For many teens, adolescence sparks a time of rebellion. In some cases, that rebellion can be severe enough to lead to criminal behavior. Although heartbreaking and alarming for parents, it’s important to proceed carefully if your teen breaks the law. Even in the face of great disappointment, you must strive to love your teen through his mistakes as the way you express your love may be critical in facilitating the change he needs to put him on a positive path.
Separate your feelings about your teen’s behavior from your love for her, advises the U.S. Department of Education in the “Helping Your Child Through Early Adolescence” brochure. Although you may feel angry, frustrated, embarrassed and hurt by your teen’s conduct, your personal feelings should not impede your unconditional love for her. Preventing yourself from taking your teen’s conduct personally should help you make this distinction.
Hold your teen accountable for his conduct, advises social worker James Lehman, with the Empowering Parents website. Personal accountability and responsibility generally involves stepping back and allowing the law enforcement and judicial systems to handle the crime as according to protocol. The authorities may release your teen to your custody if the offense is minor or your child may receive a referral to juvenile court, according to Focus Adolescent Services. Whatever occurs, cooperate in a positive manner with the authorities.
Discuss the situation with your teen. Communicate your unwavering and unconditional love for your teen. However, tell your child that her actions and conduct are unacceptable. You might express your dismay and disappointment in your child, but strive to keep your demeanor calm and respectful. By using self-control as you handle this situation, you demonstrate a mature, problem-solving approach for your teen.
Institute personal consequences in addition to whatever formal consequences your teen will experience. Personal consequences are important because your teen not only broke the law, she also likely violated family rules of conduct. For example, if your teen broke curfew and the police arrested her, she not only broke the city’s curfew law, she likely violated your rule for curfew as well. Accordingly, this breach should involve a connected consequence within your family, such as grounding for a specific length of time.
Initiate a conversation about learning lessons with your teen to help cement the learning experience in his mind, suggests extension specialists Maria R. de Guzman and Kathy R. Bosch, with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension. By connecting risky behavior or mistakes with the associated consequences, you help ensure that your teen understands how his actions resulted in the connected consequences.
Advocate for your child within the legal system, as appropriate. This may include hiring a lawyer to help you resolve charges, according to the Focus Adolescent Services. Cooperate with and maintain involvement during the process, attending hearings and appointments.