Youth, Wasted on the Young?
- * John Brodey
That appears NOT to be the case after all. As we discover, immaturity isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Having been teenagers, we can all attest to the fact that unbridled energy doesn’t protect you from bad judgement. As a psychologist friend of mine pointed out; The prefrontal cortex of the brain is where cognitive behavior resides. Planning, decision making, judgement are moderated by this region, AND as she pointed out, it doesn’t fully develop until the age of 26 at best. She was serious about what that meant and had told her children as they went off to college that if they decided to get married before that age, she would not be attending the wedding, period. That seemed to work.
Most of us were pretty lucky that our mistakes weren’t fatal, although I came close. My father had a mid-life crisis when I was in high school in the 60’s. He went out and bought a Pontiac Le Mans coupe with a 325 hp engine. Mistake. My good buddy Bob, who had more bad ideas than Wile E. Coyote, suggested we take it out late one night on the broad thoroughfares of town to see what it could do. Well, apparently it could do about 80 in a 25mph zone before one got arrested. In those days, they called your parents down to the police station. They were not pleased and advised me that I wouldn’t be touching a steering wheel for an entire year.
The ultimate point here is that most kids make mistakes because they can’t help it. So how to handle those errors in judgement that lead to more serious consequences? Enter David Koch, the chief probation officer for Sonoma County. He oversees a budget of $72 million and a staff of 291. As he recently told our VOM Rotary club, this includes the 140 bed juvenile hall and 24 bed probation camp. This office is the silent arm of the courts with 3 divisions; adult/youth supervision (2400), juvenile justice center and VOM children’s center. The main thrust is to identify and work with at risk youth before they get into real trouble, often due to abuse, dysfunctional families or homelessness. These are the kids most likely to offend. Programs like Cognitive Behavior Therapy are designed to help these young adults develop coping skills. It’s a team effort with SR teachers, case managers working together to change their way of thinking which in turn alters behavior. Perhaps the greatest boost comes from the judicial system. Much shorter sentences for youthful offenders are intended to address the fact that the longer they are in detention the more likely they are to come back. Does it work? Well, the statistics say that it does. From a maximum of 11,000 youth in the system some years back, it is now down to 620, which is nothing short of miraculous! Check out our upcoming speaker schedule at: vomrotary.org.