OPINION: Sparing a thought for the parents of the badly-behaved teenagers who vandalised Summer Grant’s memorial garden

CCTV captures the moment vandals trashed a memorial garden for seven-year-old Summer Grant. Picture:

CCTV captures the moment vandals trashed a memorial garden for seven-year-old Summer Grant. Picture: Valley Primary Academy - Credit: Archant

What will people think?'

It was a phrase that meant nothing to me when my parents said it after one of my various public displays of bad behaviour. I didn't care what the neighbours or Mum and Dad's friends thought.

I can remember many years ago when my brother and I engaged in some mindless vandalism with white paint, my parents were utterly horrified about what their friends thought. I was too busy feeling sorry for myself to care.

WATCH: Moment 'mindless' vandals trash memorial garden for seven-year-old Summer Grant

As a parent I now know that it does matter. For although we don't raise our children in order to impress others (though those who use their offspring in order to boast on social media make me wonder), we do want to be proud of them.

It is absolutely fundamental to my role as a dad that my children are a credit to themselves, to their parents - and are seen as decent citizens.

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So, though it may not be entirely in line with public opinion, I feel some sympathy for the parents of the youngsters caught on CCTV vandalising the Valley Primary Academy playground - including a memorial to seven-year-old Summer Grant.

That does not mean that I feel anything other than disgust at the behaviour of the four boys, who were clearly old enough to have no excuses for what they did. Watching the CCTV stirred some violent urges - and I know I'm not the only person who would have liked to mete out some instant justice.

Among those who have commented on the story, there are plenty who condemned the lads' parents, pointing the finger of blame in their direction.

If any of my children did something like this, I'd certainly feel responsible. I'd feel that I had failed in what I believe is the most difficult and most rewarding job of all, parenting,

That's why I would never be one of those dads or mums who charge into a school to harangue a teacher when their child gets into trouble. The fact is, most of the time the teacher is right - and our children are not the perfect angels that we'd like to imagine them to be.

Neither is it always right to reach for the tired 'blame the parents' cliche.

Here we had four teenagers who made choices - awful, destructive choices. They knew what they were doing and were clearly having fun.

Any and all of them might be from loving, secure families, with parents who have taught them right from wrong.

Can you imagine those families' horror when they saw the footage and recognised their children? There are plenty of things that I dread, but this scenario is close to the top of the list.

First, you feel angry and let down. Then you try to make excuses: he was easily led.

Next comes the shame and the awful realisation of what this means - humiliation in your community.

Yes, it comes back to that phrase: what will people think?

In shops, in the streets, in the bank, wandering around the market, bumping into the neighbours: at every turn you'd be paranoid that you were being looked at and tutted about.

In England, unless you're one of those scowling, hard-faced parents who raises two fingers to the world, the judgment of your peers really matters,

So, bearing in mind that they should be beating themselves up, perhaps we shouldn't judge the parents of these vandals too harshly.

The boys, on the other hand...