Teens don't deserve zero-tolerance punishment
The Feb. 22 Metro article "Suicide victim's family calls for policy change" filled me with sadness and anger.
Apparently, Fairfax County, along with quite a few other school systems in the country, continues to buy into a misguided notion of how to react to the expected missteps of adolescents. Setting a so-called zero-tolerance standard and pushing out young people for any violation of a series of expectations is thought to preserve high standards for the remaining, "good" students and help create firm boundaries. Instead, this approach is excessively harsh, and gratuitously destructive, and fails to take into account what we know about adolescent growth and development.
Of course there should be consequences for misbehavior. But surely we can think of appropriate consequences that keep the adolescent on a trajectory to a productive adulthood. For the typical adolescent, that trajectory would mean continuation of academic studies, social relations and extracurricular involvement. Removal from school and isolation from peers and teachers is unwise when increased attention, support and guidance are clearly required.
Within just a few years, the adolescent brain undergoes tremendous restructuring. This leads at times to mistakes and missteps. This can be a time for enhanced attention to the efforts needed to ensure healthy development. Or, by continuing a misguided zero-tolerance approach, it can further derail the potential for successful maturation.
The writer, medical director at Saint Elizabeths Hospital in the District, was a senior scientific adviser to the director of the National Institute of Mental Health from 2002 to 2004.
Bernard S. Arons, Washington
| February 23, 2011; 5:38 PM ET
Categories: Fairfax County, HotTopic, child services, schools
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