The Family that Eats Together... Stays out of Jail
Can juvenile delinquency be prevented? According to youth prosecuting attorney Carl Bartol, the majority of children can be saved from a life of crime.
“Most juvenile delinquency cases are preventable through proactive parenting techniques,” says Mr. Bartol.
In addition to 11 years experience as a youth prosecuting attorney, Mr. Bartol also worked as a counselor in one of the nation's toughest maximum security facilities for youth, and a field investigator in the government and private sectors.
He became frustrated by the reactive approach of the youth justice system.
“It targets children who are already in trouble with the law,” says Mr. Bartol. I wanted to find ways to prevent delinquency, rather than respond to it.”
In 2003, he created the F.A.M.I.L.Y. Model of Parental Supervision, which evolved into the Prevent Delinquency Project (PreventDelinquency.org).
Resources for parents include online and printed materials on proactive parenting and supervision. Volunteers also work with parent/teacher associations, community organizations, and individual parents who seek assistance.
“Even with the best intentions, many parents fail to adequately supervise and counsel their children, often because they aren’t fully aware of all the risks and threats their kids face — until it is too late,” says Mr. Bartol.
Some of those threats include gangs, drugs, violence, reckless sexual practices and predators.
These are real and present dangers. “Most parents are genuinely shocked when one of their children is arrested,” says Mr. Bartol. Only then do they see the warning signs that existed all along.”
Delinquency crosses every social and economic boundary, warns Mr. Bartol. “The reason it seems to be less prevalent in wealthier communities, is simply because those families often have the means to intervene through private rather than publicly funded resources.”
Pro-active parenting starts with creating a loving, communicative environment where children can develop the self-confidence and strength to withstand destructive enticements, says Mr. Bartol.
Just having supper together goes a long way towards protecting kids from future crime. A 2011 report by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse stated that having dinner together as a family, five to seven times each week, substantially lowers a child’s risk of experimenting with drugs, including using tobacco, alcohol and marijuana.
It’s equally important that parents learn how to proactively supervise their children, says Mr. Bartol. “As much as we want to trust our children, we cannot place our trust in the unknown, that is, those who take advantage of and exploit our children.”
Summary of the F.A.M.I.L.Y. Model of Parental Supervision
Familiarize yourself with the threats against your children. Do you know what drug is commonly transported in a water bottle, or which sportswear and designer clothing are used by gangs to identify their members? “If you are unable to recognize the "red flags" of a problem that exists, immediate corrective action is not possible,” warns Mr. Bartol.
Accept that all children need supervision and guidance. Just because a child has a high grade-point average in school does not mean he or she is capable of making major life decisions, or resisting the negative influence of peers.
Monitor the activities of your children. “Parents have a responsibility to know where their children are at all times, who they are with, and what they are up to,” says Mr. Bartol. Sanctions and incentives are important in enforcing boundaries. “Know all of your child's friends and work together with their parents. Verify what your children are up to.”
Investigate anything that may be suspicious. Mr. Bartol suggests that the level of intervention should correlate with the severity of the situation. “Trust is critical. Be careful not to become accusatory in tone, or you may destroy the bond that exists between you and your children.”
Listen to your children and learn from them. “You know your children better than anyone else,” says Mr. Bartol. “Be observant and receptive to them. Learn to recognize what makes your children happy or sad, when things are going well, or when something is wrong. Listen, understand, and support them. Above all, treat your children with respect. Always be available for them and they will come to you with their problems.”
Yearn to help your children when problems arise. Put the interests of your children before your own. “Remember, this isn't about you; it's about helping your children,” says Mr. Bartol.
PreventDelinquency.org provides resources for parents, teachers, counselors and law enforcement professionals about gangs, drugs, violence, sexual offences and other threats to children. A free e-book is available to help facilitate open discussion with young children about what gangs are, the lies they use to recruit members, the negative impact gang affiliation has on both members and their families, and what to do if approached by a gang.