Shopping mall owners, beware. Arena officials, watch your backs. Anybody in charge of municipal parks, playgrounds and recreational facilities, duck and cover.
If a woman named Charlene Van Dusen prevails, the folks in charge of public places have a new role: surrogate parents.
Malls and rec centers are not supposed to double as kid-sitting services. But some people think that dumping their offspring at the mall or ice rink and taking off qualifies as exceptional parenting.
Van Dusen is the mother of the notorious 10-year-old involved in the Amherst Pepsi Center dispute. Charles Schmidl and his 5-year-old son were at the center for a mid-April skate when, he said, the 10-year-old taunted him, shot hockey pucks at him and his son and dared him to do something about it.
Schmidl, a 38-year-old autoworker, said he searched for 40 minutes in vain for staff, security or the boy's parents before taking matters into his own hands. He dragged the obnoxious kid off the ice, at which point Charlene Van Dusen appeared and had him arrested.
Amherst cops say witness accounts largely confirm Schmidl's story. They also say the 10-year-old has a history of trouble at the rink and that his family is "familiar" to Amherst police, and not for the right reasons.
I do not think it was smart for Schmidl to put his hands on the boy. But I understand his frustration. Getting bullied by a brat is not easy for any adult. When the kid in question is putting your kid at risk, restraint becomes a hard virtue to master.
The plot thickened Friday, with the news that Van Dusen -- mother of the wayward kid -- intends to sue the Town of Amherst and its Recreation Department. She claims that the lack of supervision at the rink resulted in "physical injuries and emotional trauma" to her son.
Essentially, Van Dusen is suing the town for not doing her job.
If arrogance were an attribute, this woman would be Citizen of the Year. Granted, lack of staff at the rink fed the problem. But the entire incident raises the question: Where was she?
In the real world, parents are supposed to be responsible for their kids. I am not the perfect parent, but I give it my best shot. I do not turn over kid-raising duties to mall security guards, parks workers or ice rink staffers.
If my kid insulted an adult, threatened a 5-year-old and acted like the Spawn of Chucky, the cheese would hit the fan. For starters, the computer, the TV and the great outdoors would be privileges denied until Dad recovered -- and recovery would be slow. Apologies would be made, punishment doled out and -- hopefully -- a lesson learned.
Then I'd kick myself for leaving the wild child alone in a public place. I would not blame somebody else for my kid's obnoxiousness.
If my child had a history of bullying and abuse -- and, according to numerous sources, this 10-year-old does -- I would look in the mirror and wonder where I went wrong.
Ms. Van Dusen apparently looked in the mirror and saw dollar bills.
I am not familiar with Ms. Van Dusen's parenting techniques. Maybe she knows something the rest of us don't. But in the World of Real Parenting, not holding a kid accountable for his screw-ups just feeds the beast.
The recipe for creating a minimonster includes coddling, excuses, myopia and blaming everybody else. Slap a lawsuit on top of it, and Little Joey or Johnny thinks he can do no wrong -- even as he is cussing out adults and firing hockey pucks toward a 5-year-old.
It is too bad there is no law against bad parenting. The Town of Amherst would have a heckuva case.
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