How to Prevent Teens from Destroying Property

In today’s current online environment, social media has encouraged vandalism through challenges, dares, or viral trends. For example, after the pandemic, the “Devious Licks” trend on TikTok portrayed students stealing or destroying items in school.

The US Department of Justice defines vandalism as “willful or malicious destruction, injury, disfigurement, or defacement of any public or private property, real or personal, without the consent of the owner or persons having custody or control.” Vandalism includes a wide variety of acts, including graffiti, damaging property (smashing mailboxes, trashing school property, breaking windows, etc.), stealing street signs, arson, egging homes or cars, toilet papering homes, and other types of mischief.

Why do teens engage in vandalism?

There are a number of reasons why a teen might vandalize property, including:

  • peer pressure and/or trying to look cool or make peers laugh
  • dares or challenges from others
  • trying to get likes / comments on social media
  • initiation into a gang or other high control group
  • boredom (teens might view it as fun way to pass time where no one gets hurt)
  • revenge
  • form of self-expression or way to get attention

How can parents prevent vandalism?

Talk to your children. Often, teens think vandalism is a ‘victimless crime’; in other words, they don’t believe they’re hurting anyone by spray painting graffiti, breaking a school toilet, or tossing a few eggs at a car. Help them see the ramifications of their actions. Explain to them that vandalism costs the property owners and taxpayers a lot of money because the property must be repaired and the crime must be investigated. That takes money away from other important things that your teen may care about. For example, because the school has to use money to repair property damage, they may have to cut out an art program. Besides repairing damage, there are other high costs to teen vandalism. Publicly viewable vandalism changes the atmosphere of a place. It may give the impression that the people in the area do not value their space and that the area is not well-protected and perhaps unsafe. Finally, it’s important that parents communicate that vandalism is a crime. If they are caught, they can be charged with a crime and that will stain their permanent record as they try to go to college and start a career.

Partner with your teen’s school. Schools have been a major victim of property damage recently, and many of them do not have the budget for costly repairs. Team up with other parents and students to raise funds to repair any vandalized property.

Stay involved. Know where your teens are at all times because a teen who knows his parent cares and is involved is less likely to vandalize.

Report vandalism. If you see an area that has been damaged or defaced by teen vandalism, report it immediately. If it’s your own property, make any necessary repairs as soon as you are cleared to do so by local authorities. Often, teens will continue vandalizing an area if they believe nobody is watching or nobody cares that it has been defaced.

Provide alternatives. One of the best ways to keep teens from engaging in vandalism, or really in any negative or risky behavior, is to provide teens with positive alternatives to use their free time. Encourage your teen to take up a sport, club, exercise class, or extracurricular activity. Suggest they get a job babysitting, mowing lawns, or walking dogs, which will instill a strong work ethic and help them earn extra money while keeping them busy. Check your local YMCA, churches, Boys and Girls Clubs, 4H, and other youth nonprofits for safe teen activities. Often, teens can take classes at the local community college and transfer the credits to the college of their choice after high school. For more information on this idea, please read our previous blog “Are Extracurricular Activities Important?”

What should parents do if they find out their teen vandalized something?

If you find out your child has vandalized something, the best consequence is to make them clean it up and/or pay for repairs. When they have to scrape off the gross, dried egg and they see that it takes off paint, or they have to use their money to repair damaged property, the message will be loud and clear. Use their mistake as a great way for your teen to learn consequences for their actions.

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