Most Common Crime Committed by Youth
The most common crime committed by juveniles is the United States is theft. This can include shoplifting, robbery, burglary, and other property theft. Unfortunately, teens that steal and get away with it tend to progress further and further into criminal activity. It becomes a slippery slope that leads a teen to a destructive lifestyle.
So, how do we keep a teen on the straight and narrow?
The most effective way to prevent juvenile delinquency has been through:
- Education (informing teens of our values and what the consequences are for different crimes and behaviors),
- Positive recreation (involving teens in wholesome, constructive activities),
- Community involvement (opportunities for teens to interact in a safe social environment and develop a sense of belonging), and
- Bullying prevention (victims and perpetrators of bullying are both more likely to become involved with risky behaviors).
Additionally, programs that intervene in the lives of youth with a first offense, offering a consequence such as community service instead of detention in a juvenile facility, have been shown to be very effective in preventing repeat offenses.
The least effective strategies for tackling juvenile delinquency are those that try to “scare” youth. Boot camps, prosecution as an adult, and other forms of scare tactics have not been shown to have a positive impact on a teen’s future.
Early Prevention Strategies for Parents
Parents have the most influence over the behaviors of their children, and it begins at a young age. The best ways for you to prevent a multitude of problem behaviors in adolescence is to implement these strategies throughout your child’s lifetime:
- Spend time together as a family
- Eat meals together at least five times per week
- Take an active interest in your children’s lives
- Stay involved in your children’s school life and extracurricular activities
- Role model positive decision-making, problem-solving, and coping skills
- Offer positive recreational activities to keep them engaged with law-abiding peers
What Parents Can Do for Teens
Here are the best ways to prevent your teen from engaging in theft:
Talk to your teen. Don’t just assume your child knows that stealing is wrong. Sometimes, when a value is not stated directly by a parent, and a child sees peers engaging in an activity, they may assume it’s acceptable. It’s important to help kids and teens understand why stealing is wrong and that they may face serious consequences if they continue to steal.
Be observant. Parents should be aware of their teen and notice any new items of clothing and/or devices they have or if they seem to suddenly have a lot of money. Don’t be afraid to ask your teen where they obtained their new treasures. Being observant allows your teen to know you care and are paying attention. If the items are stolen, your questions may spark your teen to stop the behavior. Sometimes just the realization that a parent is monitoring them can make a teen choose better behaviors.
Enforce logical consequences. If you catch your teen stealing, there should be an immediate consequence. If your teen stole money from you, offer your teen options for paying back the money, like doing extra chores around the house. If your teen stole something from a store, have your teen accompany you to the store to return the item and apologize. If your teen was arrested for a theft, find out if your area offers a program that gives community service for a first-time offense. Serving others provides your teen a consequence while simultaneously makes your teen more aware of the needs of others and realize that they have the power to use their energy for positive things.
Get help for repeat offenses. If your teen has stolen on more than one occasion, please enlist professional help. Repeat offenses may indicate a bigger problem. One third of juveniles who’ve been caught shoplifting say it’s difficult for them to quit.
When we are able to prevent a youth from developing into an adult that engages in illegal activity, we are saving taxpayers almost $55,000 per year (the average annual cost of imprisoning an adult inmate), not to mention that we are leading a youth to a happier life where they make a positive contribution to society.
Middle Earth runs a program in Somerset County, NJ that provides mandatory community service to first-time offenders who commit minor (petty) offenses. Over the last 5 years, 94% of Middle Earth’s participants did not commit another offense within six months of finishing the program. If you are interested in supporting these types of programs, please consider writing to your local government officials to ask for their support or making a donation to Middle Earth.
For further information on this subject, please read our previous blog, Teen Shoplifting, where we discuss reasons, penalties, and prevention of shoplifting.