On a busy day, perhaps 75 people can pack into the small Columbia County Justice Center courtroom where Chief Magistrate J. Wade Padgett hears cases. As crowded as it gets, few of the people sitting on those benches are in that courtroom by choice.
Conversely, there are nearly 300 seats in the Jabez Sanford Hardin Performing Arts Center at the nearby Columbia Library. On Tuesday at 7 p.m., every one of those seats should be filled voluntarily by parents of teenagers.
If more of those parents come to the performing arts center on Tuesday, perhaps fewer parents will need to escort their teens to court on any given Wednesday. That's because at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Padgett is holding the first of two sessions he's calling "Teenage Years 101." Tuesday's seminar is for parents only; a Sept. 26 session is for teens only.
With collaboration from other judicial and law enforcement officials, Padgett says he decided to take on the session after hearing a few times too many from parents that they could have helped keep their kids out of trouble if they'd only known more about the law.
"I got tired of it," Padgett says. "So I decided to conduct a program that is going to be a relatively in-depth look into the legal issues facing teens in modern society."
Just as many of the defendants sitting in Padgett's courtroom and others squirm uncomfortably during legal proceedings, there will likely be plenty of fidgeting by parents on Tuesday and teens Sept. 26: The truths about teens and crime, sex and drugs can be hard to hear.
Columbia County has a special need for those uncomfortable truths, however. Far too many teens here have gotten in very deep trouble in recent years because of activities they thought were just part of growing up - but which Georgia law treats harshly.
Padgett has made hearing the harsh realities, and strategies for confronting them, somewhat easier by keeping teens and adults separate. It's a smart move: Kids can feel less like their Mom is looking over their shoulder when they're asking sensitive questions, and Dad can learn legal details without letting Junior know how clueless he is.
After those separate sessions, the real talking can begin - between teens and parents. And maybe later there will then be fewer of them fidgeting in Judge Padgett's courtroom.
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