Sunday, April 10, 2011

Pepper Spray & Eight-Year-Olds

By now, you've probably read about the unruly eight-year-old boy who was pepper sprayed and cuffed by school police officers in a Denver suburb. I know, I'm still trying to get my mind around it as well. Yet, arguably, this story is much more complex than you might initially think.

Everything in my adult/teacher/parent mind tells me that there is no reason to pepper spray an third grader. My son is eight, and short of him having a gun, I can't think of any situation where I couldn't restrain him, even taking away from him a "sharpened stick" like the boy in the story was wielding. Some middle school and high school kids might be reasonable targets for pepper spray or even a taser if they are "threatening school personnel" and "throwing TVs and desks" at a door behind which the teachers had barricaded themselves. But an eight-year-old?

Yet, the district superintendent has defended the action as not only "legal" but in the best interest of the safety of the boy. Police officers are trained to take down the most dangerous and aggressive of people, and there is every reason to think that in restraining and removing the child, he could have ended up with bruises or a broken finger or wrist or arm or a concussion. And we can predict the lawsuits coming from that. In fact, the boy's mother wondered why the police didn't just talk to him as they had done on the two other occasions when they had been called to deal with this child.

And therein lies the complexity.

Clearly, this child is a problem. And previous "talking" may have led to the escalation, as the boy has learned he can get what he wants. The mom - who does not come off well in interviews - has clearly failed in almost every aspect of parenting. And she has burdened her son with issues he will struggle with for years. She claims doctors have refused to medicate him because it's not a medical problem. I agree. It's a parenting problem. And while the boy "never acts that way at home," I'd conclude it's because he gets everything he wants. My guess is the boy comes home each day and sits on the couch for hours watching SpongeBob or playing video games while his mom brings him every bit of junk food his heart desires. I'd guarantee homework is not an expectation in that house.

Thus, the boy was subdued, cuffed, and transferred to an alternative school for behavior disabled schools. Well, that's certainly appropriate, albeit about ten referrals and two police visits too late.

Oh, that we could have some discipline for mom as well.


Happy Elf Mom (Christine) said...

Wait, did you listen to the interview? Where the mom said the kid gained weight on the meds? I think you're being a bit unfair just because the child and his mom are fat and they HAPPENED to show him playing video games in the segment. You and I both know the mom could have been cooking dinner and reading for five hours straight and we wouldn't see that on the video. It all depends on what the editors want to "convey." Ever see some of the cray-zee "unschooling" videos out there? They choose the goofiest people out there and then make 'em look like nuts.

I'm not saying the kid is right or even that he shouldn't have been pepper-sprayed. ANY time you have violence to that degree, you can't go back and "talk down." BUT I think instead of casting blame on the school, the cops or the kid that they should get some ABA people in there, see what the antecedents are and how to minimise this sort of thing from happening again. There are often ways to prevent things from escalating to this point.

And I hope that district is using a PBS model and not the punitive BIST that ours uses. More often than not, BIST techniques can escalate behaviours in disabled or unstable children. Which is NOT what anyone wants.

And if I were that mom? I'd either be homeschooling, getting a lawyer and looking into stay-put, or moving, or doing meds and who cares how fat the kid gets... if it prevents him from going to prison later, isn't it worth it?? Looks like she's just going to blame the school but send him every day anyway???

mmazenko said...

Many, many behavioral problems are distinctly a result of lifestyle - that is parenting and diet/exercise. In a couple of interviews, this mother asserted that doctors have said his problem is not chemical/psychological. Clearly, it is parenting. And if his mother looks like she does, and there lifestyle is that obvious, that boys weight is not a side effect of meds. You and I know that mom was not cooking healthy dinner, promoting exercise, and reading each night ... or ever.

My wife is studying nutrition and nutrition therapy, and I firmly believe diet and lifestyle are the root of this boy's issues, as well as similar problems for numerous young people. I know of people whose children have IEPs and seriously diagnosed illnesses such as Asperger's. They have made dramatic changes in behavior through lifestyle changes. I have no doubt that could be true for many people.

And I am not saying that all cases of behavior disabilities could be healed with a healthy diet. But I am saying that many behavior problems are not medical but lifestyle - and that includes diet. And that is without doubt relevant in this case.

Happy Elf Mom (Christine) said...

Perhaps. But having a severely autistic child myself, and three who are able to speak, I can tell you that sometimes there are food issues as part of the condition itself. I know there are in my house!

I'm not saying the kid wasn't WAY OUT THERE or that it isn't possible this is simply a bad family. I have to admit to also being surprised that the child could do all that but still be allowed video games. BUT. I also know as a mom with ABA involved with an older son that sometimes the behaviour specialists want to plan those reward times in for this or that, build on small successes and the like. I'm going to just figure that she simply must have an ABA therapist in. There just isn't any other conceivable way a parent would let their kid play video games after an incident like that otherwise.

Well, unless she's just a bad mom like you said. I just can't imagine it's that simple. I mean... whyyy would a mother not give her son good instruction if she has to live with him? Makes no sense...

mmazenko said...

It is that simple. Eighteen years of teaching and nine years of parenting has taught me at least that much. There is no way she is working with a therapist or even aware that she should. I've seen to much on this parent to conclude she is anything other than pathetic.

Because the mother has to live with him, she gives in to his every demand at home - which are probably pretty simple demands.

Thus, at school, where there are expectations for doing things he doesn't want to do, he explodes.

There are countless parents out there who are simply incompetent. And it's a real shame.

Happy Elf Mom (Christine) said...

Ahh, you are saying it's BECAUSE she has to live with him that she would give in to his demands... whereas I'm saying why would she give in to his demands BECAUSE she has to live with him in the long-term.

I've never, never seen a parent that shortsighted.

If you see many of them... and most people DO send their children to school... we are all in big trouble.