Crime rates among children and adolescents aren’t necessarily on the rise, but a recent string of juvenile criminal activities in the area might indicate that the perpetrators are getting younger and more violent, according to local child and teen behavioral experts.
Children as young as 10 have been involved in crimes in Columbia and Aiken counties recently. Four teens and an 11-year-old were arrested in a Grovetown home invasion in which intruders threatened a 42-year-old woman at gunpoint Sunday. On Monday night, a 10-year-old trick-or-treater pulled a gun on a woman who said she would take his Halloween candy in Aiken County.
Four of the youths involved in the Grovetown home invasion were from Augusta.
On Oct. 28, authorities charged a 15-year-old Evans girl with conspiring to kidnap and kill another student. Columbia County sheriff’s deputies arrested Christian-Reef Adams Annis, 17, on Monday on charges of assisting in the plot. Annis told police the girl “was going to beat her with a crowbar,” according to a sheriff’s office incident report.
Columbia County Juvenile Court Judge Doug Flanagan has not seen a rise in court cases over the past five years, but he did say juveniles committing crimes are getting younger and more violent. Some role models set poor standards for behavior and are unaware of their children’s habits, Flanagan said.
“I think we attribute it to parents who need to pay more attention to their children,” he said. “The problem almost always starts at home.”
Juvenile crime has resulted from declining social values over a long period of time, Columbia County Sheriff Clay Whittle said.
“It didn’t happen today. It’s happened over 15 years,” Whittle said. “I don’t think we have an epidemic.”
Young people have always been responsible for shoplifting and auto break-ins, but more are involved in burglaries today, he said.
Dr. Eric Lewkowiez, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at Medical College of Georgia Hospital and Clinics, said that in addition to a lack of positive role models, conduct such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and social ineptness can contribute to violent behavior. Young people constantly bullied by their peers will eventually act out, he said.
Contrary to popular belief, research studies do not support that violent video games and media contribute to a more violent society, he said. Violent acts by teenagers might be receiving more attention and not necessarily occurring more often, he said.
“Plenty of people play very violent video games and never commit a violent act,” Lewkowiez said.
Superior Court Judge Wade Padgett, who educates teens and their parents on legal issues, said the courts handle violent youth crimes for which they weren’t originally designed.
“Some of the things we are seeing are so violent that they can’t get a second chance,” Padgett said. “They become true criminals not just delinquent juveniles.”