Kids Don’t Grow Up in a Bubble

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As I prepared for my recent retirement as chief district court judge, I spent time reflecting on what I’ve seen and experienced over the past 25 years in the judicial system. I realized that as a judge, district attorney, and assistant district attorney, I’ve seen a lot. But what has stuck with me is, perhaps, not what you would think.

Yes, there have been high-profile cases dealing with the best and worst kind of human behavior. But it’s the parents that I keep coming back to. Parents who are just like most parents. Parents who want the best for their children. Parents who worry about their children’s health, safety and welfare. Parents, who all too often, ended up asking me, “What could I have done?”


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Talk to Your Kids

Kids don’t grow up in a bubble. There is risk everywhere, and perhaps there is more risk today than ever before. Parenting today requires managing risk. To do that, it’s imperative that parents talk to their kids, especially teens, and try to have genuine dialogue about what’s happening outside that family bubble.

Based on my experience, here are the five areas you need to talk about:

  1. Don’t Drive Under the Influence of Anything! Never drink and drive, obviously. But don’t take pills or smoke marijuana and drive either.
  2. Uber or Call Me, No Questions Asked! Never ride in a car with someone who is drinking or doing drugs. I tell my boys to Uber or call me. I will find you a ride and there will be no questions asked.
  3. Don’t Speed or Ride with Speeders – It’s a Deadly Gamble! Don’t speed or ride with someone who is speeding, it can be just as dangerous as driving drunk. I can’t begin to tell you the number of parents I’ve seen who have been devastated to their core by preventable motor vehicle collisions. These collisions that rarely happen because of malice, spite, greed, or ill will, but are just as tragic.
  4. Never Try Pills or Powder! Never use any illegal drug or take any pill other than one prescribed by a doctor. This is not about debating whether certain drugs should be legal or illegal. This is about drugs on the street today and available to children that are way more potent than the ones their parents may have experimented with. The explosion of fentanyl in our community is terrifying to me. Most people would be shocked at the number of individuals I see charged with trafficking large quantities of opium, heroin, and synthetic opiates like fentanyl. We see people charged with pounds of it. Pounds. Enough to kill thousands of people. The harsh reality of it is there is just too much risk in using cocaine, marijuana, heroin, or anything else. These substances are often laced with dangerous chemicals like fentanyl. And the user will never know. Until it’s too late. It just isn’t worth the risk.
  1. Think Before You Share! Social media, cameras, and cell phones. Responsible use of technology can be a great thing but too often I have seen teens (and adults) end up in a courtroom because they have shared private images of themselves or someone else. It’s sad to see teens either charged with felony disclosing private images or the embarrassment of a teen and their parents asking a court to try to stop the spread of them. Yes, kids make mistakes. Social media and technology amplify those mistakes.

What Could I Have Done?

Growing up under the microscope children face today is not easy. And neither is being a parent. Sometimes it’s just easier to put off having that difficult conversation with a child. But what’s worse? Having that conversation, or having to ask someone like me, “What could I have done?”


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Ned Mangum

Ned Mangum is a partner at Smith Debnam. He practices in the areas of family law, professional licensing, and civil litigation. On February 1, 2024, he retired as chief district court judge of Wake County after 25 years with the state of North Carolina that included time serving as the Wake County district attorney. Mangum is a past president of the Wake County Bar Association and currently serves on the North Carolina Board of Law Examiners. He is a graduate of UNC Law and North Carolina State University.

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