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When a Teenager is Out of Control

No crisis has a simple solution. Sometimes, though, a teenager’s misconduct is so extreme or has been an ongoing problem for so long that his parents can no longer manage him and feel they have no recourse but to order him out of the home. Examples would include chronic substance abuse, drug dealing, incidents of violence toward family members, continued defiance and disobedience, repeatedly running away, habitual truancy from school and regularly stealing money and possessions.

No parent takes a step like that without a good deal of agonizing and soul searching. Most do so out of the sincere belief that it is in the best interest of the family, particularly siblings, and ultimately may serve as the impetus for the troubled youth to receive the professional help he needs—be it psychiatric care, a drug-rehabilitation program or some other form of treatment—and turn around his life.

What Is a PINS Petition?

A minor cannot simply be thrown out of the house. His parents would have to go to their state’s family court to file what is called a PINS petition. “PINS” stands for “Persons in Need of Supervision”; in other states it may be known as Children in Need of Supervision, or CHINS.

The process may vary somewhat from one state to another. Typically, before filing, the parents and child must meet with a representative of a government social-service agency, who attempts to resolve the family crisis and keep the case out of court. This step, called diversion, can last ninety days. If reconciliation proves unsuccessful, the parents may then file the petition asking the court to order supervision or treatment for the child. (Legal guardians, school districts or social-service agencies charged with looking after a child may also file a PINS petition.)

The court will appoint an attorney for the young person and for the parents as well, if they cannot afford one. While the case is under consideration, the youth will continue to live with his parents, unless the court decides that is an unwise arrangement. In that event, the adolescent may be released to the temporary care of a relative, foster care or possibly a group home. A hearing is then held. The family may place the youngster in either a treatment facility or in foster care.

What Is Emancipation?

Teenagers are not without legal rights. A youth who wishes to live on his own legally, without running away from home, can appeal to the family court for a declaration of emancipation. “This doesn’t mean that he wouldn’t receive money from his parents, but they would not be in a position to tell him how to spend it,” explains Dr. Robert Brown, chief of the division of adolescent medicine at Ohio State University College of Medicine and Public Health.

The criteria for emancipation varies according to jurisdiction. Most states do not allow youngsters under eighteen to initiate such a contract, but in some, children as young as age fourteen may seek legal independence. Having graduated from high school may qualify a minor for emancipation, depending upon where he lives. Other criteria frequently includes marriage, parenthood or enlistment in the armed forces. Emancipation is also sometimes granted if the parents give their permission.

Teenagers and the Juvenile Justice System

“In order to be prosecuted for a crime, a person has to be deemed an independent adult,” explains Dr. Brown. “If a person commits a crime while still a dependent minor, then it is considered not a criminal act but a delinquent act.” Accordingly, the case is heard in family court or juvenile court rather than in criminal court. Exceptions may be made, however, for minors who have perpetrated particularly serious or violent crimes, called designated felonies. They may be treated as juvenile offenders in a criminal court, although the criminal court may return the case to family court.

The process is similar to that of filing for a PINS petition. The youngster is entitled to legal representation, and if he cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed by the court. An initial hearing is held to determine whether or not the teenager should be released to his parents’ custody and allowed to go home. With minor or first-time offenses, that’s usually what happens. But if he is felt to be a danger to the community or unlikely to return to court, he can be detained in a locked or nonlocked facility until his day in court.

A minor found guilty of a delinquent act may be sent to a detention center, a shelter, even a boot camp. But the growing trend, says Dr. Brown, is to place teenagers in the least restrictive environment possible, such as a nonsecured group home. “Ideally, the kid can eventually come back home and return to school. The goal of the court is not to punish, it’s to rehabilitate and create a productive adult capable of functioning in society.”

A delinquent act does not become part of a minor’s criminal record; a designated felony, however, does.

Last Updated
Caring for Your Teenager (Copyright © 2003 American Academy of Pediatrics)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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