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Guiding Your Teenager Through Law Enforcement Interactions

Talking to Your Teen About Police Interations: Essential Advice from Knox Defense

Navigating interactions with law enforcement can be daunting for teenagers. With approximately 424,300 persons under the age of 18 arrested in the United States in 2020*, it’s clear that these encounters are not limited to adults. As parents, it is crucial to educate your teenagers on how to handle these situations to ensure their rights are protected while maintaining respect for law enforcement.

The Critical Nature of This Conversation

While discussing law enforcement interactions might be uncomfortable, it’s a necessary step in preparing your teenager for real-world challenges. Emphasize that even casual conversations with authority figures like School Resource Officers can have serious implications.

Their best defense is to politely request a parent or attorney immediately.  This may be contrary to a parent’s prior advice to respect police and law enforcement, and a child’s natural inclination to please or submit to a show of authority.  This is why parents should thoughtfully prepare their teenage children for even casual interrogations by police.

Preparing Your Teen for Police Interactions

Important information to arm your children with might include:

  • Understanding the Likelihood of Interrogation: Don’t assume your child will never face interrogation by law enforcement. If your teenager is driving, encounters with police such as traffic stops or roadblocks, are not only possible but likely. Educate them on handling these stressful situations, including understanding their rights and how to respond appropriately.
  • Open Discussions on Police Questioning: The biggest mistake is not having this conversation. Engage in open discussions about how to interact with police or school resource officers. Listen to your teenager’s concerns and clarify the importance of being cautious with their statements.
  • Understanding that Deception is a Useful Police Tactic: Police are permitted to lie during questioning, and this often results in the interrogator insinuating that making incriminating statements will help your teen or make things better for them. Help them to understand that the officer is not their friend, and should not be relied upon to act in your teen’s best interests.
  • Educating on Legal Rights: Inform your teenager that they have the same rights as adults during police interactions. Emphasize the right to remain silent and the importance of providing only basic information like name, license, and insurance details. It is also important to be clear with your teenager that they can assert their rights without being difficult, obstructive, or rude.
  • Complying with Lawful Commands: Teach your teenager to comply with reasonable requests from officers, such as stepping out of the car. Understanding and following these commands can prevent further complications.
  • Handling Questioning During Stops: Officers often ask questions to assess the situation. Advise your teenager to listen and respond briefly without divulging unnecessary information. Remind them that anything beyond basic details should not be shared without a parent or attorney present.  Explain to them that police are trained in tactics designed to elicit information, and that officers are legally permitted to lie when questioning the public.
  • Rights Regarding Vehicle Searches: Make sure your teenager knows they are not obligated to consent to a car search, and declining a vehicle search is the best practice. However, if officers have probable cause, they can proceed with a search without permission.
  • The Importance of Legal Representation: Stress that under no circumstances should they answer questions beyond basic information without a parent or attorney present. In Tennessee, police are permitted to, and often do, interrogate teens without a parent present, even if the teen has asked for a parent to be present. . Nonetheless, teenagers must explicitly request an attorney prior to questioning. Talk to your teens about the importance of asserting their rights.

Utilizing Technology for Protection

Recording Police Interactions:  Encourage your teenager to record interactions with law enforcement.  iPhones can be set to record by simply telling Siri, “I’m being pulled over.” Alternatively, the American Civil Liberties Union Mobile app is a useful tool for recording these encounters.

Knox Defense: Advocating for Your Teenager’s Rights

At Knox Defense, we have extensive experience in defending constitutional rights in criminal cases across state and federal levels. We are committed to advocating for our clients both in and out of the courtroom. If your teenager is under investigation or has been charged with a crime in Middle or Eastern Tennessee, our team is ready to provide expert legal assistance.

For a free consultation and to ensure your teenager’s rights are protected, contact Knox Defense at (865) 269-9926, chat with our online receptionist or complete our online form. Our experienced attorneys are here to offer guidance and support in these critical situations.


*as reported by the Office of Juvenile Justice