Risk-Taking Is All Part of Adolescence, Says Family Judge

A celebrity-obsessed young woman’s belief that she had performed dismally in a televised talent show became the focus of a High Court case in which a family judge recognised that a certain amount of risk-taking is a normal part of the learning experience of adolescence.

The woman, who was on the autistic spectrum and had a low IQ, was plunged into depression and a crisis of confidence by her appearance on the show. Although she had in fact done impressively well, she felt that she had become an object of ridicule. She subsequently got involved in risky, promiscuous and self-destructive behaviour which prompted local authority social workers to doubt her legal capacity to make decisions for herself.

She dropped out of college and showed little appreciation of the dangers posed by strangers. She met a number of men who contacted her on social media, some of whom were said to have exploited her. She became sexually disinhibited and began a toxic relationship with a woman who turned out to have a hoax online profile and a false identity.

In those circumstances, the local authority sought a declaration that she lacked the capacity to make her own choices about where she should live, to look after herself or to form sensible relationships. In refusing that application, however, the judge noted that some risk-taking in adolescence is a perfectly healthy part of the process of growing up.

The woman’s fascination with celebrity and fame was unusual but, in many ways, she was typical of her age group. She dressed fashionably, worried about her appearance and kept her bedroom in complete disarray. Although she lived at home with her mother, who cared for her, she had a group of friends and aspired to live independently. In the months which it had taken for the case to reach court, she appeared to have matured, grown in confidence and learned from her mistakes.

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