Among my many pointless New Year's resolutions is one genuinely urgent goal:
This year I'm going to stop lying to minors about what it means to behave like an adult.
And you should, too.
First, ask yourself what you mean when you tell a kid something is "adult" in nature.
Now stew on that while you consider that in 2009, more than 3,000 juveniles were arrested, charged or tried in Miami-Dade and Broward counties for alleged crimes ranging from vandalism and minor drug possession to homicide.
Those cases included the October torching of Michael Brewer, 15, in Pompano Beach, allegedly by former friends Matthew Bent, Denver Colorado Jarvis and Jesus Mendez, over a video game debt and Brewer's telling police that Bent had tried to steal his father's custom bicycle.
Brewer suffered second- and third-degree burns, and was in the hospital for two months.
Teah Wimberly, 15, was convicted of second-degree murder in December for the 2008 shooting of Amanda Collette, 15, at Dillard High School in Fort Lauderdale after Collette rejected Wimberly's romantic advances.
What do these stories have in common? They got under way with adults debating over whether the accused behaved as juveniles or adults.
The legal basis for those debates is understandable: As much as it may stick in your craw to acknowledge it, some kids may not have the mental capacity to face adult treatment for their criminal behavior. Others know exactly what they're doing.
But before any of these kids ever reached the inside of a jail cell or a courtroom, what messages were they sent about what it means to behave like an adult?
Whatever your politics and whatever your stance on criminal charges for minors, adults have a tendency to declare certain behaviors adult-like, the domain of grown-ups, the realm of grown folks, the territory of people who sit at the oak table and not the card table during holiday meals.
Kill another human being for reasons other than last-resort self-defense? We tell kids that's adult behavior.
Purposely injure another human being? That's adult behavior.
Brandish a weapon and rob someone? That's adult behavior.
Make a baby even though you're immature and broke? That's adult behavior.
The problem with scolding kids before they become inmates or premature parents by warning them that certain bad acts are owned by adults is that we unwittingly give credibility to those acts by describing them as "adult."
Back to the question we started with: What message do you mean to convey when you tell a kid that a behavior is "adult"?
I admit, I mean to suggest that behavior reflects maturity.
But there's nothing at all mature about murder, robbery, irresponsible sex and so on.
During a temper tantrum last week, my neighbor screamed from his doorway that other neighbors should respect and quit picking on him because he's "an adult, almost 50 years old." His message was that his age justified his behavior.
So in 2010 if your child, niece, nephew or child of a neighbor who won't shoot you for daring to correct his kid displays violent or recklessly irresponsible tendencies, do 'em a favor and tell them as firmly as possible that theirs was not adult behavior, but rather that of someone with no clue about what it means to be grown.