Mel Flesher’s day didn’t start out all that great a couple weeks ago. As she left her apartment one morning she saw the 80 cc dirt bike she bought for her boyfriend’s boys was missing from its usual place, locked to a bike rack at the apartment complex. She did what any modern parent would do, went on Facebook and reported the crime to her social community. “We think it went missing early this morning. Broke the lock we had on it. We recently got this bike and fixed it up so they could learn how to ride. It’s old but runs perfectly for the kids. Please keep you eyes out for it. Thanks,” she posted.
Unfortunately, even in the Canadian province of British Columbia, on the Western coast of the country between Alaska and the state of Washington, anything that can make a quick buck or be traded for drugs quickly vanishes into thin air. Flesher did not have high hopes for recovery but maybe her post would alert the neighborhood in case it turned up. The last thing she expected to see one morning about a week later was the minibike right back in it’s usual spot.
Adolescence is a tough time for kids. Trapped half way between carefree childhood and the responsibilities of approaching adulthood, the teenage years are loaded with challenges. Laurence Steinberg is a psychology professor for Temple University who helped write a court brief in a case before the Supreme Court that did away with the death penalty for crimes committed by minors under 18. The reason is that the human brain is not fully developed yet at that age. Steinberg says, “the teenage brain is like a car with a good accelerator but a weak brake. With powerful impulses under poor control, the likely result is a crash.”
His report cites state of the art research that indicates during the adolescent years, reasoning and judgment have not yet fully developed and the process is not complete until well into the twenties. Writing for the court, Justice Kennedy says, “As any parent knows, youths are more likely to show ‘a lack of maturity and an underdeveloped sense of responsibility’ than adults. These qualities often result in impetuous and ill-considered actions and decisions.”
David Fassler, a psychiatry professor who often testifies in juvenile trials, says the underlying principles we now understand don’t let kids off the hook completely but at least gives an explanation for how bad decisions happen. “It doesn’t mean adolescents can’t make a rational decision or appreciate the difference between right and wrong,” he said. “It does mean, particularly when confronted with stressful or emotional decisions, they are more likely to act impulsively, on instinct, without fully understanding or analyzing the consequences of their actions.”
It appears that is what happened with the case of the missing minibike. After the boys who took the cycle saw the Facebook post, they did a very adult thing and completed a rite of adolescent passage.
Not only did they return the stolen bike, they gave it a complete servicing with fresh oil, topped off the tank and polished it up. They bought a new lock. Taped to the seat was a baggie with a hand written note.
“Well we should start by saying sorry for stealing your son’s bike. Although not an excuse, me and my friend figured it would belong to some teenager who had outgrown it. When we read your Facebook post, we immediately knew we had to take it back to him. We’ve bought him a new, more secure lock as the previous one was already broken. The keys are in with the bike. For the future take the keys inside with you. I know we aren’t really in a place to give you advice but the heartbreak your son must have felt upon discovering his bike missing should never be relived… Ride on little man, you deserve it!”
Flesher had once been a child herself. She sat down at her keyboard and pecked out a fresh post. “Thank you for doing the right thing!!! You sound like good kids!! We forgive you and hope this taught you a lesson.”
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