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The phone rings. You search for the clock... 1:30am?! Who could possibly be calling at such an hour? In the ensuing few minutes, you discover your teen has broken the law and is in jail for the night. Terror grips your soul! You are shocked with horror and disbelief! This stuff happens to other people's kids, not yours. Surely there has been a mistake. They must have the wrong parents, the wrong child, and the wrong number. But it is not the wrong number.

Your teen is incarcerated and you have to be able to think clearly. How should you respond? Who should you call? Should you try to bail them out or let them sit in the jail cell for one night? What should you do?

Here are several principles to use in responding to this situation.

Be Compassionate
No matter how brokenhearted, mad, hurt or angry you might be, it is important you respond with compassion. Even though you don't like what they have done, your young person must know you accept them and still love them.

Look at the story of the prodigal son in Luke 15:11-32. The son took his inheritance, went away, spent it all on prostitutes and parties, and became a disgrace to his family. Although his father was very wealthy, the son ended up in another country working as a slave and serving pigs. When he realized he had done wrong, he came running back to his father. It's important to note what the father did. Even though he had been deeply hurt and his dreams and goals for his son had been shattered, as soon as he saw his son returning, he ran to him, threw his arms around him, and welcomed him home.

It is important for you to respond with the same kind of attitude. No matter what your child has done, they are sill you son or daughter. Your love and acceptance should be unconditional - just as God's love for us (see John 13:34).

At the same time, you want them to realize the gravity of the situation. Let them know you don't approve of their actions. They have hurt their parents and maybe other family members. But also let them know you love them and are committed to their success.

I heard a story of a well-known pastor whose son had been drifting further and further away from his family and from the Lord. After the son made a huge mistake and landed in jail, the father went to visit him. Having a distant and cold relationship, the son wasn't sure how his father would respond. But the father looked into his son's eyes and said, "How an I help you?"

Those words tore down the wall standing between father and son. The son began to weep uncontrollably in his father's arms. Instead of condemning him or telling him he was no good, the father emphasized the fact that he was still his son and he still loved him. Their relationship was restored and the son is no longer in jail or in trouble with the law.

Accept Responsibility
"I know my child didn't really mean to do something wrong or illegal." Whether it was driving under the influence, armed robbery, petty theft, or vandalism, you are tempted to think, "They just got caught with the wrong crowd."

This rationale is dangerous, because it takes the responsibility off the young person. In essence, you believe it's not really their fault, because they are a good kid. They were just with the wrong people at the wrong time. If it is not their responsibility, you can rationalize that they didn't do anything wrong. Because of embarrassment and not wanting to admit that your kid could have done something wrong, you dismiss the fact that it really is at least partially their responsibility.

Most parents think this is just a one-time thing. It's a fluke - an accident. You'll get them out of jail, off the hook and everything will be fine - no problem. You must understand, it may be the first time in jail, but it certainly isn't the first stop to getting into that situation.

I often discuss the importance of your young person's friends. Trouble with the law is another pitfall of hanging out with the wrong crowd. Drinking, smoking, ditching school, staying out late and other incremental stops often lead to criminal activity. Most parents do not want to believe their kids would do any of those things. Then, when something more serious happens, they minimize it as one little thing, when in reality, it is the culmination of a series of bad decisions.

Maybe you don't know your child as well as you thought you did. If you dismiss this offense as an isolated incident, you're not seeing the picture for what it really is and you will not solve the problem. You may get them out of jail, but the problem still remains.

You are to influence and mold them. Make sure they are not hanging around friends that could get them into trouble. Don't allow them to stay out late or go to places that could result in a huge downfall. And remember, you are their example. Your own actions and standards speak louder than any lecture can.

Instead of trying to deny that your teen is really like this, get to know them. Make your teen your first priority. Develop a relationship with them. Allow them to provide you with insight as to why they want to do the things they do. They aren't a bad person - they simply need direction and guidance.

Accept the Consequences
Our fist reaction is to get them out of trouble. We don't want them to embarrass us. We don't want them to mess up their life. We don't want them to have a criminal record. We can't stand the thought of having them fully pay the price and suffer the consequences. Other people can pay for what they did, but nor our son or daughter!

Be careful if you are thinking like this. It may very well damage your young person more than it will help them. They have committed a serious infraction or they wouldn't be in jail. If you bail them out now, you might be bailing them out the rest of their life. It is important they accept responsibility and pay the price for what they have done. Allowing them to face the consequences the first time will most likely deter them from further wrongdoing.

If you find yourself rescuing your teenager from the hole they've dug for themselves, you will find yourself doing it again and again and again. If they never learn by having to pay the price for their actions, they will live their life with the mindset that, no matter what they do, they will never have to suffer the consequences.

Involve Your Pastor
Ask your pastor to visit your child. Ask for his counsel on what went wrong and search the Scriptures on what to do next. You don't want to go through this situation alone. You need a few close Christian friends and the leaders of the church praying for your family and encouraging you. Don't fight this battle all alone. Don't be so full of pride that you think you can handle it by yourself. You might as well tell those who love you so they can stand with you and pray for you.

Incorporate Preventative Measures
If your child has not broken the law, there are some preventative measures you can take. The first one is discipline. We need to teach our children about discipline when they are young. This is more than spankings - it is learning to live a disciplined life.

Does your young person know what your standards are? Teach them to abide faithfully by the rules you have set at home as well as the rules society sets up as our governing laws. If they learn to honor authorities, leaders, rules, regulations and laws, their life will be blessed.

Teach them the difference between right and wrong. Set disciplinary measures and be prepared to follow through with them. If you teach them there are consequences for their actions, beginning in their childhood and all the way through their teen years, they will understand they have to suffer the consequences.

Teach them to respect and obey laws and authority figures by your example. Do you bad-mouth the teacher, the coach, the instructor, or the principal? Do you speak ill of them behind their backs? Do you observe the governing laws set for you? If your child's teacher carries out disciplinary measures, are you quick to come to the defense of your child, believing your child could do absolutely nothing wrong? If so, this is damaging your child!

Laws, rules, and regulations are set up by God to establish order. We stay out of trouble because we know there will be a price to pay, but also because disobedience is considered rebellion against God. Teach your teen that submitting to authority is not only the right and honorable thing to do, it is the godly thing to do.

Are you still showing that unconditional love? This time can be the beginning of a brand-new journey for you and your teen. You should be excited to get to know them - to find out what makes them tick! Spend time with them, doing fun things. Listen to them and discover what is in their heart. Look for opportunities to teach them the principles that will keep them close to God and away from further legal trouble. Help them find their place - right in the middle of God's will - so they can begin experiencing His richest blessings in their life.

Source: Rescue Manual For Parents by Ron Luce.
Excerpt permission granted by Albury Publishing

Author Biography

Ron Luce
Web site: Ron Luce
Ron Luce was the co-founder's and president of Teen Mania Ministries from 1986-2015. Ron and his wife Katie dreamed to raise up young people who would change the world.

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