This fall, if Adam Boggus’ English teacher assigns him to write an essay about what he did during his summer vacation, the Belen, New Mexico, teen says he’ll be ready.
Since May 23, Adam, 16, has been banished to a backyard tent by his parents, Jacob and Angela Boggus, for stealing his little sister’s iPod. Although he’s allowed inside the house to eat meals, use the bathroom and sleep every night, he spends his days reading, napping and doing summer school homework in a three-person tent.
The tent will be his home, he tells PEOPLE, until he has finished reading five books and turned in reports on each one to his mom.
“I’ve finished one and I’m about to finish two others,” he tells PEOPLE exclusively during a snack break in his family’s kitchen before returning outside. “I know I screwed up, so I don’t want people coming down on my parents about this. I know that they love me. They’re not trying to abuse me in any way. They’re only trying to show me that what I did was wrong.”
After several neighbors noticed Adam living in the tent and called police to complain that the teen shouldn’t be outside for hours in 100-degree heat, the Bogguses unique “grounding” technique quickly fired up a parenting debate in New Mexico and beyond.
People have flooded local television Facebook pages with comments, mainly in support of Jacob and Angela for teaching their son a lesson he won’t soon forget.
“I see nothing wrong with what they’re doing – his parents care enough about him to take some action rather than let this go on and have him end up in a prison someday,” Gary Hall, Chief Deputy for the Valencia County Sheriff’s Office, tells PEOPLE.
Hall has sent deputies to the Bogguses backyard three times in recent weeks to check on the conditions, “but we haven’t seen anything that’s harmful to the child,” he says.
“The parents took the initiative to make their child become a good member of society rather than allow him to become a juvenile delinquent,” says Hall, 64. “I’m grateful for that. I’m hoping now that he won’t become someone we have to deal with for the remainder of my career and the start of someone else’s.”
Angela Boggus, a 34-year-old homemaker, says her son, the oldest of five children and the only boy, has had issues with stealing since he was in kindergarten.
“If he didn’t get something he wanted because he was grounded, he would get up late at night and just go take it,” she tells PEOPLE exclusively. “Over the years, he’s done that again and again. You can’t do that in life. So we decided to do what we could to put a stop to this now. If we don’t, what happens when he’s on his own and doesn’t make enough to have that new car or new bike? What then?”
When Adam was told last year that he’d have to live in a tent and write book reports if he stole anything again from his family, “there was a long period when he was on his best behavior,” says Jacob Boggus, 34, a shipping and receiving manager.
“But then last month,” he tells PEOPLE, “it happened again. So we bought him a tent and he picked out where to place it and pitched it himself. Some people actually think we’re being too soft on him by allowing him to come inside at night. But since we have the occasional snake and tarantula around here, we decided to let him come in every night at 9.”
Each morning after breakfast, Adam rides his bicycle to a nearby summer camp to study math, Shakespeare and home cooking, then retreats to the backyard once he’s home to read and work on his book reports.
So far, he’s read Uncommon by Tony Dungy (about what it takes to achieve significance in life), The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger and Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck.
“If I get thirsty, I drink water from the hose, and if it’s really hot, I can hose myself down, but I’ve only had to do that twice,” Adam tells PEOPLE. “Sure, I’d rather be in my room with the air conditioning. But I understand why my parents are doing this. I won’t steal again because I don’t want this to ever happen again.”
To those who say they’re abusive for banishing their son to the back yard, Jacob Boggus is ready with a response.
“To be honest, there are lots of children going through much worse for no reason at all,” he tells PEOPLE. “But the uproar isn’t out there for them. There are people who live in less than a tent or have less food than we have to give Adam. These days, it doesn’t seem like accountability is a high priority for children in this country. So in our family, we’re changing that.”
“Adam will be a better person for this once it’s over,” Jacob adds. “There are a lot of parents who cut ties with their kids or find somebody else to take their responsibilities on when things go wrong. But we love our son.”