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Should You Really Bail Your Teen Out of Jail?

Your eyes fly open. A second ago, you were deep in dreamland. Now, your phone is screaming for attention. As you reach for it, you realize two things: You recognize your son’s ringtone and you see that it’s 3 a.m. Putting these two thoughts together, you know this call can’t be good.

“Hi Dad,” he says, “I’m in jail. Please come bail me out.”

Like many parents in this situation, you’re not sure what to say. Your teen has been charged with possession. He was busted at a party where drugs were the snack of choice over Doritos. Should you let him sit in jail for a day or two to teach him a lesson?

“Off the Hook” May Get Them Hooked

Handcuffed teen in jailIt’s a common question for parents of teens. Often, our kids are not (yet) showing signs of alcohol or drug addiction, but get in substance-related trouble anyway. They drink and drive. They get caught buying alcohol with a fake I.D. They abuse drugs socially at the occasional party.

When they face criminal charges, should you come to the rescue or let them stew?

As their parent, it’s natural to want to protect your teen. You may want to dive in at the first sign of trouble and pull them out. That’s your baby, right? You want to keep them safe and help them any way you can. But, this can actually do more harm than good.

If your teen never suffers the consequences of his actions, he may never change his ways. He is likely to continue down the path of drug abuse. It may seem like this path is only slightly off the straight and narrow now, but it leads to dangerous places. Allowing them to learn their lesson can help teens change course before they’re hooked on drugs.

“But, He’s a Good Kid…”

It’s easy to come up with excuses for bailing out your teen. As parents, we often tell ourselves these rationalizations to try to protect our teens (and ourselves) from the truth. Let’s look at a couple of the most popular:

“She didn’t mean to do anything wrong. She just got caught with the wrong crowd.”

Okay, maybe she was with the wrong crowd – and maybe she didn’t fully realize what was going on – but facing the consequences of hanging out with those “friends” will hopefully make her think twice about being with them in the future. A weekend in jail might make that type of crowd less appealing.

Plus, it’s likely that (as hard as it is to accept) your teen did know what was going on. No one wants to admit their child could do wrong, but it’s okay. No one is perfect. Better to admit their imperfections now and learn from them, than move on in denial and encourage bad behavior, right?

You may feel like you’re admitting failure as a parent. You may even be embarrassed by your teen’s actions. But, for their own good, don’t keep blaming others. Accept what she’s done, and make her accept it too. Make your teen take responsibility for her actions and learn from mistakes. It’s what we all ultimately have to do.

“It won’t happen again.”

We tell ourselves this, despite all the evidence to the contrary. How many parents have convinced themselves this is true, only to bail their teen out again the following month? Millions. But if nothing negative happens, why wouldn’t they do it again? It’s more likely your teen will continue experimenting until something really bad happens (and then it may be too late.)

Don’t fool yourself into thinking the unburned hand won’t reach for the hot pot again. It is hard to watch, but we might have to let them suffer a scald to avoid third-degree burns down the road.