I have always enjoyed watching Court TV. I like watching because I love listening to the defense arguments. I enjoy listening to how the attorney for the defense can come up with all kinds of excuses to explain why the person on trial committed the crime. The defendant could even have confessed to the crime, and the defense attorney will still find some circumstance that caused the person to commit the crime, in essence to excuse the crime. I was watching once and there was a 15 year old kid named Brian Pittman on trial for killing his grandparents two years earlier. This young man shot his grandparents in their sleep at close range with a shotgun, put the leash on the dog, walked out of the trailer that they lived in, doused the trailer with gasoline, lit the trailer on fire, and got in a pick-up truck and drove away. The trial went on for weeks, and I watched most of it. The defense attorney was running out of ammunition so he decided to play a card that is becoming a very common excuse for deviant behavior. The defense attorney contended that the reason that this boy committed this heinous crime was because he had an adverse reaction to Zoloft, an anti-depressant drug that he was taking at the time. I sat on the edge of my seat as I waited for the verdict. I was thinking that if a person can be found innocent for murder because of a medication issue, anyone can get away with anything.
I am amazed how family, environment, genetics, and medication can be used as an excuse for behavior in society today. Once these factors are considered the cause of deviant behavior, the person who committed the crime or behaved inappropriately will not be held responsible. It follows then that they should be excused for these behaviors, in other words, not be held accountable. Ultimately, people should be held accountable for their actions, and consequences must be imposed. Consequences are the only thing that will stop negative or deviant behaviors such as talking back, not completing homework, bullying, lying, speeding, sexual harassment on the job, stealing, rape, and murder.
Today, in society, we have reached the point where as soon as parents have trouble managing their child’s behavior or the school makes them aware their child is acting inappropriately in school; parents are all to ready to conclude that these behaviors are caused by ADHD or a teacher with unrealistic expectations or another child. Parents today rarely think of holding themselves responsible, of asking themselves, where am I going wrong here and what do I need to change? Or I need to hold my child responsible, so what consequences will I impose? It’s so much easier to blame the school, a teacher, an administrator, a guidance counselor, another student, or a medical condition. In schools, teachers blame students’ poor behavior or poor academic performance on a child’s difficult circumstances at home, or on the fact that the child’s parents will not put the child on medication. In society, if a person commits a crime that is punishable, the defense attorney will try to convince a jury that the person is mentally ill or comes from a pitiful family background and should not be held responsible.
As a school administrator I have observed deviant behavior, and believe me I have done my best to hold students accountable. I didn’t just look at the student’s isolated behavior at the time, but I considered what would happen if the behavior continued, and how it would affect the student’s chances for success as an adult. I was working as a principal of a school for clinically disturbed students in 1993, and most of the students were depressed, psychotic, and were on medication. When I took over the school there was no system of accountability so I instituted an In-School Suspension program that was used as a means of keeping students in the school for offenses that they would otherwise be suspended for. One morning a student came into school late and proceeded to kick out a window, punch a teacher, tear down hallway decorations and bulletin boards, and was screaming so loud he could be heard in the next county. He was brought into my office, and I said to him, “Nick (name change) I don’t know what I am going to do with you, but for now take a seat in In School Suspension. About five minutes later his school therapist walked into my office. She was furious. She said, “You have Nick in In School Suspension?” I said, “Yes, have you taken a look what he did to my building?” She then said, “Did you know that Nick didn’t have any breakfast this morning?.” I said, “I haven’t had any coffee yet but I’m still talking to you.” I then asked her to leave the office. Did it really matter that Nick didn’t have breakfast? Of course not. What really mattered was that if Nick were not disciplined for his inappropriate behaviors, he would most definitely repeat the behavior again.
I thought about what I was going to do with this student. I knew that I would suspend him for sure, but I also knew that I had to begin to work on developing a relationship with Nick so that he wouldn’t react this way again. About 10:30 in the morning I walked down to In School Suspension and brought Nick a bagel and an orange juice. I told Nick that he should have breakfast before he comes to school, but if he didn’t, he should come into my office, and I would get him something to eat. Nick was also suspended for 10 days, police charges were filed, and he had to write a letter of apology. Had there been a reason for his unreasonable behavior? He had a reason, but having a reason wasn’t an excuse for what he did. If I had bought in to excusing his behavior because he was hungry, Nick would have gotten away with what he did. But I didn’t, I imposed a consequence.
There are plenty of reasons for people’s behaviors; but those reasons are not excuses. What I showed Nick was that there are rules and regulations that have to be followed, but I also showed him some compassion and understanding. I imposed the consequence, but still made sure he had something to eat. I believe that this is the missing piece in dealing with deviant behavior. We are too compassionate and understanding, and we lose sight of the fact that everyone must follow the rules of a family, a school, a job, and society. If we continue to allow everything under the sun to be excused, and we decide that consequences are for the birds, then we can expect our problems with inappropriate behavior in school and deviant behavior in society will continue to get worse.