My twelve-year-old neighbor periodically steals cigarettes from my porch and lies very convincingly about it. Last night, when I had a couple of friends over, he made off with an entire pack. Other neighbors have seen him sneaking around our place when we’re not home and have threatened to call the cops, but this kid won’t be deterred. He’s already been on probation and has a plethora of behavioral and emotional problems. I’m trying to be sympathetic, I really am, but the kid creeps me out. Really, it’s not the stealing so much as the lying. He’s such a convincing liar, it makes big scary words float around in my head, words like “sociopath” and “empathy deficit disorder.”

I don’t know, maybe I haven’t been around enough kids, especially troubled ones. Maybe they’re all little con artists. But this kid, the faux-hurt way his eyes got big and he told us in a younger-than-his-age voice that he’d “never do something like that to you and Matt. You’re my friends,” when I’d absolutely caught him pocketing a pack of my cigarettes (which he later copped to and returned at his mother’s command)…chills I’m telling you. I can’t help but wonder WTF this kid is going to be caught up in when he’s 13, 14, 15. We’ll be moved out by the time he gets into the serious teens, but the guy is clearly criminally precocious. I feel like I’m holding my breath for a break in. I feel like the little old lady who holes up in her house with binoculars and the police on speed dial (because 911 isn’t fast enough? Get it?). And I don’t like it–that feeling of being watched by him, of him trying out his manipulation skills on me, of having the sense that he’ll do whatever he damn well pleases in our yard, whether that’s stealing our cigarettes or setting it on fire, of being bested by a 12 year old.

The parents are trying. They know about it all. They punish, they yell, they apologize to us, but there’s nothing they can really truly do about a kid who has no boundaries, short of sending him away, and cigarette snatching certainly isn’t grounds for something like that. And it’s very possible I’m overreacting, that if I were a parent of a 12 year old, I’d be mildly annoyed and possibly amused by the whole thing. This is, after all, my first tween neighbor since I was a tween myself (ugh: “tween”). But even though he’s just trespassing and filching cigs, his behavior feels incredibly invasive and a harbinger of future dangers. He’s just one scrawny kid, you say, but this kid, I say, this kid has friends. Weed-dealing, fight-starting, rock-throwing friends. The fiction writer in me keeps flashing to stories that end in arson. People say babysitting as an adult is good birth control–try living next to a budding juvenile delinquent.

5 thoughts on “Neighbors

  1. Doh. There was supposed to be a quote in there:

    This clip is from a study conducted by UCLA’s Center on Everyday Lives of Families, which earned a front-page story in the Sunday Times this May and generated plenty of discussion among parents. In it, researchers collected 1,540 hours of footage of 32 middle-class, dual-earner families with at least two children, all of them going about their regular business in their Los Angeles homes. The intention of this study was in no way to make the case that parents were unhappy. But one of the postdoctoral fellows who worked on it, himself a father of two, nevertheless described the video data to the Times as “the very purest form of birth control ever devised. Ever.”

  2. Amos!
    Thanks for the article. Fascinating, slightly chilling and, as usual, makes me wish I were Scandinavian. How are you? Very happy I hope (despite all scientific data claiming otherwise). Little birdy Facebook tells me there’s another bun on the rise. Woohoo and mazel tov!

  3. Hey, Susan! I’m enjoying your blog. Found it through Doug’s conglomerate blog, Numero Cinc. That’s like a little city, you know? I could get lost there.

    Anyway, about this kid. My son was a difficult and crazy little guy for a number of years. He’d steal and lie. Lots of lying, very convincing. But by 12, I think he’d pretty much moved on. The age is worrying. We’re all thieves and liars as kids, aren’t we? But 9 or 10, I think, is the turning point. 12 is a worry… good luck with him.

  4. Hey Shelagh–I love Numero Cinq! Doug’s got an awesome thing going over there. Oh and thanks for the great interview with Jacob Paul. That was a treat to hear. Urgh, sorry about your son. This confirms for me that if I were a parent I would be a lot less bothered/surprised by this kid. I woke up this morning to the click of his lighter as he chain-smoked (probably my) cigarettes in a special smoking tarp lean-to that he built in his back yard. GRRR. Anyway, I’m glad your son straightened out! Geez. What’s with the lying? I didn’t realize it was a phase. Intriguing…

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