The teenage years are often full of rule-breaking, rebellion and personal experimentation. High school students and recent graduates alike need to figure out who they are as a person and differentiate themselves from their parents, a process that can be quite painful and often involves dramatic mistakes.

Growing up often involves learning by making mistakes, but certain mistakes can do a lot more damage to a young adult’s prospects than others. While you may know that your teen is smart enough to never get behind the wheel after drinking, they may still eventually experiment with alcohol.

They don’t have to drink and drive for there to be criminal penalties possible if they get caught while under the influence of or in the possession of alcohol. How does New Jersey penalize minors who get caught with alcohol?

The penalties depend on the circumstances

As with many other kinds of nonviolent offenses, the likely penalties for a minor caught with alcohol in New Jersey will depend on their prior record and the situation when they encountered the police. The courts can impose a fine or even jail time as penalties for minors convicted of unlawfully possessing alcohol. The circumstances and prior arrest record for the minor involved will influence what penalties a judge sets.

There could be between $500 and $1,000 in fines, as well as up to 180 days in jail. The courts can even order sobriety treatment. Minors with alcohol in vehicles will lose their licenses, even if they weren’t driving.

How can parents help?

The best thing that a parent can do to protect their child from criminal charges and consequences is to teach them to respect the rule of law and to lead by example.

If you are respectful about when you drink and how much you consume at once, you will set a better example for your young adult as they learn about alcohol. Giving your child the opportunity to call you if they ever try a drink or two at a party and then realize curfew is near can also help you keep them out of the vehicles after they have had alcohol or out of the vehicles of others who have consumed alcohol.

If your teenager runs afoul of the law despite your best efforts, you may be able to help them mount a defense and avoid criminal penalties. Responding proactively when your teenager faces possession charges or driving offenses will help them learn from this mistake without derailing their future.