Donna Taylor of Charleston has a picture from five years ago burned into her memory.

"It was about 11 o'clock at night, and I was still up because I was waiting for my son to come home," she says. "Instead, the doorbell rang, and I looked out the window, and he was standing on the front porch with a police officer. It's something I'll never forget."

And it's hard to accept.

Nobody wants to believe that his teenager has done something wrong, says Sherri Young, a family counselor in Summerville.

"For some parents, it's a total shock when their child is brought home or arrested," she says. "They immediately assume it must be a big mistake. There is no way their child did something wrong."

But this time of year, with proms, graduations and lots of parties, it's a particular concern for parents.

"It's the time of year where kids seem to push the limits," says Young.

But just because your child gets in trouble one time doesn't make him a hardened criminal.

"It doesn't mean he's a bad kid," says Kelly Spears of the North Charleston Police Department. "Each and every one of us has done some stupid things."

It's hard to know just how many kids are detained by the police each year since many times the encounter does not result in formal action against the child. But the experience is common, Spears says.

"Young people make lots of mistakes, and some are more serious than others," Young says.

It's helpful to tell your child now what to do if one day he gets caught doing something wrong. Honesty is the best policy if approached by an officer.

"The majority of the time, we know what's happened, and we just want him to tell the truth," Spears says. "In the end, it will be better for him to tell the truth, but if he gives a fake name, mouths off, lies or becomes aggressive to the officer, that just escalates the situation. Maintaining your cool and being honest holds a lot of weight and will get you a lot further than being in a sense of denial and confrontation."

Many times, like Taylor's son, kids who are caught in the act will be taken home if they are not committing a major offense. At the officer's discretion, the youth can be released to the custody of an adult, and no charges will be filed. "If we catch them doing something that's not a criminal act, many times we'll take them home and sit down and speak with the parent," says Spears.

So if you find your child on the doorstep with a police escort, don't overreact.

"Take into consideration that your children are fallible," Spears says. "We all want to believe our children are innocent angels, but being an innocent angel is not a reason for the police to bring them home."

Finding your child in police custody can unleash a lot of emotions. "You may be mad or in disbelief," says Young. "You might feel panicked, like you don't know what to do next. Don't take it out on the officers."

Spears says that children and parents should treat the officer with the same respect they want to be treated with, and don't just automatically take your child's side.

The best advice is to listen to what the officer and your child have to say.

If no charges are filed, you might want to consider imposing a penalty at home.

"If your child has a brush with the law, don't just say, 'Whew! You got off easy,' " Young says. "That may not be the case next time. Make sure your child learns a lesson. It will not hurt to impose a punishment -- take away the car, his cell phone, ground him."

At the same time, she says, some kids feel an immense amount of guilt, so there may be no need to punish. "You know your own child," she says. "If he's contrite, is it sincere or an act? Maybe that's all the punishment he needs."

It also can be a learning experience for younger siblings.

"Seeing what Mom and Dad go through, what their brother or sister goes through, might encourage the younger kids to think twice before doing something stupid," Young says.

Kids who have charges filed against them face bigger problems. The officers use information from any victims of the crime, admissions made by the child and any past records the child may have in the juvenile justice system to decide how to proceed.

There are alternative programs, such as youth court, for first-time offenders. The child could be required to make restitution, work community service or go to counseling. "We really don't want to put a kid in the system," Spears says. "We would much rather work with you and keep them out of the system and help them understand this is not the life they want. These are our future leaders."