The deputy mayor of Invercargill laid into the parents of young teenage oiks this week after six 13 and 14-year-olds went on a tyre-slashing spree in the city. No humans were harmed during the rampage, but it was annoying and expensive for the car owners and a mindless act on the part of the teenagers.
Darren Ludlow said the crimes were committed well past midnight, and the teens should have been in bed. Part of the problem, he said, was that parents didn't know what their kids got up to at night.
Quite right, I thought. Parents should be responsible for their 13- and 14-year-old kids - and their actions. It seemed incredible at best, negligent at worst, that a parent would have no idea where their child was at midnight.
When my daughter was growing up, my husband and I didn't drink, so we could pick up Kate and her friends at any hour. Obviously, when she was an older teen, we didn't know exactly what she got up to between leaving the house and picking her up, but as far as I know, it was nothing criminal and she certainly wasn't delivered home in a police car.
But then, as I was tut-tutting about woeful parents and how simple it is to raise a good kid if you have clear boundaries and expectations, I remembered the trials and tribulations of a couple of friends when their girls were young.
Both girls came from brilliant families - mums and dads who loved each other and their children; other siblings who were well-adjusted kids, easy-going and easy to like; both sets of parents were self employed so were able to spend a large amount of time with their children - and yet the girls were holy terrors once they hit 13. They were wilful, disobedient, lied like flat fish and often disappeared, striking terror into the hearts of their parents.
There was no rhyme nor reason why they went off the rails - they were just wired differently from their siblings and their parents. The families tried reasoning, cajoling, denying privileges, in one case boarding school ... every tool in the parental kit short of locking them in an attic room until the age of 20 - and I believe one of the mums seriously thought about doing just that.
Mercifully, the girls never went too far off the rails. There were no teen pregnancies or drug and alcohol addictions, no run-ins with the police. And after three years of tears and arguments and despair and frustration, the girls came right.
Both have good jobs, are loving daughters and they and their parents can now laugh - albeit ruefully - about those terrible teenage years.
Accordingly, I resolved to give the Invercargill parents a little slack. I still believe parents have to front up if their children transgress. The court has the power to order the parents to pay reparations but hopefully, the Invercargill parents will have already offered to pay for the damage to the vehicles and work out a way for their children to pay them back.
When my daughter was a young teen, she went to a party at her best friend's house. Gatecrashers arrived and when they were ejected, they left a trail of graffiti and smashed fences.
The next morning, Kate's friend's mum rang to say Kate would be late home as the girls who'd stayed over would be cleaning up. They hadn't caused the damage, but the mum felt they had some responsibility because it was their party. I wholeheartedly supported her.
The notion of collective responsibility may have been replaced by the concept of individual rights but I don't think we're any better for it. Both families I referred to earlier attended parenting courses, which gave them some useful tools when it came to dealing with their wayward teens. More importantly, the courses introduced them to other good parents who were going through the same dramas. They realised they weren't alone.
So while I agree with Invercargill's deputy mayor that parents of 13-year-olds should be held accountable for the actions of their children, sometimes parents need support and assistance. It's the kids who need the punishment.
• Kerre McIvor is on Newstalk ZB, Monday-Thursday, 8pm-midnight.