How to protect our uncooperative teens?
By: Natalia Z. Scott, Esquire
To say that teenagers have a mind of their own may be the understatement of the century. Ask any parent who has or is experiencing these “wonder years” and they’ll be the first to tell you that nothing could have prepared them for this stage of parenthood. But during a time when hormones are going rampant and these kids are attempting to find their place in the world, what is the balance of appropriate independence and nurturing guidance? Tough love or appropriate discipline? Some of the dangers that we see on the legal side of things is when parents are genuinely concerned for their child’s well being but they are limited as to what they can legally do in terms of forcing the child’s actions. Our number one recommendation is always to try preventative measures such as counseling. Every teenager will struggle in one way or another, but if yours seems to be off the mark in how they handle everyday stresses or a major life event, it’s time to seek help.
If you’re past preventative stage and have moved into reactive stage, a few things to keep in mind. If a child has more than five unexcused absences in a month timeframe, the superintendent of the school or their designee can file truancy charges, triggering law enforcement involvement. However, unless a child is otherwise at risk, law enforcement will generally not go and pick up a minor simply because they are not home. If your child runs away from home, the first thing to do is call law enforcement and file a missing person report. This report will trigger their involvement, putting local and national agencies on alert and active searches for your child can begin. Sometimes parents have ideas of where their children might be (i.e. friends or with other family members), other times there are no clues. Pursuant to Florida Statute, if an adult is sheltering a minor for more than 24 hours without notifying the minor’s parents or law enforcement, that adult can be charged with a first degree misdemeanor. Though the child may not be breaking any laws, their ‘caregiver’ is. Caregiver is in quotes as sometimes children have delusions as to who qualifies as a caregiver. Sometimes we see teenagers with their much older significant others acting as their caregivers who are looking out for their best interest. These situations unfortunately often result in substance abuse or even human trafficking.
Remaining vigilant without being overprotective and paranoid is a difficult line to walk. Addressing concerns that you may have with your teens before they develop into a crisis gives everybody a higher percentage of success. Therapists are a fantastic resource for many families. If you feel like this is your family, please let us know and we would be happy to provide you with a few trusted referrals.