What do we do with Dennis the Menace?

Dear Dr. Cliché,

In the past 90 days rural central Indiana has had one teen charged with attempted murder after shooting a classmate in school.  Now an 11-year-old may be tried as an adult for killing his younger brother. These two boys were left alone in a house with a gun that was accessible.


Do you think an 11-year-old should ever be tried as an adult? It’s too early to
say where the judge and prosecutor are going with this, but frankly I’m
disturbed that this question has even been raised.  Indiana law allows a child of age 10 to be tried for murder, but fortunately hasn’t done so for 90 years.


Dear RB,

The ASAP (American Society of Adolescent Psychiatry) recently lobbied for and won the repeal of the death penalty for adolescents. Most of the science they used to back up that decision applies to this question as well. It has been proven beyond any doubt that both a child’s brain and an adolescent’s brain differ from that of an adult. For younger humans,
the higher center connections that allow for checks on impulsivity, reactiveness, and the ability to deal with processing more than one reality at a time,  do not come in until the late teenage years. Even when the brain gets these abilities, lacking the skills to
use them, they indeed may not be used. Thus a child or an adolescent is not an
adult and therefore should not be tried as one.

That being said, there are children whom I have met that are now, and will always
be, a menace on society.  These children have no sense of remorse, and are merely curious as to people’s reactions to pain and terror. They often feel superior or entitled and can hide a grudge forever over the slightest of indiscretions.  Come heed- for they are a dangerous lot.

The current method of locking them up in training school until they are 18 then letting them go free is silly. They are a danger to society. To have them tried as an adult and sentenced to life long prison is not the answer either; but neither is giving them a clean slate when they reach 18. I would suggest a separate path for the “Menace to society,” with 3-10 year reviews after the age of 18. I am not sure that inpatient criminal psychiatric units for antisocial personality disorder qualify as alternate path; but it is all we have now.

Dr. Brilliant Cliché

Granny just has this to add: I don’t think that a blanket decision can cover every eventuality in human psychology. But as to whether an 11 year old should be
tried as an adult? The trial should fit the crime… and the criminal. If an 11
year old is tried as a child and found to be a pathological killer rather than
a frightened youngster who made a terrible mistake… that is how he should be
sentenced, regardless of age.

Someone who begins life as a cold blooded killer or sadist is even more of a danger to
those around him than an adult killer. One of the most effective tricks any
adult killer or criminal uses to gain the trust of potential victims is by
masquerading as a trusted member of society, such as a cop, nice young man or
nurse… and then surprising them with an unexpected attack.

Who wouldn’t open the door to a sweet little lost kid so he can use the phone to
call his mommy?


About Dr. Brilliant Cliché

Dr. Brilliant Cliché and the Granny Dr. are a fictional web presence and advice blog. Together we offer a joint perspective that is deep but not academic, entertaining but not fluff, and educated yet street smart. By joining the internet community we hope to share thoughts and stimulate insightful conversation around pressing issues that affect us all. Looking forward to hearing your thoughts. (This is not a site for therapy nor does it intend to replace medical or other professional care. ) You can leave comments here or email The Dr. at dr.brilliantcliche@yahoo.com and don’t forget to like us on facebook. Our facebook page is Dr. Brilliant Cliche
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4 Responses to What do we do with Dennis the Menace?

  1. RDR says:

    Thank you, Dr. Brilliant Cliche. Authorities have decided to try the child as a child, not as an adult. But apparently he was required to babysit his younger siblings regularly, and he often threatened them with knives or even the gun to get them to behave. He was trying to scare his 6-year-old brother to clean his room when the rifle discharged. Authorities have now arrested the mother and boyfriend on neglect charges. http://www.indystar.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2011107270373

    It may be an aberration, but there has been an almost continuous stream of events in Indiana involving children shooting other children, or themselves. Or in one recent case an adult who could not legally possess a gun shot and killed a child while trying to hit a light on a dock that annoyed him (he had been drinking). It is with trepidation that thoughtful columnists dare to ask “Can we please have a rational talk about guns?” http://www.indystar.com/article/20110729/NEWS08/107290347/Tully-Can-we-please-rational-talk-about-guns-?odyssey=tab|topnews|text|IndyStar.com

  2. Dear RDR:
    I agree there are far more accidental deaths from guns then ever there are incidents where having a gun saved anyone. But we are talking of a base human fear turned into a constitutional right –to be able to protect my family. There can be no real rational negotiation. I really don’t get why healthcare is not the same issue?

    Dr. B.C.

  3. Cordane Meesey says:

    As far as being able to protect one’s family… come on! What is the purpose of a home security system? No one has ever taken a window alarm or motion sensor and turned it on a spouse in a moment of rage.

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