Parenting in the digital age: Keeping your children from breaking the law

The Means Report - Parenting In The Digital Age: Keeping Your Children From Breaking The Law graphic
The Means Report - Parenting In The Digital Age: Keeping Your Children From Breaking The Law graphic
The Means Report - Parenting In The Digital Age: Keeping Your Children From Breaking The Law graphic
The Means Report – Parenting In The Digital Age: Keeping Your Children From Breaking The Law graphic

Augusta, GA (WJBF) — The Means Report kicked off a series focused on our children, addressing the temptations they face, the consequences if they go off track, and other information to help our young people stay on the right path. Of course, electronic temptations are ever-present in our children’s lives. To address those waters Judge Doug Flanagan, the Chief Juvenile Court Judge for Columbia County, and Margaret Tutt-Adams, a retired juvenile probation officer, offer their years of expertise.

Brad Means: Let’s dive deeply, if you will, into our children and what’s going on in their lives. And to do that, we have the chief judge for the Augusta Judicial Circuit. We’re talking Augusta, Burke County, McDuffie County, Judge…

Judge Doug Flanagan: No, that’d be Burke County, Richmond County, and Columbia County.

Brad Means: Richmond, Burke, Columbia.

Judge Doug Flanagan: Columbia Juvenile Court, that’s correct.

Brad Means: That is the Augusta Judicial Circuit. Got it. Judge Doug Flanagan, see Judge Flanagan has been on here so many times he is truly my co-host and so I just wanted you to view him as that. But no, I appreciate that and I appreciate all you do, Judge Flanagan. Joining him is his long-time, right-hand woman, Margaret Adams. Margaret, in your past life you were the Chief Probation Officer and Manager with Judge Flanagan. You tried to retire, what happened?

Margaret Tutt-Adams: He brought me back.

Brad Means: You couldn’t stand it.

Margaret Tutt-Adams: I think he gave me about a month off and then he said, “We need you, come on back.” And so I am now the Program Director at Juvenile Court. And Judge Flanagan and I spend a lot of time in the school system talking to the kids. Actually, we’re trying to make ourselves jobless. We spend a lot of time in the school system, giving the kids tips on how not to meet Judge Flanagan because they’ve broken a law.

Brad Means: Well, I wanna talk to you about your work in our schools for sure and it’s important. And thank you for agreeing to come out of retirement, Ms. Adams, we appreciate that. How is business Judge Flanagan? Are you getting closer to not having kids come through that court?

Judge Doug Flanagan: Well, we’re doing very well in not getting a big increase. You know, especially in Columbia County where the population continues to increase. The number of cases has not been increasing percentage wise with the increase in the population. So, Ms. Adams and I and our Probation Officer are visiting every school. Elementary, middle schools, and high schools talking about choices and consequences and how to avoid problems in their life and how to take care of problems and who to talk to.

Brad Means: What are the top offenses that you see our kids committing?

Judge Doug Flanagan: A lot of it is bullying. A lot of it is electronic bullying. A lot of it is improper touching, what some people would call sexual battery. And, it’s the type of things, that, with good parenting, and a lot of the children knowing the rules can be avoided.

Brad Means: Let’s talk about that electronic bullying first of all. When you go into the schools, I’m sure that this is something you touch on with the kids. Now, they’re not, for the most part, allowed to use their phones or look at their phones in school unless it’s for a lesson. Where do you see a lot of this electronic bullying taking place?

Margaret Tutt-Adams: Well, I’m always amazed, I guess, at the number of kids that actually have telephones.

Brad Means: And at a young age.

Margaret Tutt-Adams: At a very, very young age. Normally Judge Flanagan and I speak to the kids grade levels four and up. And, anywhere the population, between 85-95% of the kids from the elementary school, all up through high school, they have their own, what they call their own cell phone. And so which means you have very immature young people, with all kinds of stuff right there in their hands. And, we’ve discovered that young people get in trouble because they really do not give any consideration to the consequences of the choices that they make.

Brad Means: Do you have any authority, as a judge, to take their phones away?

Judge Doug Flanagan: Sure.

Brad Means: Really? Tell me how that works.

Judge Doug Flanagan: Well, you know, we get ’em to come into court if they have some issues that involve the phone. Part of the punishment we get, is we can take their, we can take their driver’s license away, if they’re driving. We can take their freedom away, you know. We have the ability, if they’re real bad, to actually put them in some kind of confinement, at the YDC. But, take their cell phones away? Yes. We can take their cell phones away. When we talk at the schools, the first thing we tell these children and young adults, we ask ’em to raise their hands, how many people have their own cell phone. It’s usually about 80%.

Brad Means: I bet.

Judge Doug Flanagan: And then we tell ’em that’s good news. The bad news is, it’s not your cell phone. It’s your parents’ cell phone.

Brad Means: Yeah, they don’t get that.

Judge Doug Flanagan: You don’t own it, the parents paid for it, it’s your parents’ cell phone. We have actually people come in that have gotten in physical altercations with their parents, when their parents have tried to take their phone.

Brad Means: Let’s stay on this for a while. And if it takes the whole broadcast, so be it, because I think this is what we’re all struggling with. The use of cell phones, and the use of social media, which we’ll get into in just a minute, but, why do you think kids are so fearless when it comes to using their phones for whatever means, whether it’s bullying, like Judge Flanagan mentioned, or whether it’s sexting, or, for some other improper means. Do they think they’re anonymous? Do they think they’re hiding behind the phone?

Margaret Tutt-Adams: I really think they do, and the fact is, it’s not a face-to-face. So you can hide behind the phone, say what you want to say, and send all kinds of pictures, and thinking that you’re not gonna get caught. They don’t understand, because of their immaturity, that, just because you delete something, it does not fade away. It’s there, and with the proper mechanism, you can pull up anything that you’ve already tried to delete.

Brad Means: Yeah, you make a very interesting point, and I’ve tried to preach this at home, Judge. Is an image, or is a text ever deleted?

Judge Doug Flanagan: It’s out there, and people can get it.

Margaret Tutt-Adams: It’s out there somewhere.

Judge Doug Flanagan: And I tell some of these young adults, you know, they see their phone as freedom, just like you would if you’re a teenager wanting to drive. You can drive away from the house, and do stuff that your parents might not be able to see, if you have a set of wheels and a driver’s license. At a younger age, they see their cell phone as freedom. They can look up stuff they want on the internet. They can text each other. They can take X-rated pictures. They can sex text, and a lot of times they don’t think that anybody will ever know, they think it’s anonymous. As adults, we know it’s not anonymous.

Brad Means: How does that stuff come to light? Do you get a forensics team to take the phone apart, and say see, I told you the image was here.

Judge Doug Flanagan: Well the sheriff’s department in all the counties are capable of basically, getting into most phones. And I’ve seen a lot of pictures, and I tell them, some of them, with the pictures I see, if you can’t show the picture on your phone to your grandmother, you probably don’t need to take it.

Brad Means: When does it become a crime, if, your child receives a naked picture from a friend, when, for your child, I understand that the guy who sent it is in trouble. When does it become a crime for the recipient?

Judge Doug Flanagan: Well, the recipient is not a crime, if they were to delete it, but if they try to send it on, and try to show it to everybody, we have a lot of young ladies, send pictures to their boyfriends when they’re inappropriately dressed.

Brad Means: Yep.

Judge Doug Flanagan: And of course, they’re boys. First thing they’re gonna do with the picture is, when they’re at school, show it to all their friends, and say, hey! Look at my girlfriend, doesn’t she look good? They think they’re being proud of their girlfriend. They don’t understand that the young lady has entrusted with them, something personal, when she sent that picture to her boyfriend. Even though it’s inappropriate, she thinks he’s not going to show it to anybody.

Brad Means: Is this difficult to keep up with, going back to the beginning of your career, and I’m not saying you’ve been doing this, you know, for a hundred years, Margaret.

Margaret Tutt-Adams: Pretty close.

Brad Means: I’m trying to say you are a seasoned veteran, and you have seen a lot. Can you even keep up with the stuff that Judge Flanagan was describing? It seems like the kids are one step ahead.

Margaret Tutt-Adams: Well, I think that we can, and I can personally keep up with it, because I’m a mother. I have 40-plus year old son. And as a mother raising a child, I always tried to keep myself at least six months ahead of him, so, when he would act a certain way, I wasn’t surprised, because, this is par for the course, this is par for young people growing up. They want to explore, they think they know everything, and the parents know nothing. So here you are, talking to the woman who brought you into the world, obviously I know more than you, and I’m gonna demonstrate in how I’m rearing you, that I am the mother, and that I am in charge. And that’s what you have to do as a parent. You have to put forth all effort, to try to be a few steps ahead of your kids in this game.

Brad Means: All right, kids hate to be preached to. They hate to be lectured, so how do we get the message apart, across, that your phone can be dangerous, your phone can get you locked up?

Judge Doug Flanagan: Well, it can get you locked up, but it can also be an asset to the parents. You know, the parents can put the device on the app, where they can track where their children are.

Brad Means: You like that.

Judge Doug Flanagan: Yes, I think it helps the parents.

Brad Means: We’re spying on them, though, that’s wrong.

Judge Doug Flanagan: Well, we’re not spying on them, cause they’re not physically present, but we happen to know where they are. Every good parent wants to know where their child is, especially if they’re telling their parents they’re going to the movie, and that’s not where they’re going. The phone can also help when you have children that have to come home and their parents aren’t there. They take a picture of a selfie in the house, letting know mom and dad, I’m home and I’m safe. I’ve locked the door, I’m home. A parent at work can be reassured by getting a photograph, that their child has gotten off the bus, come in the house, and are in the house safe.

Brad Means: Judge Flanagan, what happens to a child who doesn’t listen, who continues to receive, and disseminate images, who uses their phone for bullying, what happens to the child?

Judge Doug Flanagan: Well, the child can get punished, cause the worst punishment can be at home. Good parents should have the password and code to the children’s phone. It’s their phone, they should be able to access their children’s phone, whether sitting around, eating dinner at the kitchen table, when you finish saying to your child, hey, let me see what you’ve been doing on your phone today.

Brad Means: You recommend that?

Judge Doug Flanagan: Oh definitely.

Brad Means: Doesn’t that break the trust?

Judge Doug Flanagan: Why would it break the trust? Who’s in charge of the home?

Brad Means: The parent.

Judge Doug Flanagan: Who’s paying for the phone?

Brad Means: I mean, the child. No no, the parent.

Judge Doug Flanagan: The parent’s in charge. You know, it’s no different than when you and I grew up, if we had stuff in our room that we weren’t supposed to have, your mother, father could come in and look through your room.

Brad Means: So you think you can still maintain a healthy relationship with your child…

Judge Doug Flanagan: Oh yes, yes, well you have to let ’em know what you’re doing. Don’t sneak up on ’em. Just say, they get used to saying, you know, when you’re gonna have a phone, and mom and dad are gonna get you a phone, you have to understand that mom and dad gonna want to see what you’re doing on the phone.

Brad Means: Have you ever sent a child to jail to juvie, because of a, an electronic-related issue?

Judge Doug Flanagan: Yes.

Brad Means: What kind of offense are we talking about?

Judge Doug Flanagan: Well, usually, it’s inappropriate pictures with people with no clothes on. Now, you can rise to the level of a terroristic threat depending, we did have somebody who used someone else’s phone, at the school, to call in a bomb threat.

Brad Means: Yeah.

Judge Doug Flanagan: And then hung up the phone. The only trouble is, he was calling from the school cafeteria, the police department’s pretty sharp, they found out the call was made from inside the school, they know what the phone number was, they came to the school, and what happened is, this student had borrowed another student’s phone saying, I’d like to use your phone to make a phone call for a second.

Brad Means: When The Means Report continues, we’re gonna continue to talk to these two fine folks about their efforts in our school systems, to reach your children before they get in trouble, to try to keep them on the right path. We’re also gonna talk about what kind of progress we’re making overall with our youth, and more advice, really, for moms and dads and caregivers at home, so that we can certainly do our part, not leave it all up to the juvenile court system. When The Means Report continues.

Part 2

Brad Means: Welcome back to The Means Report, focusing on our children, and how we can help them, and the consequences that await them from a legal standpoint, if they make the wrong choices. Margaret Adams, let me return to you, the program director for Columbia county when it comes to the juvenile court system. You go into the schools, you see these children face to face. How often do you see them, how long do you speak to them, what’s that encounter like?

Margaret Tutt-Adams: Normally we spend about, anywhere from 35 to 45 minutes with the kids, and offering them an opportunity to ask the judge any questions they may have in mind that they want some clarity on. We spend a lot of time with the kids, talking to them about choices and consequences, because we both feel, that kids make choices without giving any consideration to what’s gonna happen after the choice.

Brad Means: So true.

Margaret Tutt-Adams: So we spend a lot of time on that, we spend a lot of time with the kids, talking to them about being kind. We even have bracelets that we pass out to the kids, and one of them have here, says simply, passing kindness forward one act at a time. We also encourage the kids to think. And that’s something kids don’t do. They’re very reactive, when we have a whole lot of adults that don’t do that as well, but we encourage the kids to think before you speak, think before you act, think before you react. If the kids were to practice that, think about the power of their words, and this is one of the bracelets that we’ve been passing out for years to the kids. We let them know that their words have power. The words that they speak, they’re either going to lift somebody up, make somebody feel good, or they’re gonna do just the opposite. They’re gonna desecrate somebody. They’re gonna make somebody feel bad. They’re gonna hurt feelings. They’re gonna destroy images, and even as kids, their words are so powerful, that it has the ability to do that. So we spent a lot of time, normally I go first, and speak to the kids when we go into the school, and then the judge comes. I offer them words of encouragement, nuggets on how not to break rules, break regulations, and basically, all they gotta do is, think before. You think before you speak. If someone spoke to me in that manner, how would I feel? Put yourself in that person’s place. If someone treated me the way I’m treating them, how would I personally feel? And for them to learn not to be so reactive. If someone says something unkind to you, if you speak unkind to them, then what’s the difference between the two of you?

Brad Means: Nothing.

Margaret Tutt-Adams: So we absolutely spend a lot of time encouraging the kids to think before you speak, think before you act, think before you react, and after that part, the judge normally comes up, and he shares with them some of the crimes that, offenses that the kids can do, can break, the laws that they break and how they end up in our system.

Brad Means: Can you tell the kids who are paying attention, and the kids who are ignoring you, right there in that moment?

Judge Doug Flanagan: You can, but most of the kids are paying attention. The reason I come on after Margaret, I give them an opportunity to ask me any question they want. Any question. I don’t have the winning lottery numbers, but I tell them they can ask any questions. And they ask a lot of intelligent questions, about what kind of things do we have? What kind of punishment could you receive? If they went to the YDC, what is the YDC like? But they ask intelligent questions, and, they ask questions for friends, i.e. the question for themselves, when they have a question about a friend, it means that’s the question they’re asking for themselves. And I understand that, and we take time. All children are special, and when they’re thinking about a question, and they wanna ask you, adults need to take the time to respond. It’s no different than parents at home. I encourage all parents to take time at night, to either eat dinner together, have family time together to see how your day went, like we talked earlier about, your phones, you know, your children get used to after you eat dinner, they just leave your phone. I wanna see what you’re doing today on your phone. Just, they can just leave the phone and let the kids go off.

Brad Means: What is improper touching? You mentioned that you see that a lot in your courtroom. How do you cross that line?

Judge Doug Flanagan: Well, if you took a young lady, and you grabbed her on the butt, or you touched her on her breast, without her permission, that could be considered a sexual battery. It goes the same thing if a young lady was to do it to a young man. It’s improper. Simple battery is just the mere touching. Someone touches you, could be push you or something else. But sexual battery is the improper touching. And a lot of times, depending on the grade level, sometimes the young men are put up to it by their friends, like, hey, go down the hallway and touch this girl on the butt, only trouble is, you can get punished for that.

Brad Means: Yeah, that can be battery.

Judge Doug Flanagan: Well, it can be sexual battery. But again, the purpose is talking to the schools to get them to understand what’s going on.

Brad Means: Margaret, are you wearing a butterfly today, by chance? If you’re, okay. You have a butterfly on your finger, and I love what I read about you once, the significance of the butterfly, and the stage at which you encounter children. Tell us about that.

Margaret Tutt-Adams: Well, I love the butterfly, because the butterfly didn’t come here as a butterfly, so transformation, that’s the same thing with children, you know. And what I try to tell them, is that when they’re kids, they’re in the cocoon stage. They are there and they have this protective covering, and the covering is composed of, mama, daddy, grandmothers, grandparents, big brothers. It’s a village of people that serve as protection. These people absolutely know more than they do. So when they set limits and boundaries, they’re there to protect you, as very much like the caterpillar, as you are shaped, and you mature, and you grow, and, if you come out of that cocoon, too early, you’re gonna be damaged. You may not make it. But if you can just adhere to the rules and regulations, limits and boundaries that your loving parents have in place for you, you are apt to survive. And this is what I tell them, that, if you come out, if a butterfly comes out too early, it’s damaged, it cannot fly. What every parent wants their kid to do, is to be able to fly on their own. And this is, as the judge was saying, if you are, your kid have a telephone, you bought the phone. Why can’t you…

Brad Means: Yeah, stay in control of it.

Margaret Tutt-Adams: Yeah.

Brad Means: Are all kids born good, Judge Flanagan?

Judge Doug Flanagan: Yes. All kids are good. Most children I’ve ever seen are good, they just need parents to spend more time with them.

Brad Means: Well, I appreciate the time that you both have dedicated to our children. It’s your life’s work, and I’m extremely grateful to both of you.

Judge Doug Flanagan: Thank you sir.

Margaret Tutt-Adams: Thank you so much.

Brad Means: Absolutely.

Margaret Tutt-Adams: Thanks for having us.

Brad Means: Yes ma’am, this door is always open for Margaret Adams, and Judge Doug Flanagan. They do a world of good for our children, and as you heard them both say, you can do a world of good, too, at home. Just the little things add up.

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