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Children are not just small adults - and shouldn't be treated as such.

There is debate over whether North Carolina really is, as our license plates say, “first in flight.”

The state of Ohio has tried for a century to claim that title - we know we're first, but let's play along - but one distinction we lay indisputable claim to is “first in hauling young ’uns before a judge.”

Before I became the paragon of virtue and moral rectitude you see before you today, my childhood appearances in juvey between the ages of 13 and 15 were as predictable as the swallows returning to eat some Pastrami or James Taylor doing an encore concert performance of Carolina in My Mind.

I didn’t realize it then, but my court appearances - most of which ended with a tongue-lashing, judicial warning and my Aunt Jennie knocking me into next week - could’ve started much sooner and ended more disastrously. A recent McClatchy story by Virginia Bridges shone a light on a shameful practice in North Carolina: children as young as six-years-old being tried in juvenile court for breaking the law.

As noted in a McClatchy editorial following Bridges’s story, Jay Corpening, a New Hanover County chief district court judge, posed this question to her: “Should a child that believes in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy be making life-altering decisions?” Or, conceivably, facing life?

Corpening suggests raising the age to be stared down by a judge to 10, which is an improvement over 6, but not much of one. Besides, who says 10-year-olds don’t believe in Santa Claus and won’t be beseeching him for a pardon if the governor doesn’t intercede?

Dear Santa,

I hope this missive finds you in good health and spirits, and that you and Mrs. Santa are staying safe from the ‘rona. Have you had your shots yet? I heard you struggling to fit down the chimney last Christmas, and you know that obesity is a pre-existing condition that could exacerbate the ‘rona, right?

You are no doubt surprised to be receiving a letter in April, but your buddy here needs some help, yo.

Look, Santa. I know you came through for me big time last Christmas – even though I needed another sweater like I need another little brother - but I’ve got an even bigger request now.

You see, I have the misfortune of living in North Carolina, a state that tries six-year-olds such as I in juvenile court. As such, there are two things I don’t understand.

First, since Wile E. Coyote has money to order all that stuff off Amazon to catch the Road Runner – which, between you and me, he never will ha ha - why doesn’t he just order himself something to eat?

Second, what is court?

Whatever it is, I’m due there next week. Yeah, I'm guilty – I could never lie to you, Santa, because you know when I’ve been good or bad yada yada – but I swear: I didn’t even know that pulling up a tulip was against the law. It was so pretty and I just wanted to give it to my teacher after flunking that arithmetic test, so I just yanked that sucker out of the ground.

Big mistake. Next thing you know, I find myself jammed up in the criminal justice system. In light of my current legal woes, I fear I’m going to have to blow this joint.

While I appreciate the 12 Volt Licensed Lamborghini SVJ RC Kids Ride On Car you brought me for Christmas, that sucker only gets about 200 feet per charge. I mean, it’s out of juice before I get to the end of the driveway!

What I’m trying to say, Santa, is that unless I can find a very long extension cord, I’m toast. Therefore, I’d like to know if you can get me a car that gets more miles per charge – or at least get me a bus ticket to a less barbaric state.

Your friend, Calvin.

Unless North Carolina changes its law, smart parents – instead of buying their kids baby dolls and tricycles – could start purchasing pardons from Santa in advance, because if pulling up a tulip can get you tossed into the joint, every child will eventually run afoul of some law.

You know how previous generations used to trade baseball cards or Pokemons on schoolyard playgrounds?

Tar Heel children could soon be trading pardons – say, “I’ll give you a ‘get out of jail free’ card for not making my bed for your ‘didn’t eat your veggies’ pardon."

Upon further deliberation, let’s just stop treating children like little grownups. There is no justifiable reason young children should be in court – unless it’s to protect them.





Meet Barry Saunders

For over 20 years, Barry was a columnist for The News & Observer in Raleigh, NC. He also wrote for other publications, such as the Atlanta Constitution and the Richmond County Daily Journal. Often described as powerfully honest and illustratively funny, Barry's writing is both loved and hated by readers- sometimes simultaneously.  


Want more? Get your own copy of one of Barry's published books featuring reader favorites (and not so favorites) from his years writing columns for The News & Observer. Titled "Do Unto Others...And then Run" and "...And The Horse You Rode In On Saunders!", they're full of guaranteed entertainment. 


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