News from the Illinois PTA Convention—Report on Young Adults in the Justice System

Delegates at the 2016 Illinois PTA Convention passed a resolution creating a committee to study whether those young adults aged 18 to 21 involved in the justice system should be treated differently from older adults based on the latest scientific research on brain development. At the 2017 Illinois PTA Convention, that study committee presented its report and recommendations. The report presents the three areas of focus that the committee investigated—brain development, age divisions, and what other jurisdictions are doing, both in the United States and overseas.

Brain Development

The report notes that current research into how the brain develops indicates that the prefrontal cortex—the part of the brain that regulates self-control and reasoning—continues to develop well into a person’s mid-20s. In addition, a recent study indicated that when faced with a threat or “negative emotional arousal,” those aged 18 to 21 had diminished cognitive performance—essentially reacting like a much younger teenager would. Additional research has shown that the lack of judgement and willingness to take risks continues to approximately age 25. This “maturity gap” is what has had older adults talking about “those crazy kids” and the stupid or dangerous things they do for centuries.

Age Divisions

Under the current legal structures in Illinois and the United States, young people become mature, responsible adults on their 18th birthday, and when they commit a crime, they are treated as such. But as the research noted above indicates, turning 18 is not an accurate dividing line between youth and adulthood when it comes to judgement and responsible behavior. When looking at crime and arrest data, approximately 30% of those arrested are between the ages of 18 and 25, with a sharp decrease in first-time arrests after age 25. In addition, the research also indicates that those young adults ages 18 to 25 are much less likely to be arrested again for crimes when diverted away from the standard adult justice system. Finally, much of the literature on how to treat these young adults in the justice system recommends a two-tiered system, treating those ages 18 to 21 more like juveniles while treating those 22 to 25 as emerging adults.

Other Jurisdictions

Several states and other countries are beginning to incorporate the latest research into brain development and information drawn from crime statistics to change how they treat young adults in the justice system. In 2016, Vermont passed a law allowing defendants ages 18 to 21 who are not charged with specific serious crimes to apply for youth offender status, allowing them to be tried in the juvenile justice system. California has recently begun a pilot program in five counties that allows those 18 to 21 who have not committed serious crimes to use the education and support services of the juvenile justice system, serve one year of their sentence at a juvenile facility, and have their criminal record expunged if they successfully complete the program. Massachusetts and Connecticut have both had legislation introduced to increase the age of juvenile jurisdiction to 21. Overseas, Italy treats young offenders ages 18 to 21 in the same manner as the new Vermont law. Germany and Sweden also treat those 18 to 21 more like juveniles than as adults.

Conclusions and Recommendations

While the resolution creating this study committee was directed at young adults ages 18 to 21, the committee believes that the science on the topic merits differentiation in consideration from adults up to age 25. The emerging consensus in the justice system is to treat those 18 to 21 more like juveniles, while treating those 22 to 25 as emerging adults. The specifics of how this differentiation is implemented continues to be a work in progress.

The committee made three recommendations, all of which were adopted by the 2017 convention delegates:

  1. That the Illinois PTA recognizes that youth from the age of 18 to 25 have a different maturity level from that of adults over that age, and that should affect their treatment within the justice system.
  2. That the Illinois PTA will take positions on legislation as it is introduced to address the age cohort, based on a study of their needs and our policies.
  3. That the Illinois PTA amend the Legislation Platform of the Illinois PTA, by adding a new Item 11-e. “Support of laws and regulations in our justice system that address the differing needs of youth as they continue to mature from age 18 through and including age 24.”

The Eraser Challenge Returns—What Families Need to Know

Social media “challenges” can spread quickly. Some, like the Ice Bucket Challenge, are relatively harmless and can make a difference in the world. Others, like the Cinnamon Challenge, can have serious consequences. Illinois PTA works to keep families informed about these activities that children are often engaging in without adults’ knowledge, such as with the Choking Game.

Now, a “game” that has been around for many years is making a resurgence on social media. The Eraser Challenge involves rubbing an eraser across the skin while having to do or say something. One common thing is to recite the alphabet while doing the challenge. The challenge is sometimes done as a competition to see who drops out first.

The result of participating in the Eraser Challenge is often a burn or an open wound. While an eraser burn may not sound serious, doctors are warning that they can be extremely painful and lead to scarring. In some cases, there have been serious infections that have resulted in hospitalization. In 2015, a high school student in California was hospitalized for toxic shock syndrome from a strep infection of an eraser challenge wound.

Parents should keep an eye out for injuries particularly on their children’s arms, often on the softer inside of the arm or the back of the hand. If you notice such an injury on your child, ask them how it happened. Wash the injured area with soap and water, apply an antibiotic ointment, and follow up with your child’s doctor if it doesn’t start to heal in a few days.

Parenting Your Teen in an Age of Social Media

screen-shot-2017-02-16-at-11-35-04-amSocial media is one of the great parenting challenges since most of us grew up well before social media and always connected devices were common. Teaching your child how to be responsible online will continue to be a struggle as new social media platforms create new challenges. National PTA’s The Smart Talk, created in partnership with LifeLock, can help families set up guidelines for online behavior.

Kari Kampakis, a blogger and author of the book Parenting Your Teen in an Age of Social Media, recently posted a list of five guiding principles to use in teaching our children to be safe and responsible online. These principles are aimed at having our children develop the habits and skills to know how to have their online presence be safe and healthy, just like we teach our children to be safe in the real world. These five principles are:

  1. Remember your reputation is at stake. Every choice you make reveals your character.
  2. Consider three questions before you post: Is it kind? Is it true? Is it necessary?
  3. Seek to be kind, not popular.
  4. If you aren’t feeling the love, stay off social media.
  5. Social media should supplement your relationships, not replace them.

Mrs. Kampakis’s article goes into depth on each of these principles. Each point also provides a jumping off point for you to have a conversation with your child about social media, online behavior, and responsibility. Finally, it is important that we as adults set a good example of positive behavior online. Our children learn much more from what we do than from what we say.

Photo courtesy of Wesley Fryer under Creative Commons license.

Cyberbullying is Not a Technology Issue

Cyberbullying—bullying behavior committed through social media, apps, and other online activities—is increasingly common. According to several research studies, over half of teens say they have been victims of cyberbullying. Illinois PTA has provided information for families on cyberbullying and how to identify the warning signs of cyberbullying. Because of its online nature, it’s easy to think of cyberbullying as a technology, but a recent article on LinkedIn by Reginald S. Corbitt says that cyberbullying is a social issue, not a technological one.

Mr. Corbitt, the founder of SafeCyber, an organization that aims to educate communities about online safety, notes that cyberbullying is not separate from bullying. It is simply bullying in another form, and as such is about relationship power and control. Such bullying is also known as Relational Bullying. Relational Bullying is more common among girls, and uses social manipulation such as group exclusion, spreading rumors, sharing secrets, and recruiting others to dislike a person. It can be used by bullies to improve their social standing and to control others.

Mr. Corbitt suggests two keys to addressing cyberbullying. The first is teaching social and emotional resilience in our schools and communities. Illinois PTA has discussed how to build social and emotional learning and problem solving skills in children, and Illinois was the first state in the nation to have social and emotional learning standards for all grades from Pre-K through high school. These skills provide students the tools they need to address, prevent, and intervene in bullying and cyberbullying situations.

The second key is creating partnerships between schools, families, and community organizations like PTA that allow for open discussions of bullying both online and offline and provide opportunities to education everyone involved in a child’s life on the topic. As Mr. Corbitt notes, one middle school principal in Maryland states that he and his administration spend 85% of their time dealing with conflicts between students that began on social media or in text messages. National PTA’s Connect for Respect is a ready-to-use program to facilitate discussions among families and among students on bullying issues.

Finally, Mr. Corbitt notes that because cyberbullying is about behavior and not technology, it is important that efforts to address the problem focus on the enhancement of positive relationships and the development of behavioral skills. He also notes that it is also important for adults to set an example with their behavior, as our children will do what you do quicker than they will do what you say.