Soon after my son first joined Boy Scouts, around the age of 11, he decided to wear shorts with his uniform one cold winter night to a troop meeting. I believe in natural consequences, so even though it was around 40 degrees outside, I reminded him that he would likely be cold, gave him the choice to change into pants, but didn’t demand that he change or refuse to take him to the meeting if he didn’t. I have always reasoned that eventually he will need to make such decisions on his own, and the memory of being cold (and perhaps ridiculed by his peers) will be a more powerful deterrent than the memory of a shouting match with me or missing one Boy Scout troop meeting.
After the meeting, one of the Scouters (an adult affiliated with the troop) took me aside and admonished me for “letting” my son wear shorts. I explained to him that we had engaged in a lengthy discussion and that I had told my son it was cold and that he should wear pants, but that I was not going to force him to wear pants because, again, I thought he would learn more from being cold. He was absolutely incensed. He regarded what I was doing as pandering to my child; the equivalent of giving candy to a screaming toddler in a grocery store checkout line. He told me it was my responsibility to teach my son right from wrong and that by letting him wear shorts when it was cold outside I was avoiding that responsibility. I calmly tried to explain that my son was learning exactly that lesson (and in fact after that night he never wore shorts to a troop meeting again, even in the summer).
Last year, in the ninth grade, when my son decided he didn’t want to do his homework, I applied the same logic. Of course the natural consequence of not doing one’s homework is failing classes, which he did. He was shocked that I was so calm, but I explained to him that his only job was doing his classwork and homework and passing his classes, for which he received a wage (room and board) and benefits package. That benefits package included membership at the School of Rock, which was suspended until such time as he chose to start doing his homework again. (Not so) Surprisingly, my son went from getting D’s and F’s in the third quarter to all A’s and B’s in the fourth quarter. His benefits package has now been fully reinstated and he not only performs in quarterly shows with School of Rock, he also recently recorded a song to raise money for the Love Hope Strength Foundation.
So what would I do if, instead of wearing shorts to a Boy Scout troop meeting in winter or not doing his homework, my son decided to not go to school altogether? I would like to think that as his parent I have the discretion to deal with it as I choose, letting the natural consequences work their magic as they have always done. But at 5’4″ and around 130 pounds, I certainly can’t physically force his 6’1″, 170 pound self to go. Spanking won’t help, and would likely result in a call to Child Protective Services these days. Once the XBox is gone and School of Rock has been taken away and he still chooses not to get on the bus or in the car, I really have no way of making him go to school. That is why I was absolutely confounded when I read the following in the Sun Sentinel:
A new truancy court in Palm Beach County [Florida] won’t just go after children if they miss too much school, it could result in jail time for their parents.
Under Florida law, parents can be charged with truancy if a child between 6 and 16 has 15 or more unexcused absences in three months. They face up to two months in jail if convicted of the second-degree misdemeanor.
No one has been before a judge or charged in more than 15 years in Palm Beach County, according to the State Attorney’s Office. The reason? Prosecutors have focused on more important violent crimes and schools didn’t have liasons to help present strong cases.
Fortunately this article goes on to say that Palm Beach County is currently focusing on elementary kids in kindergarten through third grade. Sadly, under the letter of the law, there are some unfortunate parents of surly delinquent teens out there who may eventually end up in jail simply because their progeny have decided to #OccupyCouch and it is illegal to “force” them to go to school by physically bringing them there against their will and illegal to allow them to remain on the couch. What’s a parent to do?