How Parents can keep their Children from Committing Crimes

The reality of raising children is that any time a son or daughter is out of one’s direct supervision, they are capable of engaging in improper or even criminal conduct. The best a parent can do is to create a home situation in which values are instilled in children, expectations are clear, and attention is paid to warning signs of potential trouble. Establishing a system of accountability where parents know the location, companions and activities of their children is key. 

One cannot assume that children are born with noble instincts. In fact, the process of civilization is one of training youth in the need to curb our baser instincts and sacrifice some wishes for gratification in the higher interest of self and others. It’s also important to explain the reasons why certain behavior is unacceptable rather than simply shouting “no” or “don’t” when improper behavior is observed.

I recall once seeing a parent who was summoned to retrieve a child from a store who had been caught stealing merchandise. Upon seeing the child, they burst into a stream of profanity and struck the child. It soon became clear to me that the reason for the parent’s ire was not that their child had violated moral rules against stealing, but rather that they had been inconvenienced by their child’s clumsiness at having been caught and forced the parent to come and take them home. The only useful lesson in that scenario was that one should base their behavior on what feels good or bad, and lash out at anyone who causes you pain or inconvenience. The moral issue of theft had clearly never been touched in that household. 

Creating high expectations is important. Discuss situations that you and the child observe and hear about, and explore their thoughts on the moral aspects of what is seen. Find out how your child views the world, and help them correct thinking patterns that are unrealistic or lack a sense of responsibility toward others. 

Paying attention to the lifestyle of one’s child is a chore that far too many parents ignore. Newspapers are full of accounts of young people who have committed horrendous crimes, and followup investigations often yield plenty of red flags in a young person’s past that screamed trouble, yet the parents involved stubbornly insist that they had no clue that their child was on the road to trouble. Chemical use, foul speech, trouble at school, unexplained prosperity, shady friends, and a generally secretive lifestyle should tip off parents that their children are engaged in a life out of their sight that might well merit further inquiry and perhaps intervention before life choices and consequences go beyond repair. 

Responsible parenting is hard work. Resentment of parental inquiry and insistence on accountability is a natural phase of growing up, particularly visible in teenagers, and the friction and anger expressed in that process, even by the best of teens, is hard for a parent to hear. On the other hand, hearing a police officer inform you that your child is under arrest, or far worse, is a form of pain that a parent may never forgive themselves for not working to prevent.