Preventing Juvenile Crime

According to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), the most common crimes committed by youth from 2015-2020 were theft, simple assault, and property crime. Unfortunately, these types of delinquent acts can lead to major detrimental effects on a young person’s life, such as injury, drug use, dropping out of school, incarceration, and future adult criminal behavior.

The next generation is the hope of our society’s future, so if we want to create communities that are thriving in the next few years, we need to ensure our youth are guided in positive directions. The DOJ notes that while many past approaches to fighting juvenile crime focused on remediating disruptive behavior and/or scare tactics, research has shown that prevention and early intervention are much more effective.

Today’s blog focuses on how we can prevent juvenile crime:

Educate yourself. If you are a parent, teacher, coach, or other adult who interacts with teens, you should be familiar with the threats and challenges that modern-day teens are facing. Find out what behaviors are red flags for problems, so that you can immediately intervene. Stay abreast of issues such as local gang symbols, popular drugs, and the symptoms of intoxication. Learn what types of pressure youth are experiencing, such as social media challenges. If you’re aware of the latest trends, you will be able to quickly address emerging problems with the teens you know.

Educate teens. It can be awkward to discuss issues such as drug and alcohol use, sex, and crime with teenagers, but communication with youth is one of the most important steps in preventing juvenile delinquency. If teens do not receive accurate information about these issues from responsible adults, they will almost certainly learn inaccurate information about them from peers, television, and movies. Youth need to know about the effects of drugs, gangs, sex, and weapons on their lives and the lives of others. Teach teens that their actions have consequences.

Supervise teens. When teens are consistently unsupervised every day after school, it opens the door to so many opportunities for temptation. A teenage brain is not fully developed and simply lacks the knowledge, maturity of judgment, and experience required to consistently make good decisions. Research shows that during after-school hours, juvenile crime rates triple, and many unsupervised youngsters experiment with tobacco, alcohol, drugs, and sex. If you are a parent who is routinely not at home after school, please enroll your teen in some type of youth program. Girl and boy scouts, community youth centers, church youth groups, volunteer groups and other recreational programs provide safe and supervised spaces for youth to explore sports, arts, and other activities. Recreation programs also allow youth to connect with other adults and children in the community, creating relationships that can provide an effective deterrent to negative influences. These programs can also help youth feel motivated, engaged, and accepted. Youth who feel like they are a part of a community and who are actively involved in an activity they are passionate about are much less likely to be exposed to or tempted by criminal activity.

Provide positive discipline. While they might not act like it, teens really crave boundaries, limits and structure, and many times teens are looking to their parents to set limits they can’t set for themselves. Studies show that teens with little or no limits are more likely to initiate power struggles with their parents and engage in risky behavior, such as crime, drugs, or sex.

Research supports these strategies for disciplining your teen:

  • Provide clear explanations and reasoning behind your rules and expectations. Also, clearly lay out the consequences for breaking the rules.
  • Identify rules that concern your teen’s safety or that uphold important family values. Let your teen know that these rules are especially important and are non-negotiable.
  • For all other rules, responsibilities, and privileges, work together (negotiate and compromise). Explain what you think the rules should be, ask for your teen’s opinion, and work out a middle ground that everyone can be happy with. Soliciting input from your teen usually inspires more compliance.
  • Choose your battles by ignoring smaller issues in favor of tackling the more important issues.
  • Expect great (but realistic) things from your teen. People, even teens, almost always rise to what is expected of them.
  • Always follow through on consequences. If your teen breaks a rule, always implement the agreed upon discipline.
  • Be sure your discipline is proportionate to the violation and is teaching your teen something. Punishment should not be about getting revenge or causing physical or emotional distress.

Invest time. Busy schedules make it difficult to spend quality time with youth, but teens need regular positive interaction with caring adults in order to make good decisions in their lives. Help them with homework, go to a sports game or movie, ask them to teach you about their favorite interest, or simply watch a favorite TV show together. If you establish regular interactions, teens will feel more comfortable reaching out to you in times of trouble or need.

Get help when needed. When a teen is in serious trouble, it can feel embarrassing to a parent or awkward for a teacher / coach to try to address the issue, but it’s far more important to get the teen the treatment or services they need. Ignoring the problem will only place the teen at greater risk.

Final thoughts…

Juvenile crime is an ongoing problem in the United States and must be addressed. Preventing youth from engaging in risky behavior creates a better society for us all. One way you can help prevent crime is by getting local teens involved in after-school programs, clubs or sports. Many communities offer youth centers for free. Middle Earth offers such a program in our local area of Somerset County, New Jersey. You can find options in your area by contacting your local government or United Way.

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