Ethan Couch, Affluenza, and Other Parenting Fails

For seven years I wrote for a website that was primarily about parenting. I made a lot of contacts and friends in the world of those who blog, write and report about being a parent and all that goes along with it- the good, the bad, and the ugly. By the time the website shut down, I really believed that I had heard and seen everything on the parenting spectrum. And although my writing was mainly anecdotal and humorous in nature, the parenting issue that we’re talking about today, is anything but funny.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, I’m sure you’ve heard of Ethan Couch, the so-called “affluenza” teen who while driving his father’s truck in excess of 70 MPH on a rural, two-lane road, lost control of the vehicle, hitting 3 pedestrians, a stalled car, a parked car, and ultimately flipping his truck and hitting a tree. Four people were killed, including a mother and daughter who had come outside of their home to help a motorist whose car had broken down. The motorist was also killed. Couch was under the influence of alcohol and drugs at the time of the crash. When he came to at the crash site, he got up and exited his flipped vehicle and simply left the scene. He did this despite multiple vehicles crashed around him, bodies laying in the road way, and the seven passengers that were in his truck, his so called friends, thrown from the vehicle with a range of injuries (all survived). Couch was eventually charged with four counts of intoxication manslaughter and two counts of intoxication assault. Prosecutors were seeking a maximum sentence of 20 years imprisonment.

Instead Couch, whose parents are among the wealthiest members of the Texas community in which they live, was given fines, probation and court-ordered rehab. The defense? Affluenza. The defense called an expert witness to testify that Couch’s parents has spoiled and sheltered him for so long that he was unable to tell right from wrong. His parents went along with this defense.

When a Twitter post surfaced of a video showing Couch violating his probation by drinking alcohol at a party, a warrant was issued for his arrest. Shortly after this Couch and his mother were reported as missing and federal authorities began a manhunt for the two.  Couch and his mother were discovered and arrested in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico on December 28, 2015. They were deported back to the United States. On December 31, Tonya Couch, Ethan’s mother, was arrested upon her return by the Los Angeles Police Department on a felony charge of hindering apprehension of a felon. Ethan Couch remained temporarily behind.

As parents, we support our children through the ordinary, the extraordinary, and sometimes unimaginable things. We don’t simply stop loving them because they do wrong. But as parents, do we not also need to model for them what right and wrong is, as well as demonstrate to them that there are repercussions for every action that they do.

Where do you think the failure in parenting lies? The fact that they let him consume alcohol, underage in their home, on a regular basis? The fact that he was never punished  for any behaviors that a teenage boy should be punished for including skipping school, drinking, and drugs? In fact, his parents allowed him free-reign of his life for the most part. Allowing him to drive at 13, to have access to money whenever he wanted, and most shockingly, to live in their large home on his own at the age of 16 (they moved to a larger house a short distance away). Or did the failure come when in the face of seeing their child had committed a horrific crime, did not express outrage, did not display remorse that their child had so carelessly and irresponsibly take 4 lives? Did the failure come when instead of forcing their son to stand up and take responsibility for what he had done they instead created a defense for him that essentially took the blame from him and put it on them (although no legal ramifications would come from it)? Or did it come when it had appeared as though their every effort to absolve their son from sin and free him from responsibility had failed, they arranged for their son to flea the country and live his life in a Mexican tourist resort, instead of a prison where he belonged.

Yes, I love my children. We love our children. And we’d like to believe that we have taught them well enough and modeled for them behaviors that would not allow a situation like this to occur. But in the tragic event that someday one of our children were to commit a terrible crime, would we shelter them from taking responsibility of their actions? Would we stand by and watch as they showed no remorse, no compassion for their victims? Would we help them to cover their crime or flea from prosecution?

Accidents happen. Getting behind the wheel of a truck drunk and high at 16, with 7 of your “friends” in the car, doing twice the speed limit, crashing your car, witnessing the massive amount of damage you’ve caused, walking away without ever checking on a single victim, trying to buy your way out of your crime, never expressing remorse or sorrow, getting off on a joke of a sentence, then violating your probation almost immediately, and finally leaving the country to avoid finally paying for your crimes, is no accident. And I can tell you that as much as I love all of my children, and will always love them and help them however I can, not only would I insist that they pay for the crimes that they committed, but I’d drive them to the police station myself.

What would you do? Do you believe “affluenza” is a real defense? Do you believe that we coddle and protect our children too much from the consequences of their actions? Do you think Ethan Couch belongs in prison? Do you think his mom belongs in prison as well?

We’d love to hear from you.

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