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Teen trouble: Don't laugh off juvenile offenses

As a parent of a teen, there's not a day that goes by where you don't wonder what will happen next. You've raised your teen to be intelligent and to think through his or her actions, but your teenager is still a child who makes mistakes and has some growing to do.

The problem with teens is that they could be held accountable for more mistakes as they age. What might have been dealt with by informing you in the past now could result in the police getting called. For example, a 4-year-old stealing something from a store is likely to result in a few laughs from a store owner, a lecture and apology from your child, but a teen who steals could face heavy fines and other penalties for the same act.

It is not easy to deal with a child who makes mistakes that result in authorities stepping in or charges being placed. You might not know where to begin, so here are a few things you should do right away.

1. Call your attorney

Yes, your child committed a crime and you might think the courts will go easy on him or her, but it's still in your best interests to call your attorney to discuss the situation. Your teen has the same rights as an adult, and it will always be in a teen's best interests to try to avoid a conviction. Even a minor conviction can impact a teen's ability to get a summer job or go to school, so don't make light of an offense or think it will affect your child only in the short term.

2. Talk to your child about what happened

There are usually multiple sides to every story, but you need to make sure you know your child's and can get evidence to back it up. For example, if your child is in trouble for allegedly starting a fight at school, you need to listen to what happened. It might turn out that there was another instigator and that your child was defending him- or herself. That information could give your child's attorney a good place to start with a defense.

No matter how old your child is, it's always a good idea to discuss the case directly with your attorney before responding to allegations or speaking with police. Treat this situation as if it's happening to an adult to avoid making mistakes.

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