In 2022, Maryland passed the Child Interrogation Protection Act, which, among other things, requires that children speak with a lawyer before being interrogated by police. This year, the Maryland General Assembly is considering removing this safeguard by allowing parents, rather than attorneys, to act as children’s legal advocates. As psychologists who work in the legal system, we strongly oppose this change, which incorrectly assumes that parents provide the same degree of legal protection as lawyers do.

Decades of research have made clear that children are psychologically different from adults: They make riskier and more impulsive decisions, are more easily manipulated and often fail to fully appreciate the consequences of their actions, which is why we don’t entrust them to buy cigarettes, sign contracts, consent to sex or even use tanning beds.

Those weaknesses do not disappear when a child enters a police station, an unfamiliar and stressful environment that children are ill-equipped to navigate on their own. Indeed, studies have shown that children often fail to understand their legal rights and give false statements to police more often than adults do. Accordingly, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2011 that “children cannot be viewed simply as miniature adults” and need special legal protections such as those provided by the Child Interrogation Protection Act.

The unfortunate reality is that many parents cannot provide such protection. Compared to their children, parents do tend to be more knowledgeable about some aspects of the legal system, but even adults are often unaware of their own legal rights, let alone their children’s. For instance, many parents are unaware that their child has the right to remain silent, and most are unaware that police can legally lie to criminal suspects — including claiming to have evidence that doesn’t actually exist, which is a known risk factor for false confession that several U.S. states have now prohibited when interrogating a child.

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Parents could even make matters worse by urging their children to tell police what they want to hear, even if that means providing unreliable information in a misguided attempt to use the interrogation as a teachable moment. In the infamous Central Park Five case, for example, 15-year-old Antron McCray’s father convinced him to falsely confess to a brutal assault and rape because he mistakenly believed that they could go home if his son confessed. Instead, McCray spent six years in prison for a crime that he did not commit, while the true perpetrator raped several other women, killing one of them.

This example illustrates a crucial point: When acting on unreliable information, police risk detaining an innocent suspect and thus believing that the case is “closed,” while the true perpetrator remains free to victimize others, which they frequently do. So while opponents of the current law have lamented children invoking their right to silence, they must also ask themselves what is worse for public safety: Misleading information, or none at all?

Critics have argued that policing is more difficult when more children invoke their right to silence. While that may be true, choosing to keep children unaware of their constitutional rights is plainly unethical and un-American. Imagine if we treated other cherished rights this way: We shouldn’t tell people that they can vote or bear arms because then they might actually do those things. The argument is absurd on its face. Moreover, the current law does not prohibit children from talking to police; it merely helps them to make a more informed decision about whether they want to talk.

Parents undoubtedly play critical roles in children’s lives, and they should be notified when their child is taken into police custody, which the Child Interrogation Protection Act also requires. But protecting a child’s best interests in their everyday life does not equip parents to do the same in a stressful and often-convoluted legal setting. That job is best left to the experts.

Johanna Hellgren, is an assistant professor of psychology at the University of New Haven. Jeff Kukucka is an associate professor of psychology at Towson University. Erika Fountain is an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

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