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Dan Morrison, a student at Aspen Creek K-8 in Broomfield, threw chocolate pudding in a food fight at the school that lasted about 30 seconds and involved about 20 eighth-graders on Nov. 8. Morrison admitted his actions and followed through with his punishments. In a Jan. 17 Camera story, Morrison’s mother, Kari Morrison, said her son helped clean up the lunchroom, wrote an essay and also performed 15 hours of community service.

Individually, these punishments seem appropriate. They echo parenting ideas that have been around for generations: “Say you’re sorry.” “If you make a mess, clean it up.” And, “Leave the world a better place than how you found it.”

Collectively, these punishments seem too stiff.

Kari Morrison and Robin Techmanski argued just that point. Techmanski’s daughter Jessica also received 15 hours of community service for the food fight. The two mothers are right if punishments were imposed arbitrarily and capriciously by a heavy-handed principal. Nevertheless, there is no argument if students had been given clear expectations of behavior then chose to violate them. A good check would be to see whether the rules hang on the lunchroom wall or are written in a student handbook reviewed by students and their parents or outlined for students in other ways.

There is no excuse for overly zealous school disciplinarians, or parents for that matter. Yet parents need to give more, not less, support to schools in handling discipline and to teach their own children, to set expectations for their behaviors and to enforce the rules the parents have set.

“The big C is consistency,” said Suzanne Rodgers of Boulder County and a state and national representative for StandUp Parenting Inc., standupp.org, in a recent interview. “Our kids are screaming for us to be consistent. Even when they are yelling and cursing and not coming home and doing all these things, they really want to know that when they push on that wall that it is not going to give. We are doing them a disservice by giving in and not being consistent and not holding them accountable.”

Rodgers is right, but that’s not easy. Fears and worries grip some so that they find it impossible to hold the line without help. Parents want their children to love them, too. That’s where support from other parents comes and groups like StandUp Parenting Inc. comes into play.

While bad behavior can begin as a food fight, it can grow into other things if left unchecked. A growing number of lawmakers are looking to extract support from parents by holding them accountable for their children’s illegal actions.

Back in 1995, the municipal court in Silverton, Ore., passed the “Parental Responsibility Law,” which can hold parents accountable for offenses committed by their children under 18. Hundreds of cities throughout the country asked for copies of Silverton’s municipal code as they look to get parents to step up to their responsibilities. The story hit the New York Times in May 1995 with the telling headline: “When Young Break the Law, A Town Charges the Parents.”

The Oregon Legislature applied the ordinance to the entire state with an act that required parents to keep their children from breaking laws or face a fine of up to $1,000 or be sentenced to parenting, or alcohol or drug-abuse classes.

Colorado could benefit from the debate about such a law.

All loving but tough parents should feel vindicated by the act of a courageous mother from Fort Dodge, Iowa, who placed an ad in The Des Moines Register.

The Jan. 9 story included the ad which read: “OLDS 1999 Intrigue. Totally uncool parents who obviously don’t love teenage son, selling his car. Only driven for three weeks before snoopy mom who needs to get a life found booze under front seat. $3,700/offer. Call meanest mom on the planet.”

The story pointed out she received numerous calls from lots of people thanking her for being a responsible parent. It’s no surprise her son wasn’t happy, though his mother believed him when he said he hadn’t brought the booze into the car. Still, the rules to keep the car locked and no booze in the car were enforced.

The Associated Press picked up the story and the mother and son appeared together on “Good Morning America” and “The Ellen DeGeneres Show.” The best part was the mother’s actions. Rodgers said it this way: “She set her boundaries. She was creative. She got her kid’s attention.”

Way to go, Mom.


Source: Published Jan. 27, 2008 Daily Camera


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