Is Your Child Engaging in Criminal Behavior? Here’s What to Do

Finding out your child has been engaging in criminal behavior can be devastating. Here’s how to deal with the situation the right way.

“I am delighted to hear that my child got in trouble at school,” said no parent ever.

But getting in trouble, and suffering the consequences of their actions, isn’t necessarily a bad thing for kids. It isn’t fun, for sure, but learning that small wrongs have consequences is, in most cases, a good thing.

It can help deter them from engaging in bigger wrongs or even criminal behavior.

So what do you do if you find out your child may be on a delinquent path? If they haven’t yet committed a criminal act, is there anything you can do to steer them back in the right direction?

What do you do if they have already done something criminal?

Let’s take a look.

Be Involved

Do you know what your children do when you’re not with them? Do you know their hobbies? Are you sure they’re actually at school when they should be? Do you know who their friends are?

These days, both spouses work in 66% of families in the US. While that in itself isn’t a bad thing, it does mean that parents may be less involved with their kids because they just don’t have time.

Also, once kids enter the teen years, many parents may think their children don’t need them much anymore. Teens can even be pretty vocal about saying they don’t need their parents.

Realistically, they can make their own afterschool snack and don’t need constant supervision. They are becoming more independent.

But that doesn’t mean they don’t still need their parents. Older kids and teens may be physically capable of taking care of themselves now. But this stage of life is a critical development stage.

The groundwork for developing a conscience and learning right or wrong is laid in early childhood. But it is solidified as a child moves into the teen years. They need your moral guidance now more than ever.

Watch out for Warning Signs

Nearly every kid that ends up engaging in criminal behavior displays warning signs first. Short of a shocking psychotic break or traumatic, good people don’t suddenly wake up one day and decide to commit a crime.

There’s a path they follow to get to the point they would/could do something they know is wrong.

In many cases of juvenile delinquency, however, the signs go unnoticed–or even ignored. Parents often don’t want to admit their child has a problem that needs correcting.

They may also chalk it up to normal teen behavior. After all, these are the years of pushing boundaries and experimenting.

Let’s look at a few typical behaviors and talk about when they start becoming potential problems. These are the things you should watch for as a parent.


Teenagers are finding their own style. They also may seek attention or popularity and use fashion to do so.

They might want to dye their hair outlandish colors or wear strange clothes, but they’ll grow out of that phase without harm. (Although you should put your foot down on permanent things like tattoos).

Appearance changes can turn into warning signs. Watch out for substantial weight loss or gain, negative behavior, or signs of self-harm.


It’s common for teens to talk back and argue. They’re pushing boundaries and becoming more independent after all.

However, constant screaming matches, violent or criminal behavior, skipping school, or problems with the police are not good. These are serious warning signs.

Mood Swings

Teens are moody, that’s common knowledge. But excessive sadness, trouble sleeping, personality changes, and suffering grades can all indicate that something is wrong.


It’s common for teens to experiment with cigarettes, alcohol, and even marijuana. Be open and honest with your child about the dangers and proper use of these substances.

A taste here and there probably isn’t anything to be alarmed about. But if you notice habitual use, you should take action.

Peer Pressure

It’s normal for friends to become very important during this stage of life. Teens also tend to care more about what their friends think than what you think. It’s annoying, but not something out of the ordinary.

But if they suddenly start hanging out with a different crowd, particularly a bad one, that can be a problem. In particular, if it is accompanied by an increasingly rebellious attitude.

If you notice warning signs with your child, what do you do about it?

Let’s take a look.

Set Boundaries and Rules

Even though your child may be reaching a more independent age, that doesn’t mean all boundaries and rules magically go away. They still need boundaries to help guide them to do the right thing.

They also need to learn how to work within those boundaries. They can’t necessarily do that on their own.

For example, it’s common for teens, especially boys, to explode in anger. Raging hormones, coupled with an inability to express or understand what they feel can lead to this.

Just telling them not to get angry won’t work. Punishing them for outbursts may also not be the most effective. But teaching them how to release their anger in a healthy way is more successful.

For some, that may be exercise or participating in sports. For others, that might be musical or artistic expression. Maybe they’ll even need to punch a pillow once in a while.

Find what works for your teen, but don’t make them figure it out on their own. Set your child up for success and they’ll reap the benefits their entire lives.


Your boundaries won’t do much go if there is nothing to enforce them. Negative actions need to have consequences. If they don’t, from your kid’s point of view, there’s really no reason not to do them.

It’s almost certain that whatever boundary you put into place, your kid will push it. But when they break it, something needs to happen.

Did they lie about skipping school? Don’t cover for them and tell the school you authorized it. Did they lie to you about where they went with their friend last Friday? Don’t let them go out next Friday.

Every child is different. Find what works for yours and stick to it. It’s better that they take the consequences for the small stuff, rather than once they’ve already escalated to criminal behavior.

If you don’t know how to do this on your own, swallow your pride and find help for your child. There are many programs like LifeLine for Youth that can offer the help your child needs.

Avoid Criminal Behavior

Even if your child has already engaged in some kind of criminal behavior, hope is not lost. Get involved and start setting boundaries immediately.

You may not want to believe that your child is capable of this kind of activity. But if you know they have, start implementing these strategies now. You may be able to still steer them back to a productive life path.

Making excuses for your child, or hiding their unacceptable behavior will only help them further down the road to a life of delinquency.

For more tips and tricks about raising children, check out our blog.