Skip to main content

When the bogeyman is a little girl

By Mel Robbins
June 5, 2014 -- Updated 0217 GMT (1017 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Mel Robbins: Girls in stabbing case charged as adults; they should be tried as juveniles
  • She says as a society, we recognize kids' brains, judgment not developed like adults
  • She says high court recognizes this. Girls need mental health help, not prison system
  • Robbins: Case seems like fantasy world run amok. Society should not lock girls away

Editor's note: Mel Robbins is a CNN commentator and legal analyst. Robbins is the founder of Inspire52.com, a positive news website and author of "Stop Saying You're Fine," about managing change. She speaks on leadership around the world and in 2014 was named Outstanding News Talk Radio Host by the Gracie Awards. Follow her on Twitter @melrobbins. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Mel Robbins.

(CNN) -- Morgan Geyser and Anissa Weier, the 12-year-old girls from Waukesha, Wisconsin, who are accused of stabbing their friend 19 times and leaving her for dead, should not be tried as adults. On Monday, Waukesha County prosecutors charged the two in adult court with attempted homicide. Wisconsin should transfer the case to juvenile court and try them as children, because that's what they are.

As a society, in every instance we recognize that children are less than adults and legally we treat them as such. The research on children's brain development and function is so undisputed and compelling that the Supreme Court recently cited it in Graham v. Florida, which prohibits mandatory sentences of life without parole for children; earlier the court discussed adolescent brain science during oral arguments in Roper v. Simmons, which abolished the juvenile death penalty.

Mel Robbins
Mel Robbins

We all agree that the crime in the Wisconsin case is a horrific one. The girls "readily" confessed to the police and laid out the bone-chilling details of their plan and the attack, according to the criminal complaint. The question now is: What do you do with them? If the case is transferred to juvenile court under Wisconsin statutory law, social service and mental health treatment professionals can properly deal with these clearly disturbed girls.

The reality is that eventually they are likely to be released back into society. Which system would do a better job of punishing perpetrators of such a violent crime and preparing them for rehabilitation?

You don't have to be a fan of "Orange Is the New Black" to know in your gut that 60 years in the adult prison system is no place for a little girl who believes that an Internet meme is real and doesn't appear to understand the consequences of her actions. Obviously, stabbing people isn't normal, but psychologists will tell you that believing fantasies are real is age appropriate. Disney makes billions off it. I've got a 9-year-old who somehow still believes Santa is real and a 13-year-old who's afraid some bogeyman lurks under the bed.

Slenderman stabbing case: When can kids understand reality vs. fantasy?

These two 12-year-old girls were apparently so convinced that Slenderman was real, that he was watching them, reading their minds and teleporting, and so desperate to be his proxy that police found them walking along the road on their way to his "mansion in the woods" to go live with him.

Children don't have the judgment, maturity or life experience to drink, drive, consent to sex, work, serve in the military, serve on a jury, marry, sign a contract or live on their own. We spend billions on programs that teach kids drug prevention and sex education because we recognize that adolescence is a vulnerable stage of life.

If we have determined that children are not ready for the rights and responsibilities of adulthood -- that they don't have the capacity to make sound decisions, the maturity to understand consequences or the ability to control their impulses-- how can we justify treating them the same as adults when they commit crimes?

On top of common sense, there's now a decade of incontrovertible evidence of the tremendous change in adolescence in both brain structure and how the brain works. Bottom line: At age 12 your brain is about to go through an intense period of development that will continue into your early 20s. As Ruben Gur, a neuropsychologist at the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center writes, "The brain does not cease to mature until the early 20s in those relevant parts that govern impulsivity, judgment, planning for the future, foresight of consequences, and other characteristics that make people morally culpable. ..."

Thankfully, the alleged victim lived. And because the girls accused of this crime are 12, and on the cusp of a developmental brain rewiring, they might also be more responsive to attempts at rehabilitation as they mature into adulthood.

Bicyclist who found stabbed Wisconsin girl: 'Who did that to you?'

I know what you're thinking. "Mel, if it were your 12-year-old who was stabbed, you'd want these kids locked away for life." Actually, you're wrong. Human beings are different from animals. As the mother of a 15-, 13- and 9-year-old, I know all too well just how irrational, impulsive, peer-influenced, all-consumed and lacking in judgment children can be. I also know that good families can have things go horribly wrong and that often it's mental illness that needs to be addressed.

I hope we live in a society that has the maturity to take a deep breath and consider the limitations of children before we lock two little girls away until they are 72.

Opinion: Parents, take heed: 'Slenderman' and more lurk online

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1941 GMT (0341 HKT)
Stuart Gitlow says pot is addictive and those who smoke it can experience long-term psychiatric disease.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1645 GMT (0045 HKT)
Gabby Giffords and Katie Ray-Jones say "Between 2001 and 2012, more women were shot to death by an intimate partner in our country than the total number of American troops killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined."
July 29, 2014 -- Updated 2357 GMT (0757 HKT)
Alan Elsner says Secretary Kerry's early cease-fire draft was leaked and presented as a final document, which served the interests of hard-liners on both sides who don't want the Gaza war to stop.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1158 GMT (1958 HKT)
Vijay Das says Medicare is a success story that could provide health care for everybody, not just seniors
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1818 GMT (0218 HKT)
Rick Francona says Israel seems determined to render Hamas militarily ineffective.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1743 GMT (0143 HKT)
S.E. Cupp says the entrepreneur and Dallas Mavericks owner thinks for himself and refuses to be confined to an ideological box.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1311 GMT (2111 HKT)
A Christian group's anger over the trailer for "Black Jesus," an upcoming TV show, seems out of place, Jay Parini says
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 2028 GMT (0428 HKT)
LZ Granderson says the cyber-standing ovation given to Robyn Lawley, an Australian plus-size model who posted unretouched photos, shows how crazy Americans' notions of beauty have become
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1939 GMT (0339 HKT)
Carol Dweck and Rachel Simmons: Girls tend to have a "fixed mindset" but they should have a "growth mindset."
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1156 GMT (1956 HKT)
A crisis like the Gaza conflict or the surge of immigrants can be an opportunity for a lame duck president, writes Julian Zelizer
July 26, 2014 -- Updated 1822 GMT (0222 HKT)
Carol Costello says the league's light punishment sent the message that it didn't consider domestic violence a serious offense
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1251 GMT (2051 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says saggy pants aren't the kind of fashion statement protected by the First Amendment.
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1852 GMT (0252 HKT)
Margaret Hoover says some GOP legislators support a state's right to allow same-sex marriage and the right of churches, synagogues and mosques not to perform the sacrament
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1831 GMT (0231 HKT)
Megan McCracken and Jennifer Moreno say it's unacceptable for states to experiment with new execution procedures without full disclosure
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1744 GMT (0144 HKT)
Priya Satia says today's drones for bombardment and surveillance have their roots in the deadly history of Western aerial control of the Middle East that began in World War One
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1635 GMT (0035 HKT)
Jeff Yang says it's great to see the comics make an effort at diversifying the halls of justice
July 26, 2014 -- Updated 1555 GMT (2355 HKT)
Rick Francona says the reported artillery firing from Russian territory is a sign Vladimir Putin has escalated the Ukraine battle
July 27, 2014 -- Updated 1822 GMT (0222 HKT)
Paul Callan says the fact that appeals delay the death penalty doesn't make it an unconstitutional punishment, as one judge ruled
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 2225 GMT (0625 HKT)
Pilot Robert Mark says it's been tough for the airline industry after the plane crashes in Ukraine and Taiwan.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1510 GMT (2310 HKT)
Jennifer DeVoe laments efforts to end subsidies that allow working Americans to finally afford health insurance.
July 26, 2014 -- Updated 1533 GMT (2333 HKT)
Ruti Teitel says assigning a costly and humiliating "collective guilt" to Germany after WWI would end up teaching the global community hard lessons about who to blame for war crimes
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1245 GMT (2045 HKT)
John Sutter responds to criticism of his column on the ethics of eating dog.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1302 GMT (2102 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says it's tempting to ignore North Korea's antics as bluster but the cruel regime is dangerous.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1850 GMT (0250 HKT)
To the question "Is Putin evil?" Alexander Motyl says he is evil enough for condemnation by people of good will.
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1803 GMT (0203 HKT)
Laurie Garrett: Poor governance, ignorance, hysteria worsen the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia.
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1349 GMT (2149 HKT)
Patrick Cronin and Kelley Sayler say the world is seeing nonstate groups such as Ukraine's rebels wielding more power to do harm than ever before
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 2205 GMT (0605 HKT)
Ukraine ambassador Olexander Motsyk places blame for the MH17 tragedy squarely at the door of Russia
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1142 GMT (1942 HKT)
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1853 GMT (0253 HKT)
Les Abend says, with rockets flying over Tel Aviv and missiles shooting down MH17 over Ukraine, a commercial pilot's pre-flight checklist just got much more complicated
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1317 GMT (2117 HKT)
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1637 GMT (0037 HKT)
Gerard Jacobs says grieving families and nations need the comfort of traditional rituals to honor the remains of loved ones, particularly in a mass disaster
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1413 GMT (2213 HKT)
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1630 GMT (0030 HKT)
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1209 GMT (2009 HKT)
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
ADVERTISEMENT