At what point did society decide that children are best left to their worst intentions?

At what point did adults in positions of authority decide that obnoxious, destructive and disrespectful behavior was to be expected from teenagers?

At what point did grown men and women enter into a place of such cowardice and impotence?

These are a few of the questions I’ve been pondering since a very disappointing visit to a local park. Yesterday, I promised the children a picnic lunch in their very favorite park, following the morning Mass. Another dear family was to join us for the fun, and they were quite excited about visiting a new park, particularly because it had been completely refurbished and promised a couple hours of fun, climbing and exploring the many new pieces of playground equipment.

Our family arrived at the park first. The children, in their great excitement, were eagerly unbuckling seatbelts and were anxious to play.

“Halt! Wait a second, guys…looks like the park is packed…my goodness, those kids look like highschool students…is school out today?”

The children in question were not high school students, but middle school students who had been “walked” to this park by a group of teachers who were no where to be seen. I offer the preceding statement due to my observation of the positively awful, obnoxious behavior of these young people. Climbing, brawling, yelling and screaming, chasing younger children away…it was frightening. And not an adult within viewing distance. I watched as several parents quickly corralled their young children, fleeing for the safety of their minivans, hopes of a joyous day of play dashed by the bad behavior of at least sixty (maybe more) middle school students.

My own children were horrified. First, they realized, quite quickly, we wouldn’t be jumping into the middle of the melee; and more importantly, that the situation was becoming dangerous. One teenager fell, from quite a height, backwards off the top of a piece of playground equipment that was designed for children between the ages of five and twelve. He was unhurt, but only by the grace of God. At least 6 families had left the park with crying children in tow. Not one of the adults went to the park office, or attempted to address the bad behavior of the children in question. At one point, a police car slowly cruised past the playground, but the officer simply stared for a few moments and then slowly drove away. I was positively furious, at this point, but stayed with my children until my friend arrived.

Once she pulled into the parking lot and surveyed the situation, we both surmised that the park day was just not going to happen, much to the dismay of our children. Another father, leaving the park with his two toddlers, expressed his frustration and at that point, I decided that someone had to say something. Excusing myself, I proceeded to the park office. The conversation that ensued was beyond disappointing:

“Excuse me, there are a large group of teenagers in the playground designated for children between the ages of five and twelve. I’ve seen no adults, and these kids are out of control. They are chasing and threatening younger children, one of them has fallen off a piece of climbing equipment. This is getting dangerous…several parents have already taken their small children away…”

“Well, yeah…we know. But there are teachers there supervising them…they’re middle school students, you know…what can we say? It’s the last couple weeks of school, so they bring them here to blow off steam…”

“I’ve seen not a single adult near these children…this is dangerous! Do your park guidelines mean nothing? Are they allowed to do this? What about public safety?”

“Well, m’am, for future reference you might want to take note of the public school calendar and not come here on days like today…”

WHAT?!! What an insane statement…let them pillage, plunder, destroy, etc, while the “villagers” stay locked in their houses until the marauding horde passes through?!  This is pretty much the idea I took from the conversation.

As I proceeded, in great frustration, towards my van, a very large, very imposing man apologized for the behavior of the teenagers, said he would locate a teacher and then suggested another lovely park several miles away. I thanked him politely, told him we had plenty of places to go (including home). It was apparent that he felt completely powerless to change the situation and that was, perhaps, the saddest part of that morning.

A grown man, weak and ineffective, bowing to an unruly group of children, impotent in his ability to stop this type of behavior or even insist, with any kind of authority, that the teachers do so.

As we drove home, I consoled the children as best I could. We are homeschoolers, with many park days in our future. The worst part of the experience, was trying to explain to them why these adults had failed at their duties, without sounding as harsh and critical as I felt.

We must pray, dear friends…these teenagers were not the problem. They have been let down by their parents, their teachers and many others who have the authority, wisdom and duty to shepherd them. Their inclination towards misbehavior is not the problem. As a good friend once reminded me, we must not look at this as typical behavior, but common. Just because something is common, doesn’t mean that it is to be expected.

As the mother of a couple of teenagers, I don’t want anyone looking upon as “typical teenagers…” Yesterday’s experience, unfortunately, has illustrated a bit too well, that this is the general consensus, and I fear my own perceptions are being colored by it. So, I will pray more, that I judge less.

But it’s hard…