Last weekend I treated my six-year-old to a mother-daughter shopping date in downtown Vancouver. She was on a quest for a fancy summer party dress, the kind that poofs out when the wearer twirls around. It was a beautiful sunny afternoon, and before hitting the big sale at a department store we sat on a park bench in the sun-dappled shade to eat hotdogs from a street vendor. “This is the best day ever,” my daughter said, and we both smiled, caught up in an idyllic moment.
Downtown was filled with people enjoying the weather and strolling with arms full of shopping bags. It was hard to believe we were in the same area that just a couple weeks before was the scene of violence and chaos that filled the streets during the rioting that followed Vancouver’s loss to Boston in the final game of the Stanley Cup hockey play-offs. My daughter, however, noticed the plywood that covered windows at the store where we shopped. The boards were covered with hand-written messages expressing condolences, apologies, shame, thank-you’s to police and firefighters, and anger toward the rioters. We talked about the riots, and I tried to help my little girl understand what happened and why (except that I didn’t really know how to explain why people would smash windows and burn cars after the loss of a hockey game).
In the initial response to the violence, newscasters and politicians were quick to denounce the rioters as anarchists  who were intent on taking advantage of the hoards of people as a chance to spread destruction and mayhem. We kept hearing that these “bad” people couldn’t possibly be hockey fans. So quick were we all to distance ourselves from the events of that night that it came as a surprise that many of the perpetrators weren’t masked thugs; they were neighbors, co-workers, university students, and the children of well-respected members of society. A photo  on the front page of a Vancouver weekly shows a perfectly ordinary 20-something wearing a hockey jersey, a play-off beard and a goofy expression on his face, jumping in the air in front of a burning car. One wonders what he was doing there and what his involvement had been, but he seems to be having a good time and is not desperate to get away. How does a regular guy get caught up in it all?
While many psychologists have weighed in with theories to explain the alcohol-fueled mob behavior,  as a parent I want the easy prevention tips I can point to that will ensure my children don’t get caught up in such a situation. I keep thinking about the 17-year-old boy  from a respectable family who was to start college in the fall on an athletic scholarship. His life is destroyed after one night of dumb, reckless behavior, and he’s been vilified through social media. I can’t help but wonder if there was something about this boy that made him vulnerable to being caught up in the action. Did parents, coaches, teachers, or other influential adults in his life fail to teach him what he’d need to know to get away from a dangerous situation? I’d like to point a finger at someone (or something), but of course it’s not so simple. Wouldn’t we all like to know how to best guide the children in our lives and help them prevent mistakes!