Prep for Parenting Your Modern Family

Posted on November 23rd, 2015, 0 Comments

Modern Family: Season 7, Episode 6, The More You Ignore Me

Plotline: Luke Gets Arrested: Take 2
The first take on this episode dealt with why teens make risky choices and the ways we parents can help our kids make better, safer decisions. But regardless of how well we’ve parented them, kids sometimes do dangerous or foolish things.

As we saw with Luke tonight, occasionally the reckless things kids do end-up in a call from the police.
Phil: Who’s calling at this hour? (Answering phone) Hello? Yes? (Then to Claire) Luke has been arrested!

The next day we learn what Luke did.
Phil: Well, good morning, Leonard.
Luke: Leonard?
Phil: I know it’s not my well-behaved son, Luke, who’d never take our car out without a license and get arrested.

There’s nothing that can make a parent more anxious than a phone call from the police, letting them know that their kid has been arrested. Changing police tactics and more school-based police have made the possibility more likely. In fact, nearly one in three young people will be arrested by the time they turn 23 according to a recent study published in the journal Pediatrics.

Hopefully, you’ll never get such a phone call, but knowing how to respond is the best way to minimize a crisis. So here are a few things you need to know – just in case:

Even good kids sometimes do reckless things. Teens’ desire to try new things and fit-in, their lack of experience, daring friends, and too much free time can nudge even good kids over the line and get them arrested.

The police are not on your side. The job of the police is to enforce the law, so they shouldn’t be on anyone’s side. They respond to what they see and to complaints they receive. They may try to arrest only those who have committed a crime, but that isn’t always how it works out. And the fact is, many kids did the things they are arrested for doing.

Stay curious about what happened. If you get a call from the police, informing you that your teen has been arrested, it’s bound to be traumatic. You’ll likely be shocked, worried, and angry. After all, this is your kid who has messed-up. But don’t jump to conclusions or rush to judgment about your child or the arresting police officer. Instead try to stay curious about what happened. This will help you remain calm so that you can deal with the situation as effectively as possible.

If your child is in custody, you need to quickly go to where your child is being held. But know that your rights as a parent may be limited. Your child has a federal right to have a lawyer (but not a parent) present. Some states require conferring with parents before questioning. And many departments will allow parents to be present, but that is up to the investigating officer or their supervisor to decide.

If the police intend to charge your child with a crime, hire a lawyer who specializes in juvenile law. If your child was questioned, you need to find out if they are under investigation for a crime. Sometimes police will tell parents this, but often they won’t. Instead of asking about this yourself, have a lawyer contact the investigating officer to ask.

Whatever the case, don’t act as a lawyer. Hiring a lawyer who is experienced in dealing with teens will help you work towards a solution that is in the best interest of your child. This is important because criminal law tends to focus more on punishment. And any criminal record that remains can have a big impact on your child’s future.

It’s almost always best if you say nothing to the police until a lawyer is present. Well-intentioned parents often inadvertently hurt their child’s case. For example, parents are likely to persuade their child to tell the truth – which could cause the teen to say something incriminating. Or parents may allow an unrequired search of their home to please the police. None of this helps your child, regardless of whether or not your child did what the police suspect.

The best way to find a lawyer is by referral. Ask trusted friends and colleagues as well as your state’s bar association for names of attorneys who specialize in juvenile law. Consider calling-up a few lawyers now, before you need one, so you ‘ll have one at the ready. You’ll want to ask them about their philosophy on teens’ rights and the law, about who would handle the work, and what the cost would be.

Connecting Lines:
Good kids can find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. A party they’re at could get big and go bad. They might bring something to school that they shouldn’t have. Or they might do something because they don’t understand the rules the same way we adults do. (For instance, a teen who thinks driving in the parking lot with their friends doesn’t count as driving.) Any of these could get a teen arrested.

So it’s important that teens know how to handle an arrest. And the best time to talk with your teen about this is now, when you think (and hope and pray) they’ll never need this know-how. Below are some talking points to support that conversation.

Start by relaying how much you hope your teen will never be arrested. But also assure them that you won’t desert them if they do. Tell them that you will be upset, disappointed, and angry if they mess-up. Tell them it will probably take them a long time to earn your trust again. But also make sure that they know that you will still love them and that you will support them in putting things right and learning from the experience.

And then cover these basics with your teen:

– Be polite and courteous. Above all, your teen needs to know that respect goes a long way when interacting with the police. They should not mouth-off or insult the police. Luke’s response to his arrest: We could fight it – say the cop was racist. Even if we lose, it’ll start a conversation, is exactly the kind of attitude your teen needs to avoid.

– Stay calm. Being arrested is a difficult experience. Your teen needs to know that it’s normal to feel scared and uncertain. But it won’t help for your teen to jump to conclusions, trying to convince themselves that their situation is worse than it actually is.

– Answer only the following questions:
· If they’re asked for identification – their name, their address, or their parents’ phone numbers – they should provide it. They don’t have a right to remain anonymous. Plus you’ll want the police to know how to contact you.

· If they’re driving and are asked for a description of the vehicle, they should provide it. They don’t have any right to keep this information from the police.

· If they’re a bystander to an accident – not involved in any way – and are asked for information about something, they should describe what they saw. But they should not add what they think about what they saw.

Before talking with the police about anything else, ask to speak to a lawyer. Anything the teen says can be used against them. And teens need to know that in situations like this police can be intimidating. They may try to convince a teen to talk by saying that they just want to help or that the teen has nothing to be afraid of. Or they may try to get a teen to open-up by saying that refusing to talk makes the teen look like they’re guilty. Sometimes the police think all of this is true. But many times it isn’t. So if the conversation takes a turn and questions start to be about your teen’s involvement, your teen should end the conversation.

Here’s how Stephen Sheppard, Dean of St. Mary’s University School of Law, suggests that teens end the conversation: The teen can politely ask the officer if they’re free to go. If the answer is “Yes,” then your teen should leave. The officer may ask to make a copy of their license or other identification before letting them leave. But if your teen is asked for any other information, they should respectfully say, “I’m very sorry, but my parents have told me if I am questioned by the police, I am to say nothing but my name. I want to get a lawyer. I will not answer any more questions. Please call my parents.” Your teen should then say nothing more.

Consider role-playing this interaction with your teen. Because the lines above will likely be very hard for your teen to say and respectfully saying those lines is the most important thing your teen can do.

Sources and Resources: 8 Handholding Tips If Your Child Gets In trouble with the Law by Stephen Sheppard; Parenting Advice: When Your Child Gets Arrested by Merle Huerta; Why Parents of Teens Should Have a Criminal Lawyer on Speed Dial by Kelly Wallace

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