There can be nothing more upsetting for parents than to learn that their child has not only gotten into trouble but could face criminal charges, as well. Under these circumstances, any mother or father can be both angry at their child and scared about what happens next.

The situation can be particularly confusing when you are unsure whether your child’s action was a foolish mistake or a criminal offense with harsh consequences.

What happened?

Whether a child will face criminal charges depends on what happened.

Getting a fight at school may not warrant criminal charges, but harassing, bullying and getting into a fight that causes severe or fatal injuries could.

And being at a party with drinking or drugs could end with a grounding, or it could lead to a criminal record if your child drinks and drives or possesses illegal drugs.

You might take away your child’s phone if he or she was sending immature, off-color messages to friends, but criminal charges could be filed if your child uses their phone to distribute, receive or possess explicit images of other minors.

Finally, you might not get too angry at your child for decorating a teammate’s house in the middle of the night to celebrate making the team, but vandalizing property and causing damage can be grounds for criminal charges.

When can a child be an adult?

If your child does wind up arrested and accused of a crime, they will often be tried as a juvenile. However, a child can be tried as an adult.

In Florida, as this article notes, prosecutors can elect to charge a child as an adult without a hearing to determine if that is appropriate. And prosecutors could charge a child as young as 14 years old as an adult for several felonies. Further, Florida sends more children to adult court than any other state.

This distinction is critical because the potential outcomes of the courts are quite different. Juvenile offenses typically result in rehabilitative efforts and diversion programs; adult offenses often result in incarceration and large fines.

As a parent, you want to protect your kids. However, it can be challenging to do so alone when they are facing criminal allegations. In these situations, legal guidance can be crucial.