Teenagers Are in a Legal Minefield
This one is worse in the U.S. than in almost any other country -- 41 percent of Americans will be arrested for something more severe than a minor traffic violation before they reach the age of 23. Of course, lots of them will get off with probation or community service (or if it involved a car, maybe they'll lose their license). But a shitload of them go to jail -- the United States seems to rely on Grandad's "lock all the bastards up" course of action, and as such, the USA imprisons its youth at six times the rate of all other developed nations.
"I just picked up a summer job. It's called 'taking your shit while you cry.'"
This is done under the guise of scaring the kids straight -- only if you get tough with teens will they see the error of their ways and straighten up. This works so well that of the teens who are incarcerated, a whopping 70 percent will re-offend within one year of being released. Which is to say, it doesn't work at all -- studies show that it might possibly have something to do with the psychological and social trauma of being arrested. It turns out that it's actually easier to just stay a criminal than to try to come back from that. Think about everything you've read up to now about growing brains and the effect on judgment.
After all, the fact that civilization doesn't just collapse in an orgy of violence is evidence that most teenagers who do stupid shit still grow up to be smart, rational people who contribute to society. For most of these kids, their thought processes are destined to round into shape regardless of what kind of intervention adults give them. So it seems like a "one strike and you're out" system might not be the best way to go about it.
"Do I have booze in the car? Man, if you'd caught me like 20 minutes ago ..."
If this sounds like the kind of bleeding heart "They're teenagers and they can't help doing stupid things!" thinking that gave us the Jersey Shore generation, we're not saying that all teenagers are destined to experiment with selling drugs and stealing cars. We're just saying that at some point you have to accept that teens are going to be teens. It's biology. So maybe the goal is to make sure they don't do anything during those malformed brain years that ruins the rest of their lives.
JF Sargent has spent his whole adult life working with teenagers, clearly. On an unrelated note, here's his Twitter and his blog.
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