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Grammar

Ditch the Terms Juveniles and Minors, AP Style Says

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Every two years, The Associated Press Stylebook releases a major update. This year, one change involves the terms juveniles and minors.

When it comes to law enforcement, police officers love their jargon. Those of us who write professionally and who have to turn to law enforcement agencies for incident reports know this well. Most journalists hate using jargon because it sounds inappropriately cold and informal. Two of the words that irritate me most when I come across them are juveniles and minors.

The reason I hate them is simple: no one in regular, conversational English ever uses those terms.

We might talk about a “juvenile delinquent” because that’s a well-known phrase that has been around forever. But in day-to-day English, we just don’t use those terms.

The newest version of The Associated Press Stylebook has addressed these long-hated terms. AP Style serves as the writing style guide for newsrooms around the globe. The intent is that newsrooms who are members of the Associated Press write with the same styling conventions so that their content can be shared more easily among their members.

The 2024-2026 guide adds a new section on criminal justice. One of things that definitely caught my eye is an update on those two annoying terms.

Poynter wrote about some of the changes in AP Style and it explained AP’s reasoning. It’s about more than just being more conversational:

Juvenile and minor are broad terms that can carry legal connotations when sometimes there are none … The terms’ clinical tone can inadvertently suggest guilt in situations of crime or conflict,” the entry reads. “They can be dehumanizing. They can be perceived as having racial connotations. Their definitions can vary across jurisdictions.”

The new recommendation — one I’ve tried to use for quite a while — is either child or teenager (or teen).

Everyone uses those words in everyday English. They’re much better than the “clinical” alternatives.

But police reports don’t always make it easy

The amount of information law enforcement agencies release differ from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Most agencies will always redact or “black out” sensitive information about victims of crimes when they release those incident reports to media outlets. But they will usually allow at least the gender and age of the victim to be released.

Some law enforcement agencies go over the top with police-speak. They’ll refer to a “juvenile female” instead of a girl or a “juvenile male” instead of a boy.

But other agencies, however, block out everything when it comes to underage victims. You can argue whether that’s a good call or a bad call. I see both sides. A crime committed against a four-year-old girl might seem more heinous than a crime committed against, say, a 12-year-old boy. But is that a fair judgment? Isn’t any crime committed against a child particularly bad?

So I understand the hesitancy to release an age. At the same time, it makes things less precise in reporting: a 12-year-old is a child to be sure. A 13-year-old, while also a child, is also a teenager. Given those young ages, there’s not much of a distinction. But it’s still more specific and specificity is always a goal when you’re trying to be clear when you write.

Some teens may object to being called “boys” or “girls.” But legally, if they’re not adults, they’re children.

I’m just glad there’s guidance to ditch juveniles and minors as terms anyone should use!

the authorPatrick
Patrick is a Christian with more than 30 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.

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