Treat children like children

Taylor Meads, Guest Columnist


   As humans, we are constantly making decisions we know we will be held responsible for. But should the same go for children? Children do not fully understand the consequences of their actions until they are more developed. Because they are still learning about their environment, how things work and that actions have consequences, we should not hold children as legally or morally responsible for bad behavior.

    Parents shelter their kids while they are growing up. They teach them how to write, read and make friends. If parents are responsible for teaching them to be upstanding citizens, how can you hold children legally responsible for mistakes when they are still learning?

    The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child required the state to set a minimum age, which is 18, “below which children shall be presumed not to have the capacity to infringe penal law.” This means that no person under the age of 18 should be tried as an adult in the justice system.

    A commentary on the United Nations policy notes that, “the modern approach would be to consider whether a child can live up to the moral and psychological components of criminal responsibility.”

    Children aged one to 13 are still learning about consequences for bad behavior, rewards for good behavior and what is deemed right and wrong. Many believe that minors above age 13 should have some sense of what they’re doing, considering most 14 year olds are in high school by then.

    That’s why children are sometimes charged as adults in the legal system. But why would we call it being “charged as an adult,” when children are both legally and mentally children. We have rules for a reason, and there is no logical way of thinking that a 50 year old and a 13 year old have the same mindset and the same critical thinking ability as one another.

    Scientific research from the Juvenile Law Center shows there are key developmental differences between youth and adults that impact youths’ decision making, impulse control and susceptibility to peer pressure.As a result, we should recognize that youth are less blameworthy than adults and more capable of change and rehabilitation. Treating children the same way we do as adults does not advance public safety.

    Research also shows that youths are less likely to reoffend, and so locking them up for years will extend incarceration well beyond the time they need for rehabilitation.

    Youths in the justice system experience and witness trauma and violence on an everyday basis. Youths in adult prisons and jails face a higher risk of sexual abuse, physical assault, and suicide. Also, putting them in this environment makes it extremely difficult for them to receive the basic and special education, as well as treatment and counseling services, that most children need. This impedes their chance of healthy development.

    Being denied education is linked to reoffending. The more everyone knows, the more responsible everyone is. If youths are deprived of this privilege, they will learn everything too late and are more likely to continue doing something illegal without learning from it the first time.

    The justice system should keep in mind what is better suited for handling youths in legal trouble. It should focus on major crimes and to worry less about minor infractions such as throwing rocks, vandalism, or stealing.

    They should not be charged as adults for petty crimes, or deal with the consequences on which they do not understand.