What can you do with kids today?

HIS FADED JEANS hung halfway between his waist and knees and yet his t-shirt hadn’t pulled loose from his pants, a phenomenon I attributed to Superglue or some strange martial art. He swayed side to side as he walked up the street–a reasonable thing to do if you’re trying to hold up your pants with your thighs and move forward at the same time. He was so cool for Columbia County and so unaware his outfit was a couple of years behind the fashion curve.

The antidote I use to prevent myself from condemning him and the other clueless, reckless good-for-nothing youth of today is to imagine bellbottom pants. Bellbottoms and long hair retain their charm on the animated Beatles in the Yellow Submarine movie, but boy did they provoke hostile stares among the geezers and conventional folks 40 or more years ago. That, naturally, was the point, and memories of my own clueless behavior now fill me with dread, tempered by recollections of the pleasure derived from making all that mischief. Those same memories help put complaints about contemporary teenage behavior in perspective.

The issue came up recently in Copake, though it periodically surfaces in every community. Some residents who live near the town park described several types of unwelcome behavior there, most of it by young people, including the alleged use of alcohol, the smoking and sale of marijuana, and guys relieving themselves in public.

I sympathize with those residents who don’t want and should not need to worry about confronting those activities when they go for a walk in the park. Drinking in particular seems like the most immediate threat to health and safety, especially by anyone who plans to leave the park behind the wheel of a car. These concerns require the steps town Supervisor Reggie Crowley said he’d take to notify police. The officers’ job is to keep the roads around the park as safe as possible and discourage kids from using the park as a haven for underage drinking.

But having too heavy a police presence in parks to address quality-of-life violations won’t make parks more desirable places. The hormonally imbalanced young men who relieve themselves at inappropriate places are crude, inconsiderate and may pose something of a public health nuisance; they are also exhibiting an aspect of their genetic programming that predates our species. If police have an effective way to curtail this primitive impulse for territory marking, I’m not sure I want to know how they do it.

Video surveillance cameras in the park have provided independent verification of certain of the offending activities. Hmmm. Do the cameras have images of the guys relieving themselves? If so, would a wall of shame revealing them polluting public property act as a deterrent? Maybe it would in times past. But today such recordings would quickly appear on YouTube, making the bad actors celebrities and encouraging others to emulate them.

What the Copake Park video reportedly does show is sex. One person said she found condom wrappers in the Little League dugout, and the video proved that where there are wrappers…. That’s icky and distressing for the children who use that space for its originally intended purpose. It’s also sad that people who don’t have a place of their own to be alone end up at such a public site.

In the future I expect local officials will pay a lot closer and more frequent attention to the video from the dugout cameras. But how will Copake Police respond when the town realizes it has created its own X-rated channel?

The couple who reported these activities might seem like cranky elders objecting to minor misdeeds that will largely disappear once cooler weather returns. But as a card carrying cranky elder myself, I consider them brave and conscientious citizens. They were willing to speak up, when others probably winked at or ignored behavior that infringes on the right of others to enjoy the park.

Police intervention can help but will have only limited effectiveness in cases where youthful indiscretion has gotten out of hand. Personal experience suggests that what most influences rowdy young people is the presence of lots of older and younger people out enjoying a place like the park in Copake. Generations ago my outward appearance undoubtedly rattled a few of my elders, but where the older folks were in the majority, I was left with only two choices: either leave or grow up.

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