The issue of juvenile justice is a hot topic presently, and one that seems to constantly be re-evaluated in the courts. Regardless of whether you believe those under age 18 should face potential sentencing of life in prison or even a death sentence for violent crimes, the fact remains: A person’s actions come with consequences, regardless of the person’s age. Teens performing immature pranks, without the intention of any harm, have severely hurt and even killed themselves, friends, and innocent passersby.
One instance of a prank-gone-wrong involved concealing a stop sign. When an 85-year-old woman missed the stop, she was killed by a vehicle coming through the intersection. The culprits may have been guilty of some good clean fun, but still, they faced charges of involuntary manslaughter.
The attorney of one of the teens responsible made this statement: “all tragedies are not always a crime.” I realize this lawyer’s job is to defend his client, but that statement makes me cringe. Why? The technicalities of the law and distinction between being tried as a juvenile versus being tried as an adult are somewhat of a moot point, when it comes to the parenting issues at hand. Teens need to be taught that their choices have consequences — for both themselves and others.
For teens, the concept of realizing the far-reaching impact of seemingly minor decisions can be difficult. Part of this is due to the prefrontal cortex, a part of the brain that is still forming. While the body of a teenager may closely resemble that of an adult, teens are not yet biologically or physiologically mature. Certainly, an immature prefrontal cortex may pair with lack of life experience to curb a teen’s ability to fully comprehend the long-term effects of choices.
When you add to this physiological issue current societal trends, careful parenting becomes even more necessary. It seems that every irresponsible or deviant behavior has its own acronym or prognosis these days. Teens can easily shrug off any of their own misbehaviors as disorders, releasing them from personal responsibility. Regardless of whether they can get a doctor’s note, prescription, or juvenile sentencing, they need to understand that their actions can have serious, life-altering repercussions. No diagnosis will bring their victims back to life, and no doctor can remove the guilt they’ll feel if they injure others through their behavior.
Teaching teens about the importance of their choices takes creativity and commitment, but it can be done. Visits to prisons and viewing videos of victims can be helpful. Another key aspect of training young people to become responsible is to let them experience the natural consequences and repercussions of their poor choices. To risk cliché, even if hitting the baseball through the window was an accident, make them apologize and pay for repairs. Even if they didn’t mean to hurt someone’s feelings with their words, help them understand how they’re still responsible for how they come across — and sincerely apologize for the hurt they caused.
Photo credits: Top © Kwest / Fotolia. Bottom © Sascha Burkard / Fotolia.