I was looking out my front window last week and mentioned to my wife, Nadine, that our neighbor’s mailbox looked like it was broken.
We soon learned some of our local teens had been connected to some destructive choices over spring break.
I began thinking about what would possess teenagers to commit random acts of mailbox mischief and then I remembered something:
Many years ago as I was making my way through the choppy waters of high school, I did something really stupid. But the lesson I learned was unforgettable and helped me understand the effect my actions have on others.
Returning home from an evening at the movies, I pulled into the local 7-Eleven for something to drink.
Returning to my car, I realized I had locked my keys in the ignition. Stupidly, I began looking around for something long, skinny and rigid to “open” my car door when I spotted the perfect tool on another car in the parking lot.
I “removed” the antenna from the car and began trying to open my door when the parking lot began to fill up and I decided to just walk home.
About 4 in the morning, my mom banged on my bedroom door and told me a police officer was at the door and wanted to speak to me. I found myself confessing my wrongdoing, and the officer told me the person who owned the car would not press charges if I paid for the damage.
However the hardest part was when the officer gave me a phone number and told me to contact the person to determine how I would make restitution.
One of the most excruciating calls I ever made as a teenager was to a man whom I didn’t know and would have to apologize for damaging his vehicle.
Later that week, I stood face-to-face as the man “vented” and tried to help me figure out why I had done something so stupid. After what seemed an eternity, he calmed down, I handed him the money for the damages I had caused, apologized again, hung my head and walked away from his house.
What was most difficult was how embarrassed I was because I had to face the very person whose life had been affected by my stupidity.
You might be quick to point out that it was just a car antenna and not a “big deal.” But it wasn’t my car antenna, and it was property I had absolutely no right to damage.
Teens should know their actions may result in facing up to more than a local police or diversion officer, and should be expected to apologize to the very people whose property or lives have been affected by their youthful carelessness.
This isn’t a popular remedy in our culture today for reasons I don’t quite understand, but I do know that a simple “I’m sorry” can go a long way toward calming angry feelings and teaching kids valuable lessons.
Lance Scranton is a Moffat County High School teacher and coach. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.