What Young People Can Learn from the Kavanaugh Hearings

By Praagh, Shauna Van; Law, Professor of et al. | The Canadian Press, October 10, 2018 | Go to article overview

What Young People Can Learn from the Kavanaugh Hearings


Praagh, Shauna Van, Law, Professor of, University, McGill, The Canadian Press


What young people can learn from the Kavanaugh hearings

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This article was originally published on The Conversation, an independent and nonprofit source of news, analysis and commentary from academic experts. Disclosure information is available on the original site.

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Author: Shauna Van Praagh, Professor of Law, McGill University

Against the backdrop of the recent Senate confirmation hearings to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court, young people -- especially those aged 15 or 17 -- are naturally reflecting on what is being said about actions associated with adolescence.

Because a major factor in Kavanaugh's hearings was whether he sexually assaulted Christine Blasey Ford when they were teenagers, it's a good time to engage in complex discussions with youth about law and responsibility.

Teens should challenge any suggestion that abusive behaviour (whether engaging in it or being subject to it) is to be expected at their age. They should be questioning the message that adolescents can't, or won't, be held responsible for the consequences of what they do and what they say.

Young people's brains are still developing, their assessment of risk immature and their experiences limited. They are necessarily figuring things out about themselves and their relationships with others.

Acknowledging that development and limited experience is a feature of adolescence, however, doesn't get young people off the hook.

As a professor of the law and an expert on children in law, I introduce first year law students to the complexities of holding young people responsible in a meaningful way which means adapting to their developing abilities.

Legal concepts of agency and accountability

Foundational legal concepts like those of agency, consent and accountability all display flexibility in the context of children and youth. But flexibility and responsiveness to the capacities and challenges connected to age don't mean that anything goes.

There is a meaningful space -- space reflected in legal rules -- between demanding that young people act like adults, on one hand, and relieving them of significant responsibility, on the other.

In the context of liability for negligence, for example, legal systems typically include a requirement that young people act reasonably so as to avoid harming others -- but the assessment of their actions will take into account age and capacity. …

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