• What Every Parent Needs To Know About Teenagers Getting In Trouble With The Law | Elvin Gonzalez | Episode 83

  • Kids getting in trouble with the law is a real issue across geographic, socio economic, and racial backgrounds. Our kids can end up in trouble for a variety of reasons. Elvin Gonzalez, Director of Family Division Administration for Berrien County Trial Court, talks to Mighty Parenting host Sandy Fowler, sharing insights, data, and tips. They’ll uncover the most common reasons our teens get arrested, risk factors for ending up in jail and what parents can do about these problems. Elvin will also lay out what parents should do if they ever get the dreaded phone call telling them their child is at the police station.



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    A Favorite Quote from the Show: 

    “Kids are getting in trouble with the law because they are doing things they don’t even know are crimes.”

    High Points of What Every Parent Needs to Know About Kids Getting in Trouble With the Law:

    kids getting in troubleKids tend to get into trouble with other kids.

    They tend to shop lift, use drugs or alcohol, or send pictures of body parts.

    Sending certain pictures of body parts, particularly private areas, over an electronic medium is illegal, even if it’s your own body.

    Our kids commit crimes when they don’t even realize it’s a crime. In addition to sending inappropriate photos they get in trouble for using electronic mediums to bully, make threats, or buy, sell or trade drugs. Kids post comments or threats and say they were just joking or goofing around but once online posts are picked up by law enforcement there’s a problem.

    Teens don’t realize the laws legalizing marijuana only apply to people over the age of 21. Adding to the problem, if they carry drugs over state lines they can get into the area of trafficking.

    If our children hang out with kids who drink or use drugs they increase the odds of doing those things themselves.

    Today’s marijuana is not the same as that from the 60’s and 70’s. THC is the component that gives you a high and it had increased from being 6-12% THC to being 25% or more. Research shows that chronic use of high-potency marijuana can exacerbate mental health issues or trigger someone who is predisposed.

    We can help our kids by having ongoing, proactive conversations with them. Ask them questions like:

      • What do you think about this?
      • What would you say to a friend who came to you and said they were thinking about trying alcohol or drugs?
      • How could you handle it if friends or a group of people pressure you to join in?

    It’s our job to empower our teens to make good decisions and assess their decisions. It’s okay if they make mistakes so let them know that they can come to you if they do.

    When you give kids the chance to determine what the consequences should be they feel better about it and stick to it better.

    We need to distinguish between the behavior and the kid. The behavior doesn’t make them a bad kid. “I still care about and love you even though I don’t like what you did.”

    Kids need to know that we are holding them accountable, there is forgiveness, and there is no damage to their relationship with us, even if they made a bad choice.

    The top indicator of whether someone ends up in jail is their attitude—their values, beliefs, and thoughts. If they have antisocial attitudes, think things such as they are above the law or it’s okay to hurt someone to get what you want or it’s the victim’s fault, they are more likely to end up in jail.

    Teenagers are natural focused on themselves. Help them see beyond themselves and see how behavior affects other people. Ask them how they would feel if someone did something bad to someone they care about. “How would you feel if someone _____________ to ____________?”

    Researching patterns of justice over decades shows that the top 3 reasons youth end up in the legal system remain constant: theft (the type of theft where they shoplift or steal something from a neighbor’s garage), assault and battery (getting into fights, often at home), and drugs and alcohol. 

    The best safety nets for kids are: 1. a healthy, functional family 2. a healthy, vibrant educational environment.

    What to do if you get that horrible phone call telling you your child is at the police station:

      1. Get the facts (not just from your child)
      2. Determine the justice system’s next steps
      3. If you’re going to court, prepare yourself emotionally and consult with a family law or juvenile law attorney
      4. Determine parental consequences for the situation as they will be different from the legal or educational consequences

    Resources Mentioned in the Show:





    Our Guest: 

    Elvin GonzalezElvin Gonzalez currently serves as the Family Division Administrator of the Berrien County Trial Court – Family Division in Michigan.  He has oversight over all juvenile justice programs and services in Berrien County including the Intake Unit, Court Services Division, Juvenile Detention Center with Secure Detention and Residential Treatment and Tether Programs.  Additionally, he oversees the Probate Unit of the Family Division.

    He has over 33 years of experience in the juvenile justice field including working in detention facilities, residential treatment, intensive probation program, and management of Probation and Court Services Departments in Illinois and Michigan.

    He has served as a progressive leader in organizational change in the juvenile justice field by championing best practices based on “What Works” evidence-based principles and data driven decision-making.  He was successful in creating a fully state-funded Victim Assistance Coordinator and School Based Probation Officer program in DuPage County, Illinois.

    He has served as a member of the statewide manager’s committee to upgrade the Risk Assessment process for juvenile offenders in Illinois and spearheaded the implementation of a Jurisdictional Planning Team in Berrien County, Michigan to implement Detention reform strategies. Through the influence of his leadership, out of home placements of delinquent youth in Berrien County has declined by approximately 80% in the last fifteen years resulting in significant financial savings and reinvestment of the savings in community/family based models of intervention. 

    To learn more, visit the websites Elvin recommended. They are listed above under the heading: Resources Mentioned in the Show.

    Photo credit to by Bill Oxford and Warren Wong
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