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Your kid is in trouble? 5 things to know as you consider your response

Parenting is sometimes described as the art of letting go. To a significant extent, this is a useful job description.

But how do you let go when your teenage or young-adult child has gotten into trouble with the law?

In this post, we will give you five things to think about as your consider how to respond.

Neuroscience has revolutionized what is known about the role of age in brain development.

Imaging studies and other research have shown that it isn't until the mid-20s that the areas of the brain involved in judgment and self-control become mature. This is a much later age than previously thought.

Keep this in mind as you weigh your response to your child's actions.

You may be appalled by his or her behavior - whether it was theft, inappropriate sexual conduct, impaired driving or something else. Indeed, you yourself may have been the victim. But you need to realize that teenagers and young adults don't yet have full capacity to manage their emotions.

This isn't because of anything you did or didn't do as a parent. It's because of how brains of that age are hard-wired to lack impulse control.

The research on brain development has already produced significant changes in the juvenile justice system.

In several rulings over the last decade, the U.S. Supreme Court has recognized that brain research has major implications for the justice system.

The Court struck down the death penalty for offenses committed before the age of 18. It did the same for mandatory life without parole. The reasoning underlying these rulings is that juveniles are generally not as responsible as adults because their ability to control their emotions is still undeveloped.

An appeals court in Illinois has even held that this reasoning applies to young adults who are older than 18. And scholars are seriously discussing whether offenders who are 18 to 24 should be treated more leniently than those who are 25 and older.

In Washington, 16- and 17-year-olds accused of serious violent offenses are automatically charged in adult court rather than juvenile court.

This takes place under Section 13.04.030 of the Revised Code of Washington. It applies to violent offenses that include homicide, robbery, sexual assault and burglary.

Obviously this is greatly at odds with the brain development research about juveniles lesser ability to control their behavior compared to adults who are 25 or older.

Juvenile records can hang around and cause problems in seeking employment later in life.

You might think that if it's a juvenile offense, everything on your child's record will disappear at age 18.

That isn't necessarily the case, however, if you don't take steps to seal it.

There are alternatives that are available that can help juveniles minimize the consequences of criminal charges.

Probation is one possibility. Another is diversion, which is a lot like probation except it doesn't involve a guilty plea. Washington law also allows for a procedure called a "deferred disposition" (RCW 13.40.130).

The point is that there are alternatives to incarceration for juveniles that are often well worth exploring. But you need a knowledgeable attorney to guide and advocate for your child throughout this process.

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