Let Inga Tell You: What happened to taking responsibility for one’s actions?

Responsibility road sign
(Andy Dean Photography /

‘Kids being kids’ doesn’t apply when they’re committing crimes.


I failed in a hundred ways with my kids. If you asked them what my worst mistakes were, they’d reply, “Alphabetically or chronologically?”

But the one thing I feel I did right — a legacy of my own parents — was to make them take responsibility, and consequences, for their actions.

The felony murder rule applied in my house: If you were there, you were guilty. No “I was there but I was just watching” defense that I heard endlessly the day after Halloween from kids whom I recognized who had vandalized my street. Their parents assured me that they believed the kids’ version of events, and if they weren’t actually “doing anything” (believe me, they were), they were innocent. It still makes me incredulous.

For years, I could count on having to wash the egg off my car (no garage) before going to work (it really messes with the paint job), sweeping up my dumped-out trash from the street and hoping the paint from paint pellet guns would eventually wear off my siding.

I know: It’s just kids being kids. And I’m fine with kids being kids on Halloween if they or their parents want to come clean it up afterward. But intrinsic in that phrase is that someone other than the fun-loving kid gets to deal with it.

I always felt really lucky that, unlike other neighbors, my car windows weren’t broken, my brick retaining wall hadn’t been pushed over and nobody had spray-painted black graffiti on $40,000 worth of custom cabinets recently installed on a nearby house being remodeled. Such little devils!

I confess that my childhood sense of justice was honed on a steady diet of Nancy Drew books. The whole River Heights Police Department sprang into action when Nancy’s rosebushes were stolen. When she called “the authorities,” not only did they quickly apprehend the bad guys, they locked them up forever. No habeas corpus, but you can’t have everything.

But damage or theft or outright aggressive behavior from teenagers seems to be happening not only daily but becoming increasingly egregious.

I am finding it truly dismaying to see kids who are still minors having no consequences for their actions. On my neighborhood social media, people with security cameras post pictures of kids who have actually broken into homes and aren’t even trying to hide their faces. (Adorable!)

A recent post showed teens at 1:30 in the morning pulling green bins into the middle of the street where they could easily be hit by cars. (What fun!)

Then there was the group of teens skateboarding (one of the most grating noises on the planet) on the garage ramp of a local condo complex at midnight night after night right under someone’s unit and who simply flipped off the residents when asked to leave. (Those little scamps!)

Another recent post reported tweens throwing rocks at a homeless person behind a store.

In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, I was dismayed to witness on several occasions groups of local teens rushing into my local CVS, grabbing all the alcohol they could carry and rushing out again. (Those imps!) People wanted to say those kids must have been from out of the area, but unless that area was Rancho Santa Fe, I’m guessing the late-model Range Rover they climbed into at the curb probably came from La Jolla.

What dismays me is that the comments posted under these stories always include way too many comments along the lines of “Oh, stop being such a curmudgeon. It’s just kids being kids.”

Even worse, when clear photos of the kids’ faces are shown (usually by homeowners wanting the miscreants to be identified so the kids or their parents can be held accountable), there will be a backlash from people insisting that minors should not be identified on social media.

Um, excuse me. They were committing a crime. Please — identify them. Let there be at least some hope that their parents will care enough.

That’s the thing. I’m not looking to incarcerate these kids. But before your 18th birthday is a really good time to learn that laws apply to you. Not learning this, as some kids on my block later learned, means you might do some serious time in an adult penal institution, where kids are not being kids.

Please, if your teens get apprehended for some infraction, don’t make your first step calling a lawyer. Let them do community service. Hopefully a lot of community service. It’s the biggest gift you can give them.

Halloween is approaching. Fortunately, our neighborhood now has a strong police presence on that night, so the outright destruction is way down. But it still happens. So if you’re going to send me an email insisting it’s just “kids being kids,” could you include your phone number so my neighbors and I can call you to come clean up?

Inga’s looks at life appear regularly in the La Jolla Light. Reach her at ◆