It's Ok Dad!

One of the things that I am grateful for in life is that Pamela and I have such similar child-rearing philosophies.   Much of our approach has been to make sure that our kids understand that there are "Natural and Organic consequences to their actions".  That's Pamela's phrase, but I really like it and she has quite a few of them.  Another one is that someday "the people giving you consequences won't love you".    You might be able to talk your way out of coming home late because your parents know you, know you are responsible and love you.  But, it's hard to talk your way out of a speeding ticket. Speaking of speeding tickets, one of the fun things that I always wanted to do was go to one of these "Skip Barber School of Driving" .  You know, big powerful cars and high speeds in a controlled environment.  Well, Pamela gave Kyle and I an enrollment in the Contra Costa County Sherriff's Department's "Driving for Skills and Thrills" class.  We added Scott to our group and were looking forward to a great day on the airfield. Yup, that's right, you drive on the Buchannan Airfield in Concord and you drive police cars!   It took a while to get to class.  We kept scheduling and they kept cancelling.  Officers got sick, enrollment wasn't high enough, I don't even remember all the reasons.  Finally the day came and we loaded up into a car and headed to Concord.

There were two policeman with the sherriff's department who were our instructors for the day.  It was remarkably informal.  We met in a trailer and talked a bit about what we were going to do for the day.  Then, we got on a bus and headed out to an unused portion of the airfield.   The officers had setup cones and we spent the morning doing different tasks.  They pushed and pushed us to go faster and to drive harder They wanted us to take both the car and ourselves out of our comfort zone.  A large area was setup with sprinklers and cones and was designed to make it easy for us to put the car into a spin.   The officers would sit beside you saying "Faster, Faster, Push it".   They weren't satisfied until the back end broke lose and we had to recover.

We did backup drills and found that out of the 6 or 8 students, Kyle was probably the best Reverse Driver.  He still is; just watch him back out of our driveway.  Finally we did high-speed lane changes.  Now this was fun.  Try taking a car to 40MPH and drive down a lane of cones toward a dead-end.  As you approach the dead-end (yeah, dead end with cones), the officer would say either left or right and you had to do an emergency lane change.   If you can do it at 40MPH, try 45MPH or 55MPH.   Here, take a look at me trying it at 50MPH.


In the afternoon, we got to get serious. They laid out an entire course with cones. It had everything; zig-zags through the slick area, long straight-away terminated with a stop sign and a lot of hard curves. We ran for times and they pushed us. Let me tell you there's nothing quite like coming out of a hard turn and stomping down on the gas pedal and accelerating hard right up until you moved your foot from the gas to break for the stop-sign. Going from full acceleration to full anti-lock braking was a serious charge!

Well, after doing timed runs through the course for most of the afternoon, they asked us if we wanted to move on to pursuit. You didn't have to ask us twice. So, now we had an officer in the front car and we had to try to catch them. This just emphasized what we had already learned during the day; that the driving skills of the professionals far outpaced our own amateur abilities. They were impossible to catch, but it was a blast.

There were a couple of giggly girls in our group. One just had a permit and the other was just 16. They were pretty timid earlier in the day and the officers had to keep pushing through each exercise. And, they thought the officers were cute. Up until this point every task had been done with a student driver and an officer in the passenger seat. But the girls really wanted to chase the cute officer and they asked permission to go together. Scott jumped in too, and they headed off. At this point, the girls were wound up, exciting and no longer thinking.

All timidness disappeared, they were in a cop car and they were going to catch the cute guy. They egged each other on, "Go Faster, Go Faster". The 16 year old girl behind the wheel left her comfort zone so far behind that she entered the first curve without taking her foot off the gas, the car spun out, crossed a dirt area and ended up parked on top of one of those runway lights that show airplanes which way to go. Here's what one looks like before it's been run over by a police car.

Runway Sign

Well, that was the end of the day. One of the officers had to get in the car and get it unstuck and I'm sure there were consequences with Buchannan Airfield. We had a day that was safety first right up until the time that giggly teenagers got into a car together. If you ever wonder if having the provisional license restriction of not carrying other minors in the car until you've had your license for a year is silly, remember this story. There are consequences. Sometimes things can be fixed, and sometimes they can't.

A few years ago, there were a couple of High School Seniors who had an encounter with alcohol after a special date.  After that date, which is clearly communicated to all students, any drug or alcohol violation results in the students not being able to attend graduation.  This policy was implemented because during the last 6 weeks of school, there just isn't enough time to have meanful consequences without jeopardizing graduation itself.  

You would not believe the campaign that was waged by these kids' parents to overrule the district policy.  Since I was on the school board at the time, I was the focus of phone calls and arguments along with the other board members.  In the end, we did not change our policy and the students were not allowed to participate.  However, they attended graduation, wore robes, sat in the audience and stood up when their class received their promotion.  What were these parents thinking?  Why did they believe that their kids deserved to go through graduation?  I simply don't understand.

So many parents have strange ideas of what constitutes serious consequences.  Let's be clear, serious consequences are things like jail and death (of yourself or others).  I take serious to mean "life changing".  Something that happens that takes your life on a different (and usually less-desireable) path.  Failing to graduate from High School is a serious thing.  Failure to walk across the stage at a ceremony is NOT.  Not participating in graduation wasn't going to keep these kids out of college, or have any lasting effect on them.  That doesn't mean that it wasn't a bummer for them, but it was simply the consequences of their own actions.  

Then, this year we have another drama.  Dozens of seniors left the Senior Dinner Dance and headed to a student's house whose parents were out of town.  By all accounts, the parents had given their child permission to have this party, understood that there would be alcohol.  Some parents think that they can be the "cool" parents and give kids a place to drink responsibly.  Remember that all of these kids drove to the party or were driven by other kids.  Who knows how this would have ended.  Kids are stupid.  They do stupid things - even the good kids.  Any parent of a teen has the primary job of keeping their kid alive through these years, not to be "cool". 

It seems like every class has some parents who fall into this mold.  Kyle had a friend whose parents regularly allowed sleep over parties with alcohol.  They collected keys in order to be responsible, then let the kids drink themselves silly while tending a bonfire by a lake.  They had no right to do this with MY kid.  They want to let their own kids drink and puke, go for it.  You take it upon yourself to do this with other people's kids and you crossed the line.   Sometimes Parents are Stupid too. 

Anyway, the parents of the unchaperoned party kids went nuts.  They attacked the school district for blowing the whistle on the party. They pointed fingers at the principal and the vice-principal.   They filled the board room with parents talking about a toxic atmosphere at the high school.  Their kids still drove.  Their kids still played sports.  Their kids still hung out with their friends. Parents hired lawyers to bring up civil rights issues (who invite the police in anyway?!?).  They hired lawyers to keep the "overraction" from the records of their students.  What's wrong with this picture?

We made sure that our kids knew that if they would have been involved, we wouldn't have been standing with the other parents. We would, instead, be standing behind the principal and thanking the vice-principal for intervening before someone got into a car. Our kids would have experienced the natural consequences of their actions at home and it wouldn't have been pretty.  

I learned something important because Kyle rolled through a stop sign before he was 18.  Actually, I learned a lot of things, so I'll start at the beginning.  If you get a ticket and you are a minor, you have to appear in court and you have to take a parent with you. We didn't think much about this whole affair. It was a simple traffic ticket and we treated it as such. Because we love Kyle and because we know that he's a fundamentally responsible kid (ignore preceding paragraphs) and because this wasn't a horribly bad infraction, there were no consequences for him at home. Then we went to court.

You enter the courtroom with about a dozen kids and their parents. These are the people that you spend the next hour with as, one by one, each minor gets up to face the judge. The pattern became clear quickly. The minor would get up in front of the judge, the judge would describe the infraction and give the kid a chance to have a say. Most of the interactions went something like this:

Judge: So, you were cited for going 95 MPH on the Freeway and you tried to outrun the police car. Is that what happened?

Kid : Yes

Judge: Ok, What consequences did you have at home?

Kid: (big heavy sigh), I got my car taken away for 2 weeks!

Judge: Two Weeks?!? Could you point out your parent?

Kid: Yeah, my mom is back there (pointing)

Judge: Hi, could you please come up here and join your son? Thank you? So, you understand that your son was cited for going 95MPH on the freeway and evading an officer. Right?

Mom : Yes

Judge: Ok, and you really think that 2 weeks without a car was the proper punishment?!?

Mom : Well, I guess maybe it should have been longer? (hesitanting) but it was difficult to move him around.

Judge: Ok, Ok, Ok. Let's see how you move him around for the next year! Bailiff, please confiscate the minor's license and mark it for return one year from today. NEXT!

Many parents think that it's fine for new drivers to drive their siblings around. It's a common thing and the language in the DMV manual is vague. I can tell you, first hand, that it's NOT ok. There was a kid who was driving his little sister to school in the morning because both parents left for work early. The judge asked for the parent to come forward and then asked who was the little sister's parent. The judge noted that the 16 year old driver was not a parent and it wasn't his job to get his sister to school. To emphasize that, the Bailiff took the kid's license for 6 months. Now they both had to get to school.

Seriously, they all went like this. Here's what you did..... What happened to you at home?... You're kidding?? Bailiff, take the license !

I'm sweating bullets in the back of the courtroom. I mean, Kyle had no consequences at home. None. Occasionally after one of the "Bailiff" instructions, I lean over and say to Kyle, "you had no consequences!!!" and he would calmly respond, "It's Ok Dad!". Well, it wasn't ok. The judge was confiscating driver's licenses at a rate that I had never imagined and Kyle was next.

He went up to the front of the courtroom and I tried to shrink behind the chair in front of me. And, it started:

Judge: So, you were cited for not coming to a full and complete stop at a stop sign, is that correct?

Kyle : Yes

Judge : What happened to you at home?

Kyle : My parents sent me to the Contra Costa County Sheriff's Department driving school which we just attended last weekend (keep in mind the scheduling and rescheduling of this class!)

Judge : Please point out your parent.

Kyle : My Dad is back there (pointing to the empty chair that I'm hiding behind)

Judge : (with two thumbs up) Good Job! Now that's what parenting is about!

The looks of scorn cast upon me by the other parents in the room was overwhelming. Kyle was dismissed with his license intact and we left the courtroom.

There are natural and organic consequences of your actions. Sometimes those consequences are given to you by people who don't love you. Sometimes, you get lucky.