“I Can’t Believe It… My Kid Just Got Arrested! Now What?”

It’s not uncommon that I’ll get a call from a parent telling me that their son or daughter just got arrested and their attorney says they should come to me for counseling.

The conversation I have with the parent takes different forms, such as:

  • Our kid is really a good kid.
  • We hope that going to counseling will make a good impression on the court.
  • We’re hoping you’ll realize our kid is really a good kid and that you’ll write a letter to the court telling them he’s okay.
  • He could benefit from counseling anyway.

Another kind of call I get is from a parent who is fed up:

  • My kid’s attorney says that he should speak with you — he just got arrested.
  • He is a real problem.
  • He needs counseling but nothing works with this kid.
  • I hope it isn’t too expensive because it isn’t going to do any good.

These different types of calls represent different family dynamics and most likely different levels of overall functioning from the teenager.

That said, my job is the same in both cases — to help the family and the teenager:

  1. Discover what they need to learn from this crisis,
  2. Discover what they need to change, and
  3. Help them make those changes.

I actually love working with kids and their families who have had an unfortunate run-in with the law.

Not that I would wish that on anyone.

But when a kid and their family is in crisis, it creates an opportunity for real change and I hate to see a crisis go to waste. I can often help a family convert the shock and fear of the circumstances into motivation and action for change, a change that is probably long overdue.

When a kid and their family is in crisis, it creates an opportunity for real change.Click To Tweet

Let’s look at what happened to Erik and his family.

The Art of Deception

Erik was always a good, high-energy kid.

He is athletic, engaging and was a pretty good student through his elementary school years. While he didn’t do his best in middle school, he managed to pass. With encouragement and some ongoing parental monitoring, got most of his work done most of the time.

He still loved soccer and played on his school team and a community league team as well.

He was popular and well liked.

Erik’s parents were busy professionals and — while often frustrated by Erik’s lack of responsibility — knew he was a good kid, so they did their best to keep him on track.

Erik’s Dad coached his soccer when Erik was younger and they had a good relationship, although they were more distant now.

He had a more mixed relationship with his mom who was the taskmaster in the home. She was often “on” Erik to manage his responsibilities yet they were close as well — Erik was her second child and her baby and she was protective towards him.

In turn, Erik wanted to please his mother and make her happy.

As Erik moved into his freshman year, staying organized and focused was more important. These skills were always difficult for Erik, and his grades suffered as a result.

Also, many of his friends started to party, including drinking and smoking pot, and Erik went right along with these new behaviors. His mother caught him coming home intoxicated a couple of times, and she grounded him when she did. Erik learned how to not get caught by timing his drinking and sneaking home when he thought he wouldn’t be noticed.

Sleeping over at friends’ houses — where the parents were less observant — was another trick he used to avoid getting caught.

What Erik’s parents didn’t know was that Erik had learned to steal liquor from the local stores. He and his friends had learned to wear baggy clothes and sweatshirts and fill them up with liquor bottles from large stores that weren’t well monitored and simply leave quickly and run onto some dark side streets before heading out to party.

This strategy worked well until about the eighth time he tried it — a security guard ran after him and caught him.

Erik was both intoxicated and scared and he fought to escape and so he ended up with several fairly serious charges against him.

Getting Things on the Right Track

When Erik and his parents came into my office, I could see that Erik felt really ashamed — largely that he had disappointed and upset his parents.

His parents were upset because they knew Erik was essentially a good kid, but were lost about how to help him.

From mom’s point of view, he needed to be…

  • grounded for a long time,
  • settle down
  • and focus on his schoolwork.

Erik’s father was similarly disappointed but not sure that long term grounding was the answer.

Neither parent understood how Erik could be so irresponsible.

His older brother rarely presented any problems and was quite independent. What could be going wrong for Erik, and what were they to do about it?

We entered into a series of family and individual counseling sessions and came to understand where things were going wrong and what needed to change to get things on the right track.

Here’s a brief summary:

There was a lack of healthy structure and some very unhealthy relationship patterns in the family.

As a result, Erik was not learning to be responsible or independent.

  • Mom was over-functioning in the family and was chronically frustrated with her husband’s lack of support and Erik’s lack of responsibility. She was almost always mad at both of them.
  • Erik and his father were both under-functioning by avoiding mom, and neither stepping up and managing their responsibilities.
  • They had a Control Battle that took the form of what I call the Toxic Triangle. In this pattern, each member’s behavior influences and encourages the negative behavior of the other two. So no matter what issue comes up, it is fed into this chronic negative family pattern.

BONUS: Could there be an unhealthy Control Battle in your family? Download my free self-assessment checklist just below this blog post.

Erik and his parents worked hard to exit their “toxic triangle” and end their Control Battle.

After several months of learning, applying new relationship skills, and building new healthy structures in the family, Erik got himself back on track. He ended his partying lifestyle and became much more accountable.

Erik’s parents also became far more aligned and happy again in their marriage.

After a year, Erik completed all the juvenile court requirements and his case was closed.

As is often the case, this crisis became a blessing.

When Erik got arrested it forced this family to face their issues, and — with courage and support — that’s exactly what they did.

So if your son or daughter gets arrested, don’t let yourself become defeated by shock and fear. Utilize the crisis to move off the old unhealthy path that led to the event, and find a new healthier path forward.

And once you’ve done that, you just might find it easier to make future adjustments before the next crisis hits.

Posted in Parenting.


  1. Thanks for checking in with your support Mary. Yes, we all have the courage if we can just trust ourselves to tap into it. In my career, I’m always amazed and impressed by the courage of my clients.

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