That promising future, however, can come crashing down if your supposedly innocent teenager hangs around with the wrong crowd or makes a mistake that can come back to haunt them. For example, if your teen pulls an online prank, he could be charged with a misdemeanor, an act that can stay on his record for many years, requiring the assistance of a lawyer to expunge. Otherwise, many colleges and universities may reject your son or daughter if he or she has a criminal record, no matter how “innocent” the infraction.
Tried as an Adult
When your child turns 18, she is considered an adult. However, in many states juveniles can be tried as an adult and, if you’re in North Carolina, New York or Connecticut, everyone from 16 on up is automatically prosecuted as an adult. Moreover, there are 10 states which try 17-year-olds as adults too.
For parents, the legal system can seem confusing and contradictory. In some states, a juvenile needs her parent’s permission to pierce her ears, but not for obtaining birth control or, in some cases, to have an abortion. All states make young adults wait until they are 21 before being allowed to purchase alcohol; however, teens can drive as young as 15 in some states.
Most teens are “good kids” and aren’t likely to get into the kind of trouble that “juvies” find themselves in. However, one wrong-headed move and your child could be in for some legal trouble, perhaps sentenced for a crime. In prison, he or she will be exposed to an unsavory element and may find themselves pulled further down a path leading to a life of crime.
The path to adulthood for teenagers is fraught with many challenges as young folks navigate their way forward. J. Tom Morgan, a nationally recognized expert on crimes involving juveniles, cautions parents about the many pitfalls facing youth today. Writing for “Carolina Parent” Morgan notes that so-called “harmless pranks” include what some parents may have done when they were young, decisions that can result in criminal prosecution.
For example, using a fake I.D. to gain access to a bar is a misdemeanor. In time’s past, your officer of the law may have simply confiscated the I.D.s and called your parents. Today, police may haul your child in.
Attending a party where alcohol is served can mean your child will be arrested even if he doesn’t take a sip. An officer can claim “probable cause” and round up everyone and charge them with a misdemeanor. Furthermore, as parents you can be held responsible for your teen’s secret party held at your home while you were away. Many states have “social host liability” laws on the books where you’re responsible as a homeowner if a friend of your son or daughter leaves your home and gets into trouble such as drunken driving. Imagine the grief and lawsuit you’ll face if someone is injured or dies.
Morgan also warns parents about the Internet, noting that certain online pranks can have serious ramifications. A threatening email, a nasty comment left on MySpace or Facebook, or repeatedly instant messaging someone who told them to stop can result in charges of cyberstalking. Your teen must understand that actions do have consequences.
Should your son or daughter find themselves in trouble, you may be able to get the misdemeanor dismissed. In some locales, such as Tucson, some first-time offenders can get have their charges dismissed which means there is no criminal conviction nor a trial. No fine is levied either, but the offender will be required to complete a one-day 7 1/2 hour counseling session through the city’s diversion program. That program costs $200 and, if restitution must be made, then an additional cost is assessed.
Clearly, curtailing teen behavior is in everyone’s best interests and can save your child from heading down a path of ruination. Commit a misdemeanor in some locales and your son or daughter may not have the sympathetic ear of a judge or jury to offer up a second chance.