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The likely reason for your teen's first-time offense

When your usually good teen has been arrested for the first time, you may be wondering why or how it reached that point. You may be surprised at the sudden change in behavior or escalation to something as serious as a crime. Unless there have been drastic changes in your home life, the explanation may be as simple as the fact that your teen has a teen brain, which is underdeveloped in relevant ways and will continue to mature into early adulthood.

What is different about your teen's brain?

Unlike an adult brain, your teen's brain has not finished developing in the frontal lobe. This is the area that is responsible for making good judgments, thinking before acting and reviewing consequences of actions. The immaturity of your teen's brain makes him or her more prone to be aggressive and impulsive in highly emotional or stressful conditions. Teens are also more susceptible to the following:

  • Giving in to peer pressure
  • Exaggerating immediate gains and minimizing long-term consequences
  • Not thinking of alternate choices
  • Lacking the ability to self-check

Of course, your teen still knows what is right and wrong. It is just more difficult for him or her to appropriately reason through an intense, high-pressure situation.

These neurological factors probably weighed in on your teen's decision to do something that is obviously unwise to you. Even a 17-year-old who is so close to legal adulthood is still vulnerable to mental immaturity. However, even adults with developed minds make dumb choices, so it is not unrealistic to expect teens to do so more often when they lack the same level of reasoning and judgment skills that adults have.

What does this mean for your teen's arrest?

The good news is that because this is your teen's first offense and he or she is still a minor, the case will most likely go to the juvenile court system with the purpose of rehabilitation. This approach is more helpful in keeping your teen out of further trouble and from facing challenges in the future that come with having a criminal record.

A criminal defense attorney with experience in representing juvenile offenders can be the most useful resource in guiding you and your teen through the process and helping your teen receive fair and appropriate treatment from others involved in the case. Young, first-time offenders should not have to endure the same prosecution and punishment as habitual, adult offenders when teens do not have the same brains as adults do.

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