A person's development during their childhood and teenage years plays a vital role in shaping the rest of their lives and their decisions as an adult. Unfortunately, if those early years are exposed to multiple risk factors, a young person can find themselves involved in the criminal justice system. Compared to other types of crime, juvenile crime is unique. Young people don't engage in crime randomly but rather follow a trajectory toward delinquent and criminal behavior. This trajectory will either begin in early childhood through antisocial behavior or coincide with normal adolescent development. Several factors increase the risk for juvenile delinquency, including poor cognitive development, hyperactivity, involvement with other delinquent peers, exposure to family violence, and lack of access to systems of support and programs that promote positive social opportunities.
According to the National Center for Juvenile Justice (NCJJ), the categories of offenses most commonly handled by juvenile courts include simple assault without a deadly or dangerous weapon, drug law violations, larceny except for motor vehicle theft, obstruction of justice, and disorderly conduct. Over the past two decades, juvenile arrests have been declining, with law enforcement making 696,620 arrests in 2019, the lowest year to date. In Arizona, 1,178 arrests occurred in 2019, with drug abuse being the most common type of offense.
This year, we are beginning to see the pandemic's effects on our youth and their development. The pandemic isolated kids, but for some also affected their access to daily meals, systems of support, and reduced programs that promote positive social experiences. According to a survey by the Afterschool Alliance, half of all students lost their access to afterschool programs in 2020. Afterschool and summer programs play an important role in youth development by providing structured activities when parents cannot provide supervision.
Now, as we head into the summer break with a reduced number of summer programs, more peer interaction, and less parental supervision, young people may make riskier decisions. Opportunities for crime will also increase as businesses continue to open, more people are out in public, and families start to travel.
While you can't control the behavior or decision-making of your kids or teens, as a parent, you can create a positive family environment and have a significant influence on their development. Build up protective factors in your home by doing the following:
- Ensure your child participates in pre-school education
- Emphasize the importance of education in your child's life
- Support and encourage your child to participate in afterschool and summer programs
- Promote open communication and discussion in your household
- Educate your child on what healthy and positive relationships looks like
- Pay attention and take note of any social and behavioral changes
- Talk about stress and provide healthy coping mechanisms as well behavior management skills
It's important to remember that while youth may face several risk factors in their life, they can be resilient and have individual strengths that can prevent criminal behavior. The presence of a trusted adult in this regard can make a difference in a child's life.
Visit Youth.gov to learn more about juvenile justice and ways to build protective factors in your home.