By Steve Dabrowski
It Seems to Me
I was recently asked to be a judge for the finals of Resurrection School’s “Amazing Shake.” I must confess that all eight of the finalists were impressive, and my conversations with them have kept me thinking ever since.
I should probably explain the “Amazing Shake” competition. The Ron Clark Academy in Atlanta, Georgia, recognized a need to help students develop real-world social skills, empowering students to make a positive impact on those they met in a variety of settings. Thus the “Amazing Shake” was born. The name itself references the need for a professional handshake, but the competition is designed to recognize young people who can enter confidently into a conversation with anyone, whether the other party be a mayor, a bishop, a CEO … or a lowly diocesan director like me.
Each interviewer at the local contest was given a series of questions that formed the context of the interview. I selected two questions from the provided list, and I added a couple others — some of the answers have stayed with me.
First question: “What is one thing you wish you could explain to every adult?”
The answers to this question were nearly uniform, and I think the young peoples’ perspectives are important for adults to understand. I heard a few versions of the following: “When we’re on our phones, adults assume we’re doing something unimportant, but that’s not true.” Those students who shared particulars informed me that they often are “looking something up,” or “organizing something with friends.” In other words, unlike adults, young people tend to interact primarily through their devices. A 2018 study from the children’s advocacy group, Common Sense, noted that less than one-third of young people prefer meeting face-to-face as their primary form of contact. Although it may seem odd to adults, that device in a young person’s hand is a social tether that binds them to their peers. The very fact that these impressive finalists at Resurrection School listed this as the “one thing” they wished adults understood seems significant.
Second question: “What do you think of the proposed bill that would allow children as young as 12 to be criminally tried as adults?”
Sadly, the author of SB 449 wasn’t a judge at Resurrection; if she had been, she could have learned much. The contestants ranged from fifth through eighth grades, and those who delved into the matter told me that 12-year-olds simply aren’t mature enough to understand their actions; they felt an older age would be more prudent. Again, the young people showed understanding beyond their years as their answers aligned well with adolescent brain development. Brain research programs, including Berkeley Brain Initiative, report that a bundle of nerve fibers (i.e., the corpus callosum) that connect the central left and right hemispheres of the brain do not fully develop until around age 25. Once these fibers have fully formed, the centers of the brain that allow individuals to process risk and long-term consequence are connected; prior to that, these abilities are impaired. Obviously, no one believes that young people should fail to be held accountable for their actions, but trying a child and sentencing a 12-year-old to the adult criminal system is horrific, they simply lack the ability to fully comprehend what they have done. The young people with whom I spoke felt such an action would be inappropriate. It is rather mature for a person to recognize their lack of maturity, and this is another indication of how well-formed these finalists are. You see why I was so impressed.
I know I was a judge, and I know others whose stations in life are far superior to mine have also served as judges for this event over the years. Yet, as I contemplate the answers of these 11-to-14-year-olds, I can’t help but think we’d be better off if we spent more time sitting down with them and listening to their wisdom. Each of the finalists was impressive, and I am grateful for the opportunity to meet with them. They were amazing, and their wisdom could really shake up the adult community. The “Amazing Shake” finalists are going to shake up our world.