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Laurie Cantillo: Signs Of A Growing Problem In Our Community

Acts of vandalism cause of concern.

The big city problems of graffiti, littering, and vandalism are rearing an ugly head in our quiet, wooded community. This week the student body was abuzz with reports of an anti-Obama message being spray-painted on the grounds of New Canaan High School. There are unconfirmed reports of an offensive political symbol being spray-painted at Saxe Middle School. Vandals have carved initials into a beloved old tree at Waveny Park. And, in my neighborhood, a prankster spray-painted two stop signs at Valley Road and Deep Valley Road.

Bashing of mail boxes is also an all-too-common practice in our community. As if we didn't have enough damage after our recent Storm of the Century, vandals were out smashing mail boxes with baseball bats, apparently because they had no other source of entertainment during a four-day blackout. I have a message for these vandals: Please confine your practice swings to the baseball diamond and batting cages.

How many times have you noticed plastic soda bottles, coffee cups, and fast food bags strewn about our otherwise pristine roads? On my weekend walks I often pick up remnants of last night's kegger, everything from Bud and Miller Lite cans and cartons to empty bottles of vodka.

These litterers, partiers and protesting Picassos may think they are exercising their right to free speech and innocent fun, but at the risk of sounding like an old fuddy duddy, I believe this behavior is taking away New Canaan's innocence. Our safe, pristine environment is what lures so many of us away from the concrete jungle and to the woods.

As a community we need to continue to support positive outlets for kids, such as sports, volunteer activities, and the Outback. We need to report graffiti and vandalism to help police get a handle on the problem.

As parents, we're on the front lines of this growing problem. How well do you know your teenager? Here's some thoughts on how you can get to know them better:

  • Leave work early when you can, put away the iPhone and the Blackberry, and talk to your teens. They may act like they're deaf or wave you off because they know it all, but, trust me, they're listening.
  • Take an interest in your children's studies and attend their sporting events.
  • Keep kids busy with family activities so there's less temptation to hang out with other kids late at night with "nothing to do".
  • Keep inventory of what's in your liquor cabinet.
  • Know where your teens are going and who they're with. Even "good kids" can get in trouble if they're influenced by the wrong peers.

The problems we're experiencing with littering, vandalism, and graffiti aren't happening because of someone else's kids. These are our kids. Beneath that cocky, know-it-all facade, adolescents are insecure, they're desperately trying to fit in, they're surrounded by negative influences, and they're scared. You are the most important influence in their lives. When you make time to talk to them you're demonstrating how much you care. Teens need limits because it makes them feel safe and loved.  And New Canaan needs involved parents to keep big city problems at bay.

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