Footage was released this week showing police officer in Orlando walking into an elementary school and arresting a 6-year-old girl. The child, accused of having a “tantrum” and hitting her teachers, had her hands bound by zip ties – the officer said he would have used handcuffs but her wrists were too small – and was put in the back of a squad car while she cried and trembled in terror, pleading for another chance. The courageous cops, valiantly defending society from ill-tempered first graders, took the child to a detention center where her mug shot was taken and she was officially brought up on charges of criminal assault. Just to reiterate: she was 6-years-old.
The officer in charge can be heard in the body cam footage bragging that this “breaks his record” for the youngest child he’s ever arrested. In fact, he broke it twice that day because another 6-year-old was also hauled away to jail. This officer, Dennis Turner, apparently has a history of being a power drunk scumbag. He was investigated back in 2015 for tasing a man five times even though the suspect wasn’t actively resisting arrest. Reportedly, he was also arrested back in 1998 for aggravated assault of a child.
Turner has been fired for his actions at the school, but serious questions remain. For instance, how did a callous incompetent like Turner, twice put under internal investigation by his department, end up as a resource officer at an elementary school? And more broadly, is it really a good idea to criminalize childhood misbehavior? This may be an extreme example, but grade schools across the country have increasingly been treating discipline problems as legal infractions. Kids who lack emotional maturity – not because there’s something wrong with them, but merely because they’re kids – now face the possibility of a criminal record for behavior that would have simply landed their parents and grandparents in detention. The criminalization of schoolyard bullying is another example of this trend.
Children, especially in the elementary school ages, are not reasonable creatures. They do not possess the psychological capacity to express their emotions or control their actions the same way adults can. This, again, is not their fault. It’s just a natural facet of childhood. We were all unreasonable and emotional children once. Some of us still are. This doesn’t mean that misbehavior, disrespect, etc., should be tolerated or that disruptive children should be given free rein to do whatever they want, but it does mean that we can’t hold them to the same standard as adults. It may be assault for an adult to punch another adult. It is not assault when a child hits, any more than it’s theft when a toddler steals a Barbie doll from her daycare center. This is a matter of culpability. We used to understand that children have little of it.
But we are not just criminalizing childhood. Where it is not criminalized, it is medicalized. Over 7 million children in this country have been placed on psychiatric medication, and nearly half of those cases are ADHD. All in all, about 6 million children – well over half of them under the age of 11 – have been diagnosed with this phantom disorder. Boys are twice as likely to be diagnosed as girls. As I’ve argued extensively elsewhere, the ADHD diagnosis turns normal childhood behaviors into symptoms of mental illness. It may be true that these behaviors are difficult to deal with, especially in the school system, but that by no means makes them “disordered.” If the school system’s proper function depends on drugging millions of kids, then it seems to me that the system is disordered. The sickness is not in our kids but in our attitude toward them and our expectations of them. If millions of 9-year-old boys have trouble sitting at their desk for 8 hours a day, performing busy work, and regurgitating information onto Scantron sheets, perhaps we should consider the possibility that this is a very bad way of educating 9-year-old boys. Though it may indeed be the easiest way. For us, that is.
Our children aren’t mentally disordered. They aren’t criminals. And this generation of children isn’t very different from any generation before them. It’s just that those previous generations weren’t made into mental patients or fugitives if they made the mistake of acting their age. Kids were given time and space to be kids. Children today deserve the same consideration.