National spotlight lands on punished dad

LIHUE — A media whirlwind followed Wednesday’s sentencing of a Kilauea man who made his 8-year-old son walk home from school as a form of punishment.

Robert Demond, a 30-something volunteer coach and stay-at-home father of three boys ages 3, 8, and 11, never thought his parenting skills would come into question and said it was difficult letting go of his intention to bring his case to a jury trial. He instead pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge of second-degree endangering welfare of a minor and was sentenced to a year of probation and a $200 fine in 5th Circuit Court.

Since the story was reported in The Garden Island, many people and media outlets from across the country have reached out to Demond.

“My phone has been ringing off the hook for the past 24 hours, and the reaction, feedback and comments has been great,” Demond said. “But, basically, I am just glad that I got a year probation so that it’s all out of the way — that’s about it.”

Demond recalled the day in October 2013, when he went to pick up his son from the A+ after-school program at Kilauea Elementary School. Staff told him there was a behavior issue and Demond asked the boy about it in the car but he didn’t want to talk.

Demond said he directed his son to walk the rest of the way and to think about what he wanted to say when he got home. There was no anger involved, he added.

Living in a rural area, Demon said he doesn’t know his neighbors but that the kids all know each other. One of the neighbors saw the boy walking and stopped to inquire if he wanted a ride. When the neighbor learned that the boy was told to walk home he was brought back to school where the police were called.

Demond said that the neighbor should have at least called him or his wife to get the story. He felt it was stepping over parental boundaries in this matter.

“I personally believe that it shouldn’t have gone as far as it did,” he said. “Calling the parent first is just common sense.”

The worst thing, he added, was getting arrested at the school the next day with his wife and son present. He was booked and his wife bailed him out.

The arrest and family court appearances were difficult for the family, and Demond said having to reflect on his parenting made him chose the jury trial route and the case moved to Circuit Court.

After some time, Demond went with his attorney’s advice and accepted the no-contest plea deal. He wanted to get it over with and accepted responsibility even though he would have liked to tell his side of the story to a jury.

Demon said he just completed a season coaching baseball with KPAL, and was gearing up to coach flag football.

“That is another big reason why I wanted all of this done already,” he said. “I have a busy life and just want to move on.”

Judge Kathleen Watanabe described the disciplinary action of the father as “old school” and no longer appropriate. She sentenced him to probation and a $200 fine.

Looking back, Demond said his approach would have been “way, way different.” Yet, he reflected on his own childhood where it was not unusual to walk five miles at a time by the time he was 8 years old.

The national spotlight has been on the subject and not on the incident itself, he said. Most of the callers have no idea what it’s like to grow up on Kauai. 

“Everybody is opinionated but this is a matter that everybody can relate to,” he said. “Everybody says that the times have changed and they have, but I still believe that family values and morals should never change.”

Demond said he has walked or bicycled the same route with his sons twice since that incident. Except for one brief stretch he said there is adequate shoulder and property to walk a safe distance from the road. Had his case gone to court, Demond said he would have videotaped the number of youth and adults that walk or bike the same route.

County Prosecuting Attorney Justin Kollar, said “this was one of those cases where we felt we had to do something, but we believe the defendant is sincere in his remorse and unlikely to reoffend.”

Dr. Bob Brown, a clinical psychologist with Pacific Clinic in Kapaa, said age is the most important factor in considering child discipline. If readers did not know the child’s age, around half of them would feel Demond’s actions were appropriate, and the other half would side with the court’s decision, he said.

It isn’t as inappropriate for a teenage to walk some distance. On the other hand, it is not for a 5-year-old, he said. An 8-year-old may fall in the middle.

“If the punishment is related to the crime, and from the judge’s standpoint it certainly seemed appropriate, especially if she felt it was based on age and that the child was put in danger,” Brown said. “I don’t question the judge’s decision or how it was handled.”

The better choice at any age is an approach that helps the child understand choices and consequences, he said. It should be one that is hopefully related to the behavior, such as a grounding, or taking privileges such as television or cellphones.

There has to be a balance, Brown said. You certainly don’t want to physically abuse a child but consider that grounding someone for a month could also lead to depression.

Kids make impulsive decisions, he said. Kids should know what consequences to expect when making choices, and to understand what is acceptable behavior within the family unit.

“It may be too general to say they should know the consequence in advance, but it is certainly a way to get a child to think more as an adult or to at least look at an alternative or a different way,” Brown said. “It is better than just doing something impulsively or following a leader who is inclined to make bad choices.”

Parenting classes focus on teaching parenting skills, but sometimes additional counseling or therapy helps to get at possible underlying issues that need to be addressed, Brown said. Individual or family counseling deals with any emotional or communication issues.

Every family member has to deal with control issues at some time or another and this is where parents sometime react with too much control or are too permissive, he said. Family therapy allows the spouse to become involved with learning to develop less risky or harmful strategies to approach situations with their children.

“We want children to make good choices, and we want parents to make good choices,” Brown said.

What is clear today is the role of social media in speeding along a change in what is acceptable parental behaviors. A generation ago, the use of a whip or a stick to spank a child was considered optional, where today it is not, and now the idea of making a child walk home comes into question.

“The world is changing,” Brown said.

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