08/28/2012 05:53 pm ET Updated Oct 28, 2012

Helping Your Kids Break the Law Is Never Cool

I'm a think outside the box kind of mom. I think that you have to be when your kids are skaters. They are automatically deemed a bit different because they don't partake in traditional sports like football and soccer. So I have that to contend with. Plus, they slap stickers on their boards that say "skate junt" and "I love haters." When a graffiti art exhibition rolled through town last year, their skate camp took them on a field trip. I found that incredibly cool. But then they started asking me questions that involved graffiti and they went something like this: "Mom, is that graffiti art or just plain graffiti?"

I think that I'm pretty cool (heh), but really I needed to ask the question to someone younger, hipper and infinitely more knowledgable than myself. Meet Victoria Charnley, who I met at Paper or Plastik, by far now of the raddest coffee joints in Los Angeles. Victoria tells it like this: "Graffiti is vandalism, and graffiti art is public beautification." I like this. Taggers and gangs are marking their territory, and they are doing it in an illegal and horribly offending way. Plain white walls become targets for unintelligible letters and scratch marks. Freeway overpasses are covered in red and black scrawls, and I can't help but look the other way.

Graffiti art takes a blighted space and adds a pop of color, a thought-provoking image or a message. It can be as simple as a heart or flower, or an intricate portrait celebrating a woman's beauty. But, this can still be illegal. Why? If artists do not get permission, they are trespassing and vandalizing, despite the aesthetic appeal. Herein lies the tricky part. My kids want to know why something so beautiful can be against the law. As a parent, I teach my children to respect other people's property, but what if they surprise a friend with a beautiful painting and hang it up in their room as a surprise? That is a sweet gesture, but they should really present said friend with the painting and let her decide if she would like it to live in her room. It's called respect.

Still conflicted about the whole thing, I turned to my friends at Reddit. User footeater brilliantly summed it up: "Art evokes emotion or thought in the audience. Graffiti is mindless scribbling of a name, gang, or some obscene phrase." I then asked the following: "but what if it really brightens bleak surroundings? Like a flower or a heart...?" And watchoutrobotattack answered with supreme confidence: "If they want to brighten up an area, they should ask for permission beforehand. I doubt you would like me brightening up your living room by breaking into your house and spray painting it." Touche, Watchoutrobotattack!

What is beautiful to some may be absolutely ugly and offensive to others. There are laws set up to respect people's property. That's why I have a hard time grappling with my love for graffiti art. Ultimately, you've got to respect the rules. I heard about a mom that drove her kids around town to put up signage by a respected street artist. Her children ended up getting frisked by the cops. I may be cool, but that's going a little bit too far. Your kids are breaking the law, and you are telling them that in this instance, it's not only okay, but you're going to help them out? So, if your kids see a window and think that it would look better broken, that would be okay, too?

In her blog for LA Observed, Erika Schickel writes: "Baby's first bust: guerrilla posturing with Robbie Conal." You've got to admit, it's pretty tongue and cheek, but it comes down to this: this mother helped her kids vandalize. Cool? Not so much. The author admits her uneasiness, but ultimately spares herself any sense of responsibility. Read on: "But this is where the rubber of progressive parenting meets the road of authoritarianism. Our family believes in free speech and political activism. Afterward we talked about how it would have been different if she had been out randomly tagging with malicious intent. It's a fine line between vandalism and street art, and I wanted her to be clear about where it lay."

You know what? You can believe in free speech without showing your children how to break
the law. We as parents have a responsibility to the next generation, no matter how forward thinking we may be.