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Teens -- like mayor's son -- often do dumb things

Sixteen-year-old Byron Brown III's ill-fated joy ride struck nerves among families throughout Western New York by dramatically underlining the broader issues of youthful misadventures, family loyalty, consequences and -- above all -- the often bumpy road that is adolescence.

Kids -- even good kids -- do dumb things. Buoyed by a sense of invincibility, they figure it will all work out fine. But sometimes it doesn't.

Young Byron, who had only a learner's permit, snuck out alone for an unauthorized swing around town, crashed into several other cars, ditched the family SUV and then denied it all.

Embarrassing, painful and wrong? Absolutely. Especially when your father is the mayor and your misdeed sparks massive publicity, political fallout and questions about how police handled the case.

Unusual? No.

"Believe it or not, this comes within the range of normal adolescence," said Kenneth N. Condrell, a Williamsville child psychologist and family counselor. "Teenagers do these kind of things sometimes."

In this case, Byron was apparently driven -- literally -- by a societal fascination with cars, said psychologist Shepard Goldberg.

"It's the biggest thing in the world for kids today," Goldberg said. "It's the independence, the macho, the thing to do. It was great fun at the moment. Then he screwed it up."

Byron apparently fell victim to rebelliousness, the lure of independence and, as Condrell puts it, the frightening trademark of adolescence: "I can do anything. Nothing's going to happen to me."

Mayor Brown's initial reaction -- to believe his son -- doesn't surprise the psychologists a bit.

"As a parent, you're always going to see your kid in a favorable light," Goldberg said. "It's part of being a parent. You don't want to be an interrogator. You don't want to be an enforcer."

But young Byron's denials did not hold.

"Once you start with a lie, how tough it is," Goldberg said. "If you don't come out with the truth in the beginning, it all unravels."

Punishment -- or consequences -- are important when teenagers cross the line, but parents must find a sometimes tricky middle ground, both Condrell and Goldberg said.

"The lesson here is that you violated our trust," Condrell said. "You lied to us. Since we don't trust you right now, we're going to be checking up on you. They should look at this as an opportunity to teach important lessons about life."

That could mean not being able to drive or go out with friends for some time, or being asked to verify claims that would have previously gone unquestioned.

The specific consequences, Condrell said, should depend largely on a youngster's previous track record. "The key thing here is: What has the kid been like before?" he said.

Too much punishment can be as counterproductive as too little, Goldberg added.

"He's embarrassed as hell," Goldberg said of young Byron. "He's filled with guilt. You don't want to pile it on. You can't undo what happened. So what do you do from here to prevent it from happening again?"

Although the Browns are going through tough times, there is plenty of room for happy endings, Condrell said.

"I've seen many parents live through these things," he said. "It's very, very difficult. But lots of times they go on to say: 'It never happened again and the kid has done very well.' "

e-mail: psimon@buffnews.com

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