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Pros and Cons ~ Should You Scare Your Child Straight?

If your child is getting in trouble with the law, what can you do? Find out from my guest blogger, Marie Owens, some of the pros and cons of the Scared Straight Programs.

There comes a time for most parents when their children will act out and become completely unmanageable. This is a phase most kids grow out of, but for others it can be the start of long-term antisocial behaviors that can eventually lead to criminal activity and even jail time. Of the parents suffering through this, many consider enrolling their child in a scared straight program.

However, a lot controversy surrounds these programs: government programs and child advocacy groups discourage others from using them, while parent and police groups swear by them. With different voices tugging the issue this way and that, it's difficult to get a clear idea as to what will be best for your child.

What Exactly are Scared Straight Programs?

If you don’t have a criminal justice degree, you may not be clear on exactly what these programs entail. Yet as their title suggests, scared straight programs attempt to get delinquent juveniles to change their behavior through shock and immersion.

Children who get enrolled in these programs are taken by the police to spend some time in jail with volunteer inmates (usually lifers) and experience the life of a prisoner. The idea behind it is that by hearing the stories of convicted criminals, spending some time in their shoes and confronting the true, unglamorous nature of prison life a child headed down a self-destructive path can be convinced to abandon it.

These programs appeal to parents because, unlike psychoanalysis, the approach is straightforward and exude an air of common sense: show kids the consequences of their actions and they'll change their tune.

Do They Work?

It's difficult to make a clear judgment as to whether the programs help the kids enrolled in them. Statistically, the programs don't look very good. The Surgeon General has advised all parents to stay clear of them based on a number of studies that show the programs have little-to-no effect.

Likewise the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention does not provide funding to scared straight programs because they provide few measurable results and rarely provide data on their success rates.

Nearly all sociological research has shown that the programs either have the same effect on participants as those in non-participant control groups, or cause their participants to grow worse after completion.

However, statistics rarely translate well to the personal level. There are scores of parents who swear by scared straight programs citing their child's successful rehabilitation.

Those who have completed the program and gone on to abandon lives of delinquency often cite it as their primary motivator, and there's no limit to the variation between programs.

The documentation itself can be quite persuasive on its own: The Good Project Magazine recently ran a story on the effectiveness of watching the original scared straight documentary in turning around the lives of hundreds of former delinquents. You can find it here: http://goodmenproject.com/families/boys/doc-talks-scared-straight/  For more information go to:  http://www.criminaljusticedegree.net 

So What Should I Do?

When it comes to these programs, it really has everything to do with your child. The reason it works for some kids and not others is because some are more susceptible to this sort of message.

The convicts involved in these programs can only help kids in whom they can inspire respect, but not the kind of respect that encourages emulation. As with any decision about your kids, if you want it to be successful you need to evaluate it based on your own experience with them.

My thanks to Marie Owens, who works in security logistics for this important information. In her spare time she teaches a female self-defense course and studies law in Washington State. For more information go to  http://www.criminaljusticedegree.net 

What Do You Think?

 Please comment in the comment link below. Don't forget to add your email so I can separately email you 10 Beautifully Crafted Love Notes for Your Kids.

With warm wishes,

Jean Tracy, MSS

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