By Scott Scanlon – Refresh Editor
As the father of two daughters in their early 20s, I’ve read with interest during the last couple of weeks about an unsupervised house party gone horribly wrong for a North Buffalo family.
I’ve also read many of the anonymous comments attached to the online versions of our stories that chronicle some of Western New York’s brightest – and in some cases, most privileged – teens accused of drunken behavior that included urinating and defecating on floors and furniture, and having sex in someone else’s home.
Homeowners Steven Binder and Kristen Segebarth, who, with their teenage daughter arrived home from a Caribbean vacation to the damages, also said someone at the party stole more than $6,000 in cash as well as prescription pain medications.
Undoubtedly, some of the anonymous comments posted on stories come from teens who attended the party, or their friends.
In letters home to parents, high school officials shared their feelings, but much of the online chatter focused on who shared blame for what clearly is unacceptable teenage behavior, regardless of the circumstances, and what, if anything, should happen to the responsible teens.
During the last few days I’ve had the chance to ask two child experts for their thoughts about the matter: parenting guru John Rosemond, whose nationally syndicated column appears weekly in WNY Refresh; and Dr. Matthew Bartels, a pediatrician with Lifetime Health Medical Group in Amherst and medical director with Univera Healthcare.
Rosemond – who will visit Western New York for two talks next week (find out where here) – told me these types of parties have happened across the country, and often don’t get the media attention they should.
“Today’s kids do not, in general, think they will be held accountable for anything they do,” he wrote. “And the problem is that in many instances, they are correct.
“When he became a teen, I told my son that if he ever attended an unhosted party of his peers and said party got out of control and damage to property was incurred, he would himself reimburse the homeowners for ALL of the damage, even if other parents stepped up to the plate. There would, furthermore, be no “trial.” He would not enjoy any constitutional protections.
“He believed me, which he should have, and that prevented him from ever participating in this sort of situation.
“Seems accountability, at all levels of American society and culture, is in short supply these days.”
Bartels has four children, three boys, ages 10, 18 and 20, and a daughter, 15. We talked about the house party stories during an interview for a piece about social media and teens in today’s WNY Refresh.
He doesn’t know how the 50 or so teens found out about the unsupervised house, though he and I both suspect the word spread through smartphone text messages and social media. Both of us also want to believe that the majority of those who attended were not involved in the damage and disrespect. Still, they were there.
“What I would say is we’re all accountable for our own actions,” Bartels said. “It’s important that everyone owns up to whatever role they played in that event.
“As a parent, as hard as it is, the one thing we all need to teach our kids is to be responsible for their actions, and to own up to our failures. If we don’t do that, then we’re failing as a society.”
The doctor also wondered if students who took photos and video at the party, and posted it, understand that a growing number of companies now hire firms to conduct shadow resumes on prospective job candidates, and just how much information computer specialists can pull off the Internet, including things presumably erased.
“Stuff online tends to live a long time, and that’s part of the fear and anxiety kids live with,” Bartels said. “I think they know that, but they might not understand the downstream implications that what they did as a kid might come back to haunt them as an adult.”