The other day I was talking to my new friend Leesa (see also: How to Make a New Friend) and we were discussing raising kids in urban versus rural settings. I was raised in a more rural setting in The Netherlands and there are major advantages to that.
For one, I was able to learn from my mistakes and the troubles I got myself into as a child. Not so sure if I would have gotten where I am now if I had done my mischievous acts in a city like New York. I probably would have been tainted for life, just as is the case for so many young people here in Brooklyn and New York.
I recall an instance when a bunch of friends and myself had tress passed a nature resort and a ranger caught us. We were 11 years of age at the time. He sent us on our way with a friendly warning. In another case, a couple of months after I had turned 18, I had lit some fire works behind the police station and in front of the mayor’s house and accidentally broke a street light.
I repeat: behind the police station and in front of the mayor’s house — how stupid could I be! This should probably have been aired on World’s Dumbest Criminals. I had to spend a night at the precinct and was let go with an order to pay for the broken street light. No record whatsoever.
From what I have learned living in New York, trespassing can get you killed. Let alone what would happen if one lights fireworks in front of Bill de Blasio’s house. I assume the national guard would be called in and the city put on lock down.
Now, I want to make clear that I do not approve of any such actions and I regret that I have done these. But I also learned from my mistakes. I believe it to be an important part of growing up, discovering boundaries and instilling an ability to think critically and with perspective.
I’m not saying that these actions should not come with any repercussions. That is the whole point: making mistakes comes with consequences and if you are the cause in the matter, you need to take responsibility and sometimes that means accepting punishment.
What I’m also saying is, that here in New York City, the consequences for youth committing certain misconducts are too severe. Usually you are not in so much trouble as a first offender, but once you are in the system, you are screwed every time you get into any type of trouble. I know some young people in Brooklyn that have nowhere to go because they are held down by the system after a series of tress passes and jumping turnstiles
The only thing they can do is stick it out and hope their cases get processed as expedient as possible so they can pick up with their lives. This hope is often futile, because they have been assigned pro-bono attorneys that are incompetent and not really willing to help them.
I realize that this is a very naive portrayal of how the system affects young people in a city versus what one would experience in the country side. A city comes with a set of dynamics that you don’t have to deal with in the middle of nowhere — a lot of people for example. When many people want to live together on a limited piece of land, it has to come with a set of rules on how to co-exist, since everyone has different norms and values.
And once you do something stupid, I would expect that you will be on your best behavior for at least a while. How else do you show that you are learning from your mistakes? I would not consider it smart to commit the same act twice in a row and I understand that it will amplify repercussions.
But too many rules make life suffocating and that’s how it sometimes feels like living in New York City. Every time something happens, a new law or regulation is put into place to prevent it from happening again. Of course we need to prevent bad things from happening, but by regulating anything and everything you take away people’s judgement on how to interpret and handle certain situations. We risk that we become a docile group of followers that will just stick to the rule because its there.
How to address this? I’m not sure. It is complicated and if it would be simple it would have been solved already. What definitely helped in my case was the 5 mile bike ride back home from the police station. A half hour trip for contemplation and reflection — all the way thinking what my parents would say and the punishment that was undoubtedly awaiting me.
Can’t we just be allowed to live a little, make a mistake here and there, get slapped on the wrist by mom or dad, learn from it, and move on?
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