ORLANDO – Hubert L. Grimes can recall more than a few times when he was in a store and noticed a very small child, probably no older than two or three, getting angry and upset with their parents – and not the other way around.
Watching the child start to yell at the parents was bad enough, he said. Watching the parents quickly back down in the face of that tantrum, he added, was even worse.
“Parents should never condone some of the behavior of kids when they are two or three years old,” Grimes said, “such as kids in stores hitting their parents. I’ve seen little kids fall down with temper tantrums, and the parents were embarrassed by it and said ‘Johnny, if you be good I’ll buy you something.’ Little Johnny in his mind says ‘Hey, if I got away with it that time and got what I wanted by acting out, and there were no negative consequences to my behavior,’ next time that’s what he’ll do to get what he wants.”
This pattern didn’t disturb Grimes simply because he has different opinions on child rearing. As the first African American county judge of Volusia County and a judge in the Seventh Judicial Circuit, Grimes said he’s seen far too many cases of teens brought into his courtroom, facing criminal charges, who believed they had a right to do what they did without negative consequences. It’s a trend he believes started when they were very young and, again, learned that anger produces results.
“If you leave that unchecked, they will continue to push the envelope,” he said. “If you think that tantrum is cute and you leave them alone, they will grow up to think it’s okay to hit their classmates, and they will think it’s okay to disrespect law enforcement.”
Grimes is hoping to change this situation in two ways: by focusing on ways in which the court system is failing these juvenile defendants – and on the ways that parents could prevent their children from getting involved in behavior that’s either overly aggressive, or anti-social.
To do that, he authored a book, “How to Keep Your Child from Going to Jail: Restoring Parental Authority and Developing Successful Youth,” that applies his years of experience on the bench to demonstrating to parents what they can do to ensure their child doesn’t become another statistic in the ongoing, and sadly never ending, series of juvenile crime cases.
“I’m a native Floridian and I’ve been on the bench for 24 years,” he said. “The last 20 years were in Family Circuit Court. Along the way, I made an observation one day that we do a lot to try to turn the lives of kids around, but what would happen if we started a dialogue on how to turn their lives around before this criminal behavior happens? I started writing about some of the things I learned from my courtroom experience, and how I could share that information. At the very least, I wanted to start that dialogue with parents and kids, offering them practical tips. They need to begin that process from the time of infancy, and we suggest they give the kids a chance. That’s sort of the purpose and goal behind the book. We’re grateful that we were able to get it published.”
A native of Bartow in Polk County, Grimes attended Kentucky State University, where he majored in political science, then worked in local government. He eventually gravitated into the field of law, getting a degree from the University of Georgia Law School in Atlanta in 1980. He accepted a position with the Central Florida Legal Services in Daytona Beach, and later went into private practice. At the end of the decade, he combined his background in both politics and law.
“In 1988 I ran for the bench and I was elected as the first African American on the county bench in Volusia County,” he said. In 1999, Gov. Jeb Bush appointed him to the Circuit Court.
Presiding over family court, he said, became frustrating as he saw more and more teens brought before him on serious charges.
“I did begin to see a repeat pattern, a common thread that seemed to exist with the kids,” he said. “A lot of them, when they got to the courts, they were disrespectful toward their parents, disrespectful toward their teachers, and disrespectful toward law enforcement, and I found that pattern of behavior was never curbed at home. That was one of the issues I noticed. I also noticed the parent-child factor was an issue, and whether or not the children were motivated to be in school was also a factor.”
In addition to the fact that many of the parents had opted not to discipline their children, he also found that many of those teens had taken a disturbingly casual attitude toward violence — mainly, that aggression was acceptable behavior, in part because they had been raised playing video games that glorified violent action as exciting, and those who commit it as being the ones in charge.
“It was some of the video games where we see a lot of violence replicated,” Grimes said. “While adults know it’s a fantasy world, to a lot of young people, it was the real world.”
Those two issues kept coming up repeatedly among juveniles charged with being delinquent or with serious misconduct, he added.
“When you see this pattern of misconduct, there was a similarity from one case to another,” he said.
He began to believe that the court system fails to address many of the underlying causes that lead to juveniles ending up in a courtroom in the first place, while too many parents have failed to recognize the role they play in keeping their children from ending up in detention centers, jail or prison.
That’s why he decided to write the book.
“That is a wake-up call,” he said. “I see more and more kids involving themselves with guns and burglarizing houses and businesses. That will give them a direct ticket to state prison. But there were a large number that were heeding the warnings by the court after they received some type of sanction for their behavior. The vast majority of kids, they actually turn around, even though they’ve been involved in delinquency. Being in court, something of a wake-up call occurs, and they say ‘I need to get it together.’ “
He hopes the book inspires parents, and the court system, to do some serious reevaluations of how these teens are treated.
“It won’t make a difference in all kids, but in some it will,” Grimes said. And a very important first step, he said, is for parents to always make it clear to their kids that the adults are the ones in charge, not the other way around.
“I try to give a lot of practical tips to parents,” he said. “Whether it be some form of corporal punishment, every parent has to know what works on their child. As soon as the parent intervenes, if you do that when they’re very young, then the level of intervention is lower than if you wait until they’re 15 or 16 years old.”
Since the book became available, Grimes said he’s heard from parents who have said his ideas helped them and their families.
“All the feedback I‘ve gotten has been very positive,” he said. “People who have read the book have said, ‘Hey, great information, and we sought to apply it, and it’s making a great difference in my life and my kids’ life.’ “
To learn more about Grimes and his work, log on to http://hubertgrimes.com/.
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