A Meridian mother of eight says she knows first-hand about juveniles becoming involved in crime.
"I work every day. I'm a waitress. I don't smoke. I don't use any drugs," said Latoria Brown. "I don't steal. I make an honest living."
Brown lives in what many call the East End side of Meridian. The single mom has eight children ranging in age from 19 to 4. The oldest is now in his first year of college, thanks to a $60,000 scholarship. Six of the others are active in sports, with several on the honor roll. However, over the past few years, Brown says her 16-year-old chose a different path and has had brushes with the law.
"He'll say, 'Mom, I don't know why I do what I do'. But I know that it's peer pressure, trying to be popular," Brown said.
Child psychologist, Dr. Lee Lee Marlow says often this is the case.
"Adolescence is a very unique time frame for us as people," said Marlow. "It tends to be in those early adolescent years that we establish who we are going to belong to."
Dr. Marlow says choosing friends wisely is so important because people who exude negative behavior often prey on young people who have low self-esteem and are searching to 'belong'.
"The parents, the siblings and that structure has to be strong enough to give them that sense of belonging, so that when they're among their peers, they can have friends, but they belong to their family." Marlow said.
Brown says she's happy to share that her 16-year-old is starting to make better choices.
"I've been going through this three to four years, and I'm finally seeing the light, and I'm able to help my friends," said Brown.
To resolve the issue of kids who are in crisis, Dr. Marlow says offering a helping hand is key.
"We've got to take under our wing the people who are raising and responsible for these kids, because a lot of times their decision-making is not much better than the children," said Marlow. "Number one, it's the parents' responsibility to get that training, but I think it's our responsibility, just as a society, for those of us who have those skills to mentor not just these children but their parents."