Parenting Teens: How to Cope if your Teenager is Arrested
First let me say that I am not an attorney. And, therefore, this article does not provide legal advice. If you need an attorney, please consult one in your area. I am a psychotherapist. I have spent 20 years working with teenagers and families in various capacities – homeless and runaway youth, juvenile offenders, court ordered anger management groups, substance abuse counseling, wraparound services for juvenile offenders. In other words, I’ve helped a lot of kids and parents deal with the emotional aspects of being arrested, on probation, or suspended from school.
Here are my best tips for how to cope if your teenager is arrested:
- Manage your anger, sadness, worry, guilt
- Find compassion for yourself and your child
- Seek help for yourself and your teenager
- Take things one step at a time
- Healing takes time
You are probably experiencing a rush of “negative emotions”. Your teenager’s arrest may be a complete shock to you to you may have seen it coming for months. Either way, it’s essential that you find healthy ways to deal with your emotions.
I know it’s tempting to scream and yell, bury yourself in work, lock yourself in your room, and/or drink too much. Obviously, these approaches aren’t going to help you and aren’t modeling the kind of coping skills you want your teen to use. If you need to vent, find someone other than your teenager to listen.
Healthy emotion management may include:
- talking with friends
- going to a support group such as Alanon or CODA
- art, music, or other creative outlets
- prayer, worship
I’d like you to try to practice self-compassion. Having your teenager arrested doesn’t mean you are a bad parent. Self-compassion means that you speak kindly to yourself. Don’t compare yourself to other parents or other families.
Having your teen arrested doesn’t make you a bad parent.
It also doesn’t mean you have a bad kid. Kids act out because they are in pain. It’s an unhealthy way to ask for help, but it is a cry for help none the less.
Kids act out because they are in pain.
I’m not suggesting you accept harmful, disrespectful or unlawful behavior. You need to set limits for your child and give appropriate consequences. At the same time, it will not help to berate your child, point out every mistake s/he’s ever made, shame or humiliate her/him. It is possible to hold your child accountable and stay calm and maintain your self-respect all at the same time.
There are a lot of unknowns when someone is arrested. Your head may be spinning with unanswered questions. There is no way of knowing what the long-term legal, financial, emotional consequences may be. Don’t assume the worst. It’s easy to slide into negative thinking.Your job is to stay present-focused. Don’t spend too much time in “what-if land”. Focus on what you can control and work on accepting that certain things are out of your control.
Dealing with all the ramifications of your teen’s arrest may take quite some time. Healing from it will also take a while. Practice patience. I always say that parenting is a marathon not a sprint. You are in this for the long haul. What is broken? What’s underneath your child’s acting out? And don’t expect your child to tell you. Chances are s/he doesn’t have that kind of insight and if s/he does s/he sure as hell won’t tell you! Don’t try to force relationships or healing if you’re not ready. Recognize when you’re stuck and seek professional help.
A crisis like this one is an opportunity for growth and change. I challenge you, once things have calmed down a bit, to find ways that your child’s arrest can lead to healing for your child and family. You can’t undo what’s already happened. But you can choose to have this experience change you and your family for the better.
If you’re in the San Jose area, I invite you to call me at 408-982-6535 to find out how I can help you cope with your teen’s arrest.