Explaining Real World Consequences

Teens might be great with electronics and technology and their superiority gives them bragging rights over many parents; unfortunately, they then think that this transfers over to their understanding of what goes on in the real world.  Part of my job is to explain the real world to them, a world that is more complex and less forgiving than they’ll understand for years to come.  Such is the case of explaining the consequences of stupid and/or illegal actions.

One of the kids shared that some friends were caught shoplifting $2 rubber wristbands from a mall retailer that caters to teens.  As explained to me, the manager caught them trying to exit the store with the trinkets and took them back to the office, where they subsequently were interviewed by both mall security and the local police.  Parents were subsequently contacted and the kids were released to their custody.  The subsequent conversation ran along the lines of…

But it’s not a problem.  The cops said that it happens all of the time and nothing’s going to hit their record if they don’t do it again. 

So you’re telling me that the police just released them with no actions taken by the store? 

My kid responded, well, they do have to pay a fine but nothing’s going on their record, so it’s really okay.

Kid, I retorted, if there’s a fine to be paid, then there’s a paper trail and believe me, something is going to hit their juvenile record. 

No, really, Dad – he interjected – there’s no record. 

It was at this point that my kid got a real-world lesson.  Lemme tell you, there’s a juvenile record and there’s an adult record.  Your buddies have three years to not do something like this again in order for it to avoid their adult record.  If they screw up again, then they start off their adult life with a criminal record.  Period.  What does this mean?  When these kids go out to apply for summer jobs and are asked on the application if there’s any criminal history, they’re screwed.  Forget about lying on the application because more and more employers are doing background checks and who wants a thief working for them?

My child pursed his lips and said nothing for a few seconds as he digested this.

So what did their parents say?  I asked.

My kid shook his head.  One guy’s parents were super-pissed and he’s not only grounded, but he’s lost all electronics and his guitar.  Same with the other guy, but his folks didn’t yell.  They just shook their heads and asked what he’d been thinking since he had at least $20 in his wallet.  Not much of a problem.

No, I said, it’s a problem because he’s truly disappointed his parents.  Their kid doesn’t even have the excuse of saying that he didn’t have any cash. 

Kids and teens will screw up and sometimes in a way reminiscent of a 20 car NASCAR wreck.  They don’t have the experience and understanding to place events in a proper context and it’s our job to teach them what the consequences of their actions will be.  If we don’t do so, either because we’re busy or it’s unpleasant – whatever the reason – then they’ll fall back to the default position of getting their information from their peers and in this case, the peers who actually screwed up.  The same kids who will minimize out of embarrassment, a desire to look cool or sheer incomprehension of what’s actually happened.

The kids will make all manner of comments that can lead to conversations and some can be postponed to a more opportune moment.  This conversation however, was one that had to happen at that moment for fear that not making the point could lead to the conclusion that even Dad didn’t consider it a big deal.  Oh yeah, it’s a big deal.


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