may see handcuffs again

April 30, 2005

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Put the handcuffs aside. We'll get back to them in a minute.

Frankly, there's something else on that video that troubles me almost as much. And if you're saying to yourself, "What video?" well ... welcome home. How are things in the rainforest?

Here in the States, everybody's talking about a much-televised video -- shot in March but made public last week -- of a 5-year-old in St. Petersburg, Fla., being taken into custody by police officers after throwing a tantrum at school. Ja'eisha Scott cries out as her arms are pinioned behind her.

As I said, we'll get to that. For now, let's talk about what the half-hour video shows in the moments before police arrive. I've seen temper tantrums before -- I've got five kids -- but this one was different. Not because the child seemed out of control but rather, because she seemed so very much in control.

This wasn't stomping and shouting and throwing a fit. This was walking over to a shelf and sweeping items off it. Walking to a wall and snatching photos down. Walking across the room to pick things up and break them. Walking back and forth, in no apparent hurry, methodically wrecking the room with the calm deliberateness of someone who knows you can't do a thing to stop her. And then punching at the hapless administrator who kept telling her this behavior was "unacceptable."

Beg pardon, but am I the only benighted member of the old school who wanted to spank that child's backside?

Not "beat." Not "abuse." But spank? Definitely.

Granted, I don't know anything about this girl. Maybe she has emotional problems. Maybe she's been mistreated. Maybe there are mitigating factors. In which case, I'll be the first to admit I'm wrong.

But assuming I'm not, assuming Ja'eisha is what she appears -- a brat in a snit -- you have to ask yourself if anybody has ever laid down the law to her, said no and made it stick, socialized her. It's a job, I hasten to add, that begins not with schools, but with parents.

Of course, no one seems to be doing the job these days, so tremulous are we about bruising fragile self-esteem. Small wonder we wind up in a place where adults are helpless before the furies of children.

What happened in St. Pete is but the most widely publicized episode in what seems a mini-epidemic. Last year, a kindergartner in St. Louis was handcuffed for disruptive behavior. Last week, a 7-year-old in Bethlehem, W.Va., wound up wearing jailhouse bracelets for much the same reason.

Can it be just coincidence that we're also seeing a not-so-mini epidemic of parents defending and rationalizing the misbehavior of their little terrors? I'm thinking of the parents in Kansas who harassed a teacher for flunking kids who cheated on a project. Of the mother in greater Chicago who dismissed her daughter's part in a mob assault as something that just "got out of hand." Of the mother in New Orleans who blamed the school -- school with security guards and metal detectors -- after her son and another boy shot each other.

And I'm thinking of Ja'eisha's mother, Inga Akins, saying on television that her daughter's misbehavior stemmed from the fact that she doesn't get along with "Miss D" -- presumably assistant principal Nicole Dibenedetto, seen in the video deflecting the child's punches. Beg pardon again, but ... who cares? How does the fact that a 5-year-old doesn't like somebody justify her behaving like a hellion?

Akins has a lawyer and he's talking lawsuit. Fine. The police overreacted. You don't handcuff 5-year-olds. But also, you shouldn't feel that you have to.

So I hope mom doesn't do what we too often do when our kids misbehave these days. Make it not their fault. Tell them they are victims. Spare them the burden of onus.

I hope that between media interviews, Akins is getting her child straight. Otherwise, I can promise you one thing:

Someday, you'll see Ja'eisha in handcuffs again.

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