Has there been an increase in cars being broken into on your street?
Are more of your neighbors reporting home break-ins or trespassing?
It could be that you’ve found yourself with a teen who, whether on his own or with friends, is breaking into cars and homes. If the police are involved, it could be something that’s now out of your hands entirely.
It’s never easy being faced with a teen who is acting out. When the behavior has escalated into vandalism and other criminal activity, you may wonder what your next steps should be.
Vandalism, what you need to know
Vandalism can take on many forms. It’s defined as the willful or malicious destruction, injury, disfigurement, or defacement of any public or private property.
Some of the acts that your teen may be engaged in could include:
- Burning personal property and setting fires
- Damage to parked cars, or cars driving past
- Breaking windows and doors
- Damage to trees, yard décor, and mailboxes
- Graffiti on walls, doors, and other public areas
- Tampering with vending machines or ATMs
- Damage to personal homes, schools, grocery stores, and more
There could be any number of reasons as to why a teen may be taking part in this kind of criminal activity.
Common reasons behind teen vandalism include:
- Boredom or looking for something different to do
- Peer pressure or threats from peers
- Anger and wanting revenge against others
- Self-expression, in the case of graffiti
- Gang activity
- Binge drinking or drug use
- Looking for items to steal and sell
Your teen may be struggling with mental health issues that lead him to find a way to act out or get attention. Even negative attention can feel like good attention to a teen who is struggling or otherwise in crisis.
The true costs of vandalism
Breaking into a home and a car can leave behind a significant amount of damage, which of course, will cost the owner to repair. Beyond that, your teen may face legal consequences that result in him needing to pay for the repairs. It can also potentially result in him facing fines, community service, and even time behind bars.
As a parent, you may need to consider getting your teen legal counsel. You may also find yourself facing legal consequences and fines if you are found liable for his behavior and actions.
Before making any decisions, be sure that you know what your legal responsibilities and rights are.
Next steps in addressing teen vandalism
Vandalism and other criminal behavior can be easy for a teen to hide from his parents. Unless your teen is suddenly in possession of things you didn’t buy for him or has an unexpected influx of cash, it can be challenging to notice when things start to take a turn.
Some parents don’t know until the police arrive on their doorstep or when their teen confesses that he has been responsible for area vandalism.
How then can you take action?
Is there anything you can do to prevent your teen from getting involved in these types of behaviors?
In an ideal world, you’d be able to prevent your teen from heading down a criminal path. The next best thing is to do your part to educate your teen. Help him to understand that there are some steep differences between a harmless prank and criminal vandalism.
If your teen begins to show destructive behaviors at home, be sure that he is the one to clean up the resulting mess. Graffiti gets significantly less fun when you need to clean it off of walls yourself.
If your teen appears to be bored or in need of additional afterschool programs and activities, do your part to help find something for him. His school counselor may offer some resources to help, as will community centers and church youth groups.
Music and sports offer two great creative and physical outlets for a teen struggling to find things that he enjoys.
If your teen seems to be struggling with peer pressure, depression, anxiety, or anything else that he could get help for, counseling can be a helpful option to consider.
Should he be held accountable?
As a parent, it is understandable that you want to take as many steps as possible to protect your teen from suffering serious consequences as a result of his behavior and his actions. If the police are involved, you may want to protect your teen from legal consequences.
However, if you have been struggling with an out-of-control or spiraling teen, protecting him from these consequences is only going to do him a disservice. A teen who learns that he can get away with criminal behavior will learn that he can get away with this poor behavior. Holding him accountable for his actions can help him to learn those valuable life lessons he needs.
There are a couple of things that you can do in these situations:
1. Enforce a stricter curfew. Your teen will need to be home before nine at night, without negotiation, as an example.
2. Know where your teen is at. This may feel like being a helicopter parent, but it’s a lot less stressful for all involved if you’re able to reach your teen when needed. He should be going to school, going to football practice, and back home. Without deviation, unless previously approved by a parent.
3. Encourage your teen to get a part-time job so that he can pay for the repairs that may be needed for the damage done to public or private property. Even in situations where an insurance company has covered the costs of the damage, it’s important to hold your teen accountable for the damage he caused.
4. Find resources to help your teen through this stage of adolescence. School counselors can often provide the resources that parents and teens both need.
5. If law enforcement is involved, you will need to take the appropriate steps to ensure your teen gets a fair deal. Certainly, you can’t swoop in and rescue him from the consequences of his behavior, but you can get him legal counsel.
6. Remove him from toxic situations. If your teen has peers and others around him encouraging this type of criminal behavior, it might be time to consider removing him from the situation. Whether this means moving schools or school districts or relocating your family. There are several options to meet the needs of your family as a whole.
Many parents find that a residential treatment center is a good way for their teens to refocus the direction of their life. In these well-structured environments, teens will learn to address the underlying concerns leading them to this behavior. They’ll also learn responsibilities, consequences, and can get caught up with their schoolwork.
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