When Young People From Good Families Make Bad Choices

Posted on December 12, 2011 in General News

“I’ve been clean and sober for 8 years, my parents sent me
to rehabafter I graduated from high school, college, and law school. Don’t
ever give up on your kids.” These were
the words spoken to me by the prosecutor in the City of Richmond as we left the
court room after my son’s criminal case for possession almost 10 years ago. My son has found his way
and remained clean and sober since that time.

I often find myself working with families in the same
situation our family found itself in December 2002. One of our babies was in
jail with several criminal charges pending. What to do? How can we best help our child? It is one of a parent’s worst nightmares.

You have the full range of emotions, anger, fear, shame,
guilt, blame. You go back and forth between wanted to kill them or give them a
hug. Neither extreme is right or wrong. Both are real.

So how can this happen to a good family who has done
everything they can to properly love and raise their children? If I had those answers I would have my own
TV show and be the next Dr. Phil. What I do know without question is that our
children will make bad choices. Before you say not mine, realize they already
have made bad choices, you just don’t know it. The bad choices vary in degrees
but all make them. Secondly know we are in the middle of an epidemic of
substance abuse in our country. A recent study from Columbia University found
that 60% of incoming college freshman nationally have some form of process
addiction. This includes not only the usual suspects of drugs and alcohol, but
also eating disorders, gambling and a multitude of other pain and stress
management behaviors.

Playing the shame or blame game is not productive. I spend a
lot of time in many consults counseling the parents on action steps which are
productive and helpful in dealing with the family crisis resulting from the
arrest. The approach will vary from a hug to a kick in the butt. Every criminal
case, like every child, is different. The families need to strike a balance
between only carrots or only sticks. Both are needed in proper amounts. We did
not bond our son out of the Richmond City jail until he agreed to go to
inpatient rehab. That was a very difficult choice but it was the right one. His
experience in the Richmond City jail gave him the right motivation to do the
hard work of rehabilitation.

Every parent wants to take full credit for the good things
their children do. Taking full blame and having the shame and guilt for the
poor choices is the other side of the same coin. Both are wrong. Granted the
bundle of joy has your DNA but they also have free will to make choices. As a
result parents should not take too much credit, nor likewise take too much

I hope and pray no one reading this will experience the
trauma of having your son or daughter make the kind of bad choice that lands
them in jail with criminal charges. But if you do know that you are not unique.
The majority of my criminal clients from Chesterfield, Henrico, Richmond or
Powhatan are young people from good families who have made bad choices.