12 December 2023

Parenting Choices Can Drive Crime Fiction Involving Minors

I've addressed before the benefits of writing crime stories involving children and teenagers. Simply because of their age, they could lack good judgment, be more willing to engage in risky behavior than an adult would, and not have sufficient experience to foresee the consequences of their actions, among other issues. As such, they could be useful for a crime-fiction author.

But parents can play a large role in what minors do, and this also opens a lot of opportunities for authors. You've probably heard the terms helicopter parents (for parents who take an overly active interest in their children's lives) and free-range parents (for parents who take a more laid-back approach to parenting). Depending on what you want your child/teenage characters (and your parent characters) to do in your story, you might give the adult a parenting style that is more controlling or more easy-going or somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. 

Helicopter parents
For instance, imagine parents who keep their son home on weekends to keep him away from a bad crowd. The boy could rebel, which opens up many opportunities for crime stories. Or the boy could follow the parents' rules and become a victim of bullying by kids who make fun of him for being so obedient, which also opens up crime-story opportunities. Or the boy could pretend to follow his parents' rules but sneak out and wind up in a whole different kind of trouble than the parents were trying to prevent. Again, crime-fiction opportunities galore. (Of course, the boy also could stay home and study a lot and earn a full college scholarship and live happily ever after, but that's not really useful for crime fiction.)

Free-range parents
On the other end of the spectrum, picture parents who are easygoing with their children. They give their kids slack, thinking overly protected children could rebel (see the prior example) or could fail to learn how to deal with problematic situations because they never got the chance. These parents could want their kids to learn self-reliance. They could want their kids to have the carefree childhood they remember themselves. Or they could be bad parents who simply don't care what their kids do. Or they could care but be overwhelmed by life and unable to oversee their children as much as they should or as much as they'd like. There are many reasons a parent could have a laid-back parenting style--good reasons and bad ones--and there are just as many potential consequences for the child/teenager characters. Once again: crime-fiction opportunities galore. (And once again, kids of free-range parents could exercise good judgment, never get in trouble, earn full college scholarships, and live happily ever after. I'm not saying one parenting style is better than another. But stories in which nothing goes wrong don't sound like crime fiction.)

My use of free-range parenting
I've made use of easygoing parents in several of my stories. In "Wishful Thinking," I have tweens explore a haunted house. They needed parents who didn't micromanage them for that plot to work. Similarly, when I was writing my newest short story, "Real Courage," I needed certain things to happen for the plot to work (including an unsupervised party), things that wouldn't be believable if the teens weren't given freedom to screw up, so I created a neighborhood of free-range parents. I also made use of free-range parents in my story coming out next, "Teenage Dirtbag." That story I set in the 1980s, when (it at least feels to me) teens could often get away with a lot more than they can today.
So if you're considering writing a crime story involving children/teenagers, keep in mind that what the kids do can largely be influenced by the kind of parenting style at work in the minor's home. Parents can make just as many mistakes as children can. We crime writers should take advantage of it.
I'll write more about "Teenage Dirtbag" when it comes out. For now, if you'd like to read "Real Courage," you can buy issue 14 of Black Cat Mystery Magazine or, for a limited time, you can read "Real Courage" on my website. Just click here.
As this is my final post of 2023, I wish you all happy holidays.


  1. I'd argue, having worked in classrooms and schools over a decade, that their is a third group---- Don't Care parents. They are focused on their careers and don't care at all about the kids. Their careers are everything and they expect the teachers to handle everything--whether it be their child giving birth on the playground, the kid that arrived at school vomiting and running 102 plus, or the kid that had straight As and was using computer skills to hack the district and divert monies while raising his grades a tad here and there. Or the kid that always dressed in black and one horrible morning brought Dad's gun to school and contemplated suicide for over an hour in a bathroom while I talked to him and tried to get him to understand that things would get better. In all these cases and more, the parents simply did not care what their kids were going through and were annoyed to be disturbed at work or totally unreachable.

    It has been over a decade since I last worked in a classroom so maybe things have gotten better. But, I really doubt it.

    1. Oh, I have seen that in my husband's former students, and also my kids' friends and so many in the elementary school with my grandkids. If ONLY some of them had careers; I have seen a lot of it over their relationships and worse.
      BTW, I have made mistakes both ways, I have to admit.

    2. Thanks for weighing in Kevin and Tonette. I grouped Don't Care parents under free-range, they would be the extreme end of the spectrum, parents who let their kids do whatever the kids want, parents who don't act responsibly.

      Kevin, I'm sorry you had so many terrible experiences. Those poor children.

  2. Barb, you are touching on the Disney movie practice I used to teach in film and fiction writing classes: mother dies before the story starts, and thus the kids have no one to supervise them like a mother would, so they can go off on dangerous adventures! I like that you've addressed both situations - the hippy parents and the helicopter parents. Interesting column!

    1. Thanks, Mel. Those poor Disney kids had it worse than just no mother. The mother dies, then the father marries a horrible person who, upon his death, goes on to treat the child terribly. If only the father had remained a good single dad, like in Beauty and the Beast. Though of course Belle ran into her own share of troubles. There wouldn't be a story if she didn't.

  3. Subgroup of the Helicopter Parents: the As-Long-As-My-Kid’s-In Parents, who engineer and micromanage playdates, parties, sleepovers, team rosters/scout troops…yes, and class lists…in order to make sure their kid is surrounded by the “right” friends. Who cares if someone’s left out, as long as it isn’t their kid? And yes, I’m a mom and a teacher, but I’ve seen it a heck of a lot more on the teacher side than on the mom side.
    That might make a good crime fic story. How far WOULD someone go to make sure their kid is in with who they feel is the “right” crowd?
    —Ashley Bernier

    1. Wow, that's sad, Ashley. And yes, that might make a great crime-fiction story.

  4. Oh, I've run into helicopter parents, free range parents, don't care parents, and addict parents who bounce between all of the above, depending on how tanked up they are. There is ALWAYS a possible crime fic story. Think of all those parents who bribed their kids' way into scholarships? And all those who actually give their kids guns when they know the kid's been into the hard core radical websites. God help us all...


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