How to people learn? By making mistakes.
Everyone has to live a little, experiment with their surroundings, and make mistakes in order to learn for themselves how the world works.
At no time is this truer than when we are growing up – and as we grow, the potential of those mistakes to be bigger and more impactful grows with us.
Which brings us to teenagers. According to all available scientific evidence, teens are primed for this kind of behavior because the adolescent brain hasn’t finished developing in the areas that allow them to check many of their worst impulses.
As associate Professor of Psychology and PhD Jason Chein states, “If an opportunity seems like it will be emotionally arousing, [adolescents’] brain systems are primed to take action, rather than think about the long-term consequences.”
This is why it’s imperative to create an environment in which teens can learn to make good choices. Unfortunately, the opposite is often true as well – if teens are not given the tools and social support they need to choose wisely, it’s not uncommon for them to head down a dark path. In some cases, this can even lead to them engaging in criminal behavior.
There are certain key structures which allow young people the freedom to explore themselves and their place in the world in a safe and constructive way, and breaks in them can leave developing adolescents at higher risk for juvenile delinquency.
In this post, we’re going to take a look at some of the factors that can make a teenager more at-risk for committing criminal acts.
Contributing Economic Factors
Not surprisingly, studies show that when children experience deprivation of basic needs such as hunger, poor housing, and homelessness, they are at much greater risk of engaging in criminal activity.
Sometimes it’s a means of emotional escape. In other cases, it’s an attempt to improve their poor economic conditions. Unfortunately, it is not as uncommon to see teens facing charges of theft when their families are unable to meet their needs.
Stealing is just the tip of the iceberg. Some teens sell drugs or stolen property in order to improve their own – or their family’s – economic situation.
If your teen is facing charges you believe may have been caused by poor economic conditions within your family, an attorney specializing in juvenile crimes can advise you on how to reach the most beneficial outcome for his or her future.
If you have a child who struggles with mental illness or behavioral problems such as aggression, hyperactivity, or ADD and their condition goes untreated and unchecked, they may be more likely to engage in illegal activities.
There are a number of programs available through the State of Illinois for concerned parents in need of assistance. Checking into them may be the difference between contentment and a life of crime for your child.
Although every parent must face emotional ups-and-downs with a teenager in the house, careful guidance and attention (whether it’s wanted or not) is the best way to equip particularly emotionally-charged teens to face those influences beyond your parental control.
As shored-up as you can make your child’s home environment, their friends and outside social life are going to play a pivotal role in influencing them. There are, however, situations and reasons where peers might have an even greater influence over your teen.
- If your teen has high proportion of unsupervised time with peers
- If peers are involved in problem behavior
- If peers solicit involvement in problem behavior early
- If bullying is involved
Despite experts cautioning that labeling juveniles as gang members can create a stigma that causes lifelong problems for them (yet serves little purpose for police), The Chicago Tribune reported recently that nearly 33 thousand arrested juveniles have been labeled as such by Chicago police over the last two decades.
When you are told by someone with authority (like the police) that you are something before you’ve ever had a chance to figure out who and what you can be, the label often sticks.
Lack of Involvement/Lots of Free Time
If these aren’t the issues for your at-risk teen, perhaps they are just bored. Picking up a part-time job or joining social clubs or team sports can provide the sense of community they may be missing.
Psychological research on brain development and teen impulsivity continues to change the way the justice system treats teens overall. We still have work to do, but these changes are trickling down to interventions that could help keep them out of the system in the first place.
For instance, the Illinois criminal justice system recently increased second chances to juvenile offenders through House Bill 3817, which expanded juvenile criminal records eligibility for automatic expungement at age 18.
We understand now that adolescence is a time when the brain has increased sensitivity to rewards and that with more time for development, adolescent brains are better able to consider the long-term implications of bad decisions.
Being aware of the influences both at home and at large is the first step to helping prevent your at-risk teen from committing juvenile crimes.
About the Author:
Andrew M. Weisberg is a former felony prosecutor who now serves as a defense attorney in the greater Chicago area. He has extensive experience in handling all types of criminal cases, from sex offenses and domestic violence to retail theft-related crimes, murder, and drug crimes.