You get a call from the police late one night. They just arrested your teenager. They claim he or she broke the law. Your teen is in custody and facing some serious charges.
Your first thought is probably: “What should I do now?” But it’s likely closely followed by: “Why did this happen?”
It’s not always simple. Teenage crime can be a complex issue and you have to take a lot of different factors into account. Here are a few reasons that young people may break the law, even when you feel you raised them to know better.
They want to be independent
Yes, you raised them to follow the law, but your teenager is turning into an adult. They want some independence. They don’t want to feel like you control their life — or that any other adult does. This doesn’t always lead to wise decisions, but they may do something illegal specifically because it is illegal and because they know you would never condone it.
Similarly, teens may start searching for their own identity, and they’ll try and reject many things. One could be this lifestyle that strays outside of the law.
Brain development is not done yet
This isn’t an insult to teens, who can be very smart and intelligent, but the truth is that science shows that brain development continues until well past the teen years. Before that brain development is finished, teens may make decisions that they’ll regret and that they’ll barely be able to explain later.
They choose to test authority
All children, teens included, like to push the boundaries. They like to test authority. When someone tells them that they can’t do something, that often makes them want to do it even more. This isn’t so bad when it’s a 3-year-old tapping the table with a spoon because you told them to stop hitting the table, but it becomes an issue when it’s a teen shoplifting just to see if they can get away with it.
They got influenced by friends
The friends your teen chooses do matter. Teens are notoriously susceptible to peer pressure, which comes from a deep desire to fit in. If their friends pressure them to break the law, they may do it even if they don’t really want to do it. They may also just get influenced by friends who break the law to think that it’s normal or that it’s not a big deal — until they get caught.
Understanding why this happened is only half of the battle. You also need to know what legal options you have and what steps you and your teen can take moving forward. You need to think about their future and work to protect it if possible.