A new study is out that has the parenting community terrified. A truly alarming number of young people are being arrested. In fact, by the age of 23, 41% of men and women have found themselves in trouble with the law. And we’re not talking traffic violations here.

While the study, which was published in the journal Pediatrics, seemed to be focused on making pediatricians aware of the rising trend so that they could speak with children who were having trouble, parents everyone heard that figure and were shocked. Over one in three kids being arrested before 23. For a family of five…. well, which one is your problem child?

I think I can join in with a large number of parents who read this report and thought, “What can I do?” What can we do to keep our children safe and aware? What haven’t parents been teaching their kids that’s led to this seriously shocking statistic?

The more I wondered how parents were going to keep their children on the straight and narrow, the more questions I had for this study and the researchers performed it. Really, this one number, 41%, doesn’t tell us a whole lot. It’s like a big “Panic” sign without warning anyone if there’s a flood or a volcanic eruption. What should we be worried about?

I have some questions for Robert Brame, the study’s author and professor of criminal justice and criminology at University of North Carolina Charlotte. I’m hoping that he and his team will be expanding their research. Because I feel like I’m scared of something, but I have no idea what that something is. Professor Brame, wherever you are, if you could give us a few more details, I think you might help the parents of the country identify some of these issues and work to correct them.

  • What are all these young people being arrested for? Underage drinking, drug possession, petty theft? What types of arrests are leading to these high numbers? If there’s a certain type of arrest that’s dominating this dramatic growth, parents will have an idea of specific issues to discuss with their kids.
  • How many convictions are there? Bob Herbert, formerly of the New York Times was a tireless crusader concerning the growing number of people being confronted, searched and arrested by the NYPD. Are police officers picking up more youngsters than ever before without actually charging them with a crime? I’m not suggesting that excessive police officers the entire issue, but could it be a part?
  • What are the socioeconomic and geographic factors at play here? Are certain areas of the country seeing more arrests than others? Are children from poorer neighborhoods becoming even more likely to get in to trouble with the law? Should communities be doing more to support at-risk teens. (That answer is always yes, but it never hurts to have more research backing you up.)
  • Are there any warning signs that parents should look for? What should we be discussing with our teens to help them steer clear of these problems? No parent wants to see their child handcuffed. We all want to be able to help them. Knowing more information about this study would give us the opportunity to communicate with our children about the problem.
  • What are the implications for all of these kids with less than permanent records? Every company I’ve ever worked for has required a back round check. So a large number of kids entering an already dismal economic climate are going to be hiding from their past for decades?
This is a scary statistic. Almost half of our country’s kids could be arrested before they ever leave their parents’ health insurance plans. As loving and caring adults, we want to teach our kids how to stay out of trouble. We want to have the difficult conversations and let them know how youthful exuberance can hurt them later in life. Remember the teenager who lost his chance to go to the Olympics because he got drunk and peed in the aisle on an airplane? He learned that lesson pretty hard. We want to help prepare our teens, but we need to know a little more about this number before we can react.