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Upscale melee: When privileged kids go crazy
May 20, 2003
by Tresa McBee

I saw the clip only once. All I needed.

The girl's comments were at once valley girl influenced and is-she-for-real disturbing. Shown during an MSNBC report on the now-infamous May 4 hazing-girls-gone-violent caught on tape in upscale Northbrook, Ill., the teenager said, "It's not that big of a deal. So a girl got her head split open. She's not dead."

Like, whatever. No one, like, lost an arm or anything. So: So what?

Umm, yeah. Anyone else freaked out that a teenager would respond so casually to the free-for-all in which senior girls from Glenbrook North High School pelted invited -- they don't let just anyone in -- junior girls with mud, fish guts, pig intestines, trash and the element without which no party is complete: excrement? Apparently of the human kind. And perhaps supplied by a parent. Yesterday, the kids are asking for pin the tail on the donkey. Today, it's feces. Where does the time go?

Then there was the punching, slapping and general shoving while the younger girls knelt on the ground as they were hit with plastic buckets. A pig intestine was wrapped around one girl's neck. Baseball bats were carried, although perhaps not used. About 100 people -- not all from Glenbrook North -- were present for the event that the junior girls paid between $35 and $40 for the privilege to attend. One wonders if the hazees were able to partake of the beer kegs believed to be supplied by parents.

Five girls ended up in the hospital. One broke an ankle, another needed 10 stitches in her head. So? She's not dead.

If this had been an inner-city melee, we'd fret about how teen gangs have taken over the urban landscape, but, oh well, that's to be expected. But because it happened among children of so much privilege in a well-heeled suburb, our eyes widen as our hands flutter to our mouths: How, we wonder in stupefaction, could this happen in mom-and-apple-pie America? Why, 85 percent of Glenbrook Northers go on to a four-year college, for heaven's sake.

Time to become conscious. Amoral kids live in your neighborhood, too. Even upper-middle-class ones. They merely drive nicer cars with more gadgets on their parent-supplied key chains.

Now for the just-to-be-clear qualification. Lots of kids at Glenbrook North and other high schools across our fruited plain do wonderful things and accomplish worthy goals. All without beating classmates and forcing them to eat mud to wrap up a school year. And often with alert parents who actually know their children's friends and whereabouts without being told to inquire about such things by public service announcements. Parenting: You, too, can do it. Give it the old school try. Please?

'Cause here's what's confusing. The hazing took place off campus and grew out of powder puff football matches that were previously held at the school but discontinued in the late 1970s because they became too rough. Since, students have organized the tradition off campus, and school officials have worked to determine where in order to alert police because of violence. Consequently, students change locales and time from year to year. Kids. They're crafty.

Mike Riggle, Glenbrook North's principal, admits that school officials suspected the event would be held again this year, particularly because several students wore telltale jerseys to school the Friday before. When questioned, those students weren't "forthcoming," Riggle told the Chicago Sun-Times. Via cell phones and pagers, students kept details secret until an hour before. Is technology great, or what?

One can sorta, kinda understand when school officials say the event doesn't take place on campus, so what are they supposed to do and how are they supposed to know? But nowhere in any account of the hazing is there one itty-bitty mention of parental involvement -- except, of course, for those who procured party favors.

Why aren't parents involved to prevent the "initiation" from occurring by, oh, I dunno, working with other parents to keep track of their still-at-home-not-yet-out-of-the-house children? They may have driver's licenses, multiple piercings, the ubiquitous above-the-butt tattoo and acrylic nails, but they're still children requiring parental involvement. Kids. They do really stupid stuff.

I realize, of course, that I write of fantasy. Children who operate in an environment where some parents supply human waste and alcohol, and other parents probably have no idea where junior sped off to spend the afternoon aren't likely to face pointed questioning and a no-you're-not-going-there response.

Northbrook isn't Little Beirut in inner-city Milwaukee, where last October a throng of young males, some preteen, beat a man to death. But does it matter? True, no one died in Northbrook. But the same antisocial impulses lacking empathy and restraint were in control.

And when that happens, it doesn't matter where you live.

© Northwest Arkansas Times. Tresa McBee writes for the Northwest Arkansas Times and can be reached at tresam@nwarktimes.com.

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