Both boys and girls get in trouble with the law. Boys are in the majority for arrests for crime, but statistics indicate that girls’ arrests are increasing: “…between 1996 and 2005, girls’ arrest for simple assault increased 24%.” Of 1528 girls studied over a period from 1992 and 2008, 22% committed serious property offenses and 17 % committed serious assaults. (Girls Study Group, U.S. Department of Justice, 2008. www.ojp.usdoj.gov).
Troubled girls easily become criminal, but also risk being a victim
Girls who have behavioral disorders, from addictions or past trauma or emotional disorders, begin to have delinquent or criminal behaviors as early as middle school. What makes a girl’s criminal activities different from boys is that girls put themselves at high risk of being victimized themselves. How can a parent or caregiver prevent their daughter from engaging in criminal behavior, and trapping themselves in a social world where their stresses and disorders can worsen?
The Girls Study Group quoted above studied which factors protected girls from becoming criminal, or helped them stop and reengage in activities that improve and stabilize their lives. Protective factors did not prevent all criminal activity however, yet the first one has been shown to be the most effective.
- Support from a caring adult. THIS IS THE SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT FACTOR in preventing girls from criminal activities of any kind.
- Success in school helped prevent aggression against people, but not property crimes.
- “Religiousity,” or how important religion was to troubled girls, meant they were less likely to be involved with drugs.
Risks to girls that are different from boys:
Early puberty is a risk if the girl has a difficult family and comes from a disadvantaged neighborhood. Biological maturity before social maturity causes more conflicts with parents and more negative associations with older boys or men.
Sexual abuse, which girls experience much more than boys, including sexual assault, rape, and harassment. But abuse of any kind affects both boys and girls equally.
Depression and anxiety, which girls tend to suffer more from than boys.
Romantic partners. Girls who commit less serious crimes are influenced by their boyfriends. But for serious offenses, both boys and girls are equally influenced by a romantic partner.
Once she’s regularly breaking rules, it’s not easy to turn things around for a troubled girl. It requires constant, persistent efforts to:
- Keep her away from risky associates.
- Keep her in school and up with studies.
- Keep telling her what’s great about her, what’s special, what’s powerful and good.
If you are a parent or caregiver, and you are lucky enough to have a strong mentoring relationship with your troubled daughter, keep it up despite any occasional law-breaking activities. She’ll need consequences, but they should be obstacles to overcome rather than punishments—such as earning back privileges by having good behavior for a period of weeks or months.
If you don’t or can’t have a mentoring relationship, find out who can (or already does). Admit you might not be the sole support for her success, and work in partnership with a caring adult. Find out who believes in her already. Find out who she asks for help if she’s feeling fearful or down about herself. Listen to her if she talks about someone she’s grateful for for helping her through difficulties. Girls respond really well to someone who believes in them.
Teen girls can be turned around and it’s always worth the effort. She might be hard to take sometimes, but find something, anything, that’s good about her and let her know. Over time, you’ll start noticing more and more great things about her, and then she’ll start noticing them too.