The news is full of cases of young criminals who break our laws and destroy our property. So let me calm your fears and tell you about a group of teenage boys who wish no harm to anyone.
We have been fortunate to have a small group of 10 to 14-year-old boys who come to our house several times a week, to study together, drink our tea and eat our cookies and live in happy harmony. They would never vandalize or harm you or your grandparents.
For the past five or six years we have enjoyed Daniel, Mikala, Gavin, Shelton, Baily and Hunter and a couple of others who occasionally congregate in our little home in Seacliff. They come here because they feel comfortable with our grandson, Daniel, who gathers like-minded friends around him.
These boys occupy our back sunroom while my wife and I eavesdrop on their conversations.
They fill the house with wild exuberance and joyful excess. My wife and I often nudge one another and smile as we listen to them.
Most of these boys have been classmates and friends for years; they went through Mar Vista Elementary school, then Valencia Junior High and now most of them are attending Aptos High School.
They ride bikes together, they take walks together and they drink our tea and eat our cookies. Several times each week we briefly get to be part of their lives; we wish it were longer, but we love sharing our house with them.
At four o'clock, we announce,
Their animated conversations sometimes make me want to take part, too, but this is boy-talk and it only works if it is their mix, not mine.
I think of these boys as a small flock of young birds just learning to fly; we offer little more than a simple space for them to roost and try out their wings.
They listen and respond to each other patiently, without profanity or ridicule. They've learned the art of conversation by conversing.
So I'm left wondering: In this age when adults too often think the larger society has failed our youth and our children are learning bullying and intolerance, I wonder if that's true.
Where did these boys learn to carry their empty teacups to our kitchen sink? And where did they learn to stop and thank us before they take their leave of us?
And how is it that busy parents are behind them, some of whom are working and single? Where did they find the time to teach respect for their elders and be so well-behaved?
Why don't we get reports of this model behavior from our young? Where are the media when our children are so well-behaved and respectful?
If you think these boys are somehow unusual and atypical, think again.
These boys are aren't wolves in sheep's clothing, they are both gracious and thoughtful.
Our crime-obsessed media rarely mentions boys like these. Rarely does the media comment on good behavior or honest law-abiding, respectful young people.
In a community as large as Santa Cruz County however, there are probably hundreds, maybe thousands, of tea-drinking adolescents who live among us and are respectful, courteous and eager to show us their best manners.
And even though my wife and I have almost no experience with girls of this age, Santa Cruz County is surely populated with dozens of small groups of adolescent girls who could match the behavior of our boys each week.
We should be celebrating all of them.
These are good kids, bright kids, who don't bully or vandalize property and respect one another. We short-change them if we don't occasionally acknowledge them.
Dan Harper is an Aptos photographer, journalist and former English department chairman at Cabrillo College. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column appears occasionally.