Uncommon Common Sense
Wednesday August 27th 2014

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Seven Things To Do If Your Child is Arrested

It could be a triffic cita­tion, or a felony, but you may be look­ing at charges against your child. The legal sys­tem can be con­fus­ing and intim­i­dat­ing, espe­cially when you are in shock, and pos­si­bly even embarrassed.

It’s nat­ural to feel alien­ated from the process since you don’t speak the legal lan­guage and pro­fes­sion­als can appear to be cold and mechan­i­cal. Still, there are ways to deal with these real­i­ties, and turn the sit­u­a­tion into a more pos­i­tive and valu­able learn­ing expe­ri­ence, par­tic­u­larly for your child. Here are some sug­ges­tions from a pro­ba­tion officer:

1. Don’t panic or over­re­act. If you do, you prob­a­bly won’t get all of the facts, nor will they be straight. It’s easy enough to shut down com­mu­ni­ca­tion with a teenager, and right now you need to know what hap­pened. Your child is most likely upset, either because he/she has been wrongly accused, or because they know they have done some­thing wrong and have to face it. You will find out more if you con­trol your reac­tions long enough to hear your child’s story, and it may take some gen­tle and patient prodding.

2. Address the issue of guilt or inno­cence.  The bot­tom line for your child is, “Did you do it?”  Don’t bad­ger, but ask clear, con­cise and rel­e­vant ques­tions.  After you have the facts, decide if your child is admit­ting or deny­ing the charge, then approach the mat­ter from that stance.  Nat­u­rally you should admit the truth, but not every­one who is accused is guilty.

It is not a good idea to deny charges that are true.  Not only will it drag things out, doing so will sug­gest to your child that hon­esty is not the best pol­icy and that the sys­tem is a game to be played and won, regard­less of the moral­ity involved.  It is absolutely the wrong mes­sage to give a teenager.

3.  Reas­sure your child.  One com­pli­ca­tion that arises from an arrest is the child’s fear that he/she has destroyed your con­fi­dence, love and respect.  Reas­sure them of your love and tell them (yes — tell them – don’t assume they know) that this sit­u­a­tion will not change that bond, even though you may not be happy with their behavior.

4.  Ask ques­tions.  By now you have already ques­tioned your child, so when you deal with the pro­fes­sion­als, don’t be afraid to ask some more.  Feel free to call tele­phone num­bers that are listed on the ticket, or the appoint­ment let­ter, and ask about the upcom­ing hear­ing.  If you can, speak to the offi­cer your child will be see­ing.  Get a feel­ing for the process and find out what you need to do to pre­pare.  When you do appear for the hear­ing, aks about any­thing you don’t under­stand.  No one will think you’re fool­ish, or stu­pid.  It’s easy for prac­ti­tion­ers to for­get what a shak­ing expe­ri­ence this is for most peo­ple.  Remind them that this is new to you.

5.  Don’t worry about what the neigh­bors will think.  They prob­a­bly aren’t aware any­way, since juve­nile mat­ters are gen­er­ally not open to pub­lic scrutiny.  Decide among fam­ily mem­bers what you will and won’t talk about out­side the home, then stick to it.  If you feel it is a sit­u­a­tion you need to share in order to gain strength, or to help oth­ers, then by all means, do so.

6.  Work with the author­i­ties.  Your rela­tion­ship with any peace offi­cer can make or break your child’s expe­ri­ence.  First, agree with them regard­ing com­mon goals, then coop­er­ate.  You can under­mine their efforts to redi­rect your child or you can help each other enforce the lim­its imposed.  But don’t abdi­cate your respon­si­bil­ity or your author­ity.  You are still the pri­mary care-giver.  If, for some rea­son, a pro­ba­tion offi­cer is assigned to your child and it isn’t work­ing, ask to speak to a super­vi­sor, and try to work things out.  But be objec­tive in your dis­cus­sion.  If you go in guns-a-blazing you may be con­sid­ered a hot-head and the super­vi­sor will auto­mat­i­cally assume you are to blame for the break­down, rather than tak­ing a look at the officer’s conduct.

7.  Approach the sit­u­a­tion with opti­mism and faith, if pos­si­ble.  You don’t want your child to “get off the hook” for some­thing he/she has done, but you do want them to learn some­thing.  Look for and encour­age wis­dom in the judge, the pro­ba­tion offi­cer, and any­one else with whom your child will come into con­tact.  This is not the last word in your child’s life, and you should expect things to get better.

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