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6:48 AM Tue, Feb. 19th

Who do we blame when kids break laws?

Who's to blame when kids go bad?

Is it the devil? Is it the wasteland of popular television, movies and music? Should law enforcement put the thumbscrews to parents when their children terrorize, vandalize, use drugs or commit assault or a wide variety of other crimes?

Or are the teens, pre-teens and early-20s to be held responsible for their own actions? Those are tough questions that have plagued our society and our law enforcement and judicial systems for a long, long time. And I'm not sure there are any easy answers.

Get ready. This preacher's daughter is about to deliver a sermon, and I hope you'll take it to heart. Before you turn away from fear of some serious Bible thumping, let me assure you, what follows is simply my educated opinion and a good dose of common sense.

This weekend has seen a rash of teen crimes and arrests. On Sunday, Kingman Police officers arrested three 16-year-olds, two 15-year-olds, one 18-year-old and one 14-year-old on a variety of serious charges, including two stolen cars, sexual assault, underage drinking, burglary and vandalism. The kids all were out after curfew when the alleged crimes occurred.

Where were their parents? Did the parents have any idea the kids weren't somewhere safe and where they weren't causing trouble? Do their parents even care?

I know from having raised three teens myself how headstrong, stubborn, selfish and demanding they can be. I also know that teens can be wonderfully giving, kind and thoughtful.

Can I get a witness? Do I hear an "amen!"?

I have counted my blessings more times than I can remember for having teens who grew into adulthood with a minimum of trouble. Sure, they were moody, defensive and small-minded sometimes. But, they were taught by example and occasional appropriate punishment to respect other people's feelings and belongings.

Each of them had at one time or another experienced how it feels to be bullied, to have their possessions stolen by a trusted friend, and how alcohol and/or drugs changed their companions from interesting, fun people into the kind of swaggering, staggering, driven, deceitful people they didn't want to hang out with. It hurts to lose friends that way.

It's a very sad day when the gentle blinders of innocence are peeled away by a cherished friend or relative's self-serving actions. I have to say my heart broke right along with my kids' when they first experienced the pain that always accompanies the dark side of life.

For some kids, the blinders are ripped off at an extremely early age and too often it's their parents who steal the rose-colored glasses.

Those parents deserve to be held accountable for the abuse they heap onto their children, for allowing others to take advantage of their kids, or for simply not caring enough to fight for their children's lives, even if it means fighting with the kids themselves.

True, those parents too often were abused as children. And, too often, our children are being raised in single-parent households that lack adult supervision because that parent can't afford childcare for a bunch of half-grown kids. We think those youngsters should be able to fix a meal and do a little housework unsupervised. But, kids get lonely, and if we're not there to fill that need, they turn elsewhere. And elsewhere isn't always to other households led by emotionally stable adults. Sometimes, it's to other disenfranchised kids, or worse, to adults who have the cold, calculating souls of weasels.

Show me an adult who never has felt emotional or physical pain. That's right, brothers and sisters. They don't exist.

We can use the pain we've experienced to become resentful, bitter people who wield our pain like swords or spit it like poison, who use it to injure everyone near us.

Or we can keep the memory of the pain as a reminder of how awful it was to be hurt, then vow to become kinder, more understanding people. We can break the epidemic of abuse, drug addiction and soul sickness that threatens our children, our families, our nation.

It begins with a determined effort that comes from within each of us.

But until and unless that happens, I guess we'll have to get used to the idea of our society's children as fodder for our thriving penal system.

I'm afraid that's an idea I'll never get used to.

Donna Newman is the Miner's law enforcement reporter.