Where, in any logical manner of thinking, is this a good idea? We do not trust children under the age of 21 to have enough judgement or enough ability to divine the consequences, to buy alcohol. We don’t believe that children under the age of 21 or 18 to have the mental facilities to understand the significance of signing a contract. We will not allow a child under the age of 18 to put his life on the line for his country.
We will however, decide that we find a child’s actions maddening enough to decide that we want to punish him as an adult. We decide that because his actions resulted in devastation, he certainly must have known all along that it would come to pass.
How can we hold children to such a high standard over criminal actions only? We don’t hold them to such standards in any other area of their lives. We do not believe in their ability to judge the consequences of their choices in the legal arena, in the military, in the area of mind altering drugs. Why should they be able to judge the consequences in that one area only? What is it about crime committed by youth that so infuriates us?
Is it guilt? Is it the fact that this country should be protecting our children so much better than we are? Is it that our social services departments are geared specifically towards keeping families together rather than towards the welfare of our children?
Why is it that we find it so easy to say that 16, 14, 12 year old children knew with an adult certainty that what they did was wrong and that they knew precisely what the consequences would be? That they perpetrated whatever crime it might be with malice and knowledge of all that would befall their victims at the end?
We would never decide that those same children, if found not guilty, could then sign a contract with their lawyers, go out and buy a mixed drink to celebrate, or be allowed to drive home from the courthouse. They could not then go join the army and defend their country after being tried as an adult and found not guilty. They are only considered adults for this one, very particular, thing.
What is wrong, wrong, wrong with this picture?
We can’t have it both ways. Our children are either children or they aren’t. They are either too young to make informed decisions or they aren’t. Regardless of how we feel about the devastation they may cause. We call them children specifically because they are not equipped to make rational, informed decisions. There is an age of majority because children have not been prepared for adulthood until then.
The real problem is that we don’t really prepare children for adulthood at all. We send them to school to learn some arbitrary set of lessons, and send them out into the world with no real knowledge of how the world works. We have absolutely no markers of progress for children except for certain religions. We have no standards of progress except for a high school diploma, which basically means that you can sit still for 12 years and not be too annoying. You don’t particularly have to learn anything. And you don’t have to graduate high school with anything of value under your belt. You don’t have to be able to read if you can make a 30 yard pass, or even if you’re just quiet and don’t make trouble. You don’t have to be able to balance a checkbook, know what compound interest is, or understand the importance of a good credit rating.
You don’t have to understand self esteem, or even have any. You don’t have to understand self respect or respect for others. You don’t have to understand helping, sharing, kindness, sympathy, empathy, or just plain being nice.
We build our schools like prisons and our prisons like schools. If we paid our teachers like professional athletes, can you imagine what kind of presidents we would have? Instead, we put them in jail if they have a fight in school. We expel them from school for having aspirin. We charge kindergartners with sexual abuse for kissing their friends, and we try children as adults.
The question I keep asking myself is this: What the hell are we thinking?