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Calling The Police On Abusive Teens

Question

My 17-year-old teenager is bigger and stronger than I am. He has threatened me physically on numerous occasions. I’m afraid to say or do anything wrong for fear of setting him off. What should I do?

Answer

There are times when your authority as a mother or father isn’t enough. If your teen has escalated to the point of physical abuse and destruction of property, or if he is engaging in dangerous behavior outside of the home, then calling the cops is definitely an option worth considering. You shouldn’t have to live in fear of your youngster, but you should be worried about how he will manage as an adult if he’s allowed to be “out of control” now.

Do school officials allow your teen to assault teachers or other students, punch holes in the wall, speak in a verbally abusive way to others, etc.? Of course not! In fact, the schools usually call the cops if a teenager assaults someone, uses drugs or is destructive. School officials take action because they understand something that moms and dads often lose sight of: if you don’t hold an abusive child accountable now – he will graduate to worse things in the future.

What Parents Should Do When Their Teen Becomes Violent

If your adolescent starts to threaten you, to break things or to do anything physically violent, accept that you can’t stop him at this point. It can be dangerous to try to stop an adolescent when he is violent. The most important thing is to keep yourself and your other kids safe.
  1. Don’t talk to your adolescent again until he is calm and respectful. Separate if needed.
  2. If there are guns in your home, remove them until you feel safe around your adolescent at all times.
  3. If there has not been an arrest, you may want to consider getting an At-Risk-Youth Petition through which your adolescent can be mandated to counseling.
  4. If you stay in your home, try to stay in an area with access to an exit. Stay away from the kitchen or other areas where potential weapons might be available.
  5. If your adolescent is physically violent, or you think he might become violent, call 911. Police response gives your youngster the message that his behavior is serious and it is a crime. It may also result in court intervention which can be a support for your family and mandate counseling for your adolescent. Calling the police is a difficult decision, however many mothers and fathers say that it was not until after the police were called that their child stopped using violence.
  6. Immediately separate yourself and your younger kids from your violent adolescent. Go to another room or if necessary, leave the house.
  7. Take precautions in your home by figuring out ahead of time what is the safest and fastest way out of the house.
  8. Try to remain as calm as possible. Do not continue the argument or discussion.

What to say to your teen:
  1. It is important to let your adolescent know that anytime he starts to use abusive or violent behavior that you will immediately separate from him, and that you will not talk or engage again until he is calm and respectful.
  2. Let your adolescent know you will call 911 if there is any physical violence and be prepared to follow through.
  3. Remember that most violence begins with abusive language, so separating at the start of abuse can prevent the escalation to violence.
  4. The moment your adolescent starts any of these behaviors, say you are separating and immediately leave the room. If the behavior escalates, continue to ignore it and leave the house if necessary. Call the police if (a) it becomes physical, (b) you think it is heading that way, or (c) you feel afraid for yourself or others. Follow this plan of action every time your adolescent uses abuse or violence.
  5. Be specific with your adolescent about what abusive behavior is that will prompt you to separate. We define abuse as any of the following behaviors:
  • Any physical violence or aggression with people, property or pets
  • Name calling or hurtful words
  • Swearing at people
  • Threatening behavior
  • Yelling or screaming at people

Give the following messages to your teen when there has been violence:
  1. 911 will be called if you are violent, or if I feel afraid for the safety of our family.
  2. Violence is dangerous and it is against the law.
  3. We will talk about consequences for your behavior after you calm down (this should include getting professional help).
  4. When you are violent or abusive I will separate from you.
  5. Your behavior was not safe. Our home needs to be a safe place.

Calling 911 sends an important message to the adolescent that violence is not acceptable and that it is a crime. If the adolescent is arrested or a police report is filed (sometimes the adolescent is not arrested and taken to detention, but a police report is filed) he will probably be required to attend counseling, which can be helpful. The court’s response can be the most effective consequence for an adolescent who is violent. Parents receive support from the court in enforcing the rule of nonviolence in the home.

You can call the police if your adolescent is physically violent (e.g., pushing, shoving, grabbing, kicking, hitting or any physical contact that is hurtful), violent with property (e.g., throwing things, hitting, punching, kicking doors, walls, cars, or destroying property of any kind), threatening to hurt or kill a person or pets, or interfering with a call to the police.

Anytime you are afraid your adolescent is going to become violent, you can call the police. If your adolescent has not become violent when the police arrive, let them know you were afraid and tell them of any past violence. Some parents say they feel embarrassed or “silly” calling the police when their adolescent hasn’t really been violent but they were scared it was heading that way. It is important, and you have a right, to call the police anytime you fear for the safety of yourself or other family members.

Calling the police to discipline a teenager is not only a call for help by a mother or father, it is an admission that the situation has gone beyond the point where the parents are able to manage the behavior of the abusive teenager.

Each call to a police department is treated as an emergency. When a parent contacts the police to discipline an abusive teenager, many departments will dispatch a social services unit or community services officer with the patrol or "sworn" officer (i.e., the one who carries a weapon and can arrest people). Many departments, however, do not have the resources to maintain such units.

The first person through your door will be an armed officer whose first responsibility is to ensure public safety and enforce the law. Officers never decide who's right and who's wrong at the time of the incident. If your teenager has broken a law, he may be taken into custody. The officer may try to calm you both down, summon a social service officer, or inform you that police are not authorized to act in situations where no law has been broken and that you will need to discipline your teenager yourself.

The officer who answers your call may only enforce discipline in two situations: the commission of a status or criminal offense. Although teens can be held responsible for breaking laws, the law does not treat them the same way as grown-ups. They are often diverted to special "juvenile courts" or "alternative dispositions," such as community service.

Truancy, underage drinking, tobacco and curfew violations are examples of offenses based on a teenager's status as a juvenile; they may result in the issuance of a citation or, in extreme situations, removal of the teenager from the home for evaluation. Citations are often dealt with in a municipal or town court.

If your teenager has broken a criminal law, it is the duty of the officer to arrest him and deliver him to the judicial system. Many juvenile courts have social service departments that handle youthful offenders and some have "diversionary" or restorative programs that deal with first offenders.

Sometimes police make an arrest even though the parent requests they don’t arrest their teenager. The decision to arrest is the officer’s decision, not the parent’s. However, if you want your child to be arrested, explain his behavior to the officer and let them know if there have been previous violent incidents. Inform the officer if you do not feel safe with your child is at home.

Most moms and dads have mixed feelings when their teenager is arrested (e.g., feeling guilty, shocked, tearful, and like they are a bad parent). But they often report that their child’s abusive behavior decreased after the arrest. Most parents say that calling the police was one of the hardest, but most beneficial decisions they have ever made for their teen. They are finally getting help and there is no longer violence in the home.

My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

I'm starting to wonder if maybe my daughter has a mental issue beyond just normal teen oppositional behavior. Can you tell me if any of these instances raise a red flag to you as being outside the realm of 'normal' teenage horribleness? Just this week:

Monday 8pm wanted to go 'grocery shopping' with her friend. Was told no. Immediately - in front of me - got on her cell and told her friend she was ready to be picked up. In the end, she did not leave, but mainly because we blocked her exit.

(Tuesday came home after school and went to evening class - everything apparently ok; Wednesday came home after school and I permitted her to go out for an hour or so with friends after dinner.)

Thursday came home from school slammed with homework. I allowed her to miss her evening class. A boy she has a crush on was supposed to come over and study with her. As I was leaving to take my son to the class, she told me they were just going to chill for a short while in her room. We did not allow this. I left to take my son to class, my fiance told her she could not leave with this boy, she said ok to him and then left anyway! She came back within the hour and was studying when I got home - claimed they went to Applebees for food and she did have an employment application with her.

Friday (today) calls me from school at 2pm (school ends at 3), tells me her cellphone was confiscated during an assembly and they will give it back to her at the end of the day. She expected me to convince them to let her have it now. When I refused, she started calling me names, so I closed the phone on her. The number she called from was the office, so I know it was in front of office staff.

Gearing up for another stressful weekend.

Anonymous said...

I actually re-read the ODD description this afternoon. She has always been defiant. As early as 4 years old when we left my ex - a therapist visited her in her preschool and reported back to me that she is very bossy. She has always questioned why - which I actually taught her to do. Funny how things come back to bite you. But, even though it's hard now, I don't know that I regret telling her to question things.

Even tho the behavior has increased since adolescence, it is not an abrupt change and does not seem out of character for her, sadly. But the gall of her frequently is shocking and jaw dropping and humiliating - I never joined the PTA because I'm ashamed - I don't know many other parents because I'm embarrassed by her. It's like something out of a sitcom because real people (supposedly) do not behave that way. She does not like to be told no (who does?), but she cannot deal with it when she is told no and frequently just does what she wants anyways. She is increasingly using abusive and foul language. Her grades have dropped, but whereas they were mostly B's now they're mostly C's.

The rebellion is not every day - she did come home after school M/T/W/Th as she was supposed to. She knew she was grounded tonight and I pretty much knew she wouldn't be home after school. She did text me her whereabouts because she realizes I will worry. We are very close and I know she feels my disappointment and wants to change, but the pull of her friends and having fun is more important in the moment. She is very much like my father was - always out raising hell and having fun.
She is at Jenny's and they are going to the hockey game and she'll be home by curfew. I did turn off her phone except for trusted numbers, which she texted me in response: "Everytime u do that its a downward spiral. just let it go and ull see everything will be fine. Besides I need my fone to make plans sunday for babysitting with Kelly. I will be home by midnight."

The downward spiral is verbatim from me. I replied that her phone being turned off is in direct response to her behavior, to which she replied, "Well obviously its not working LOL." She is supposedly babysitting all day for pay but at a volunteer phone-a-thon for charity.

She is a very empathetic person - she is comforting and a natural caregiver. My mom says Girls Just Wanna Have Fun but agrees she is out of control with the disrespect and disobedience.

Anonymous said...

She didn't come home after school yesterday even though she is grounded and ended up not coming home at all last night. She was in text contact with me. I called the police around 9:00p and filed an unruly child report against her. I turned off her phone except for trusted numbers, eliminated her computer use and we are installing the lock on her bedroom door today. I think by tomorrow she will be ok because she has a babysitting job. I don't think 3 days, especially school days, of punishment is enough for this flagrant disobedience. If she complies, she'll be free for another weekend. What do you think about postponing the grounding until next weekend (assuming she does start it tomorrow)?

I think what bothers me most during all this is her tone - her texts are full of hahas and nahhh - I told her to come home, response was Nahhh, don't think so right now. I told her I turned off her phone and her response was So what? hahaha. It's like she's throwing it in my face and it's humiliating. I am keeping a cool exterior, however. It helps that she is not physically here to see my face. I am so ashamed of her.

She has been accepted to a 7-week summer program away from home, which we are all very excited about for various reasons. It is an expensive program and I am not willing to pay for it anymore. I am going to tell her if she wants to go she will have to pay for it herself. She has enough saved to cover costs after scholarship money I've already received. I have already told her if she gets kicked out for any reason she will need to reimburse me. Do you think that's still a better idea to work it that way? She has agreed to that and I told her we were going to put it in writing, to which she agreed again. She is SO excited for this program and it's with her good friends.

Looking back, my parents would've been fine with a 1:15a call to say I'm going to Denny's and sleeping at a friend's house. I know the bottom line is she just wants to have fun with her friends on the weekends and she thinks she can make it up to me another time, but that other time only comes in fits and starts. She has told me she wants to be able to look back on her childhood and have memories of fun times. I completely understand that and told her so. She said they were bowling last night (lanes are open until 2am.)

Thursday's incident I used the fair fighting, which I'm still struggling with the format because it's not coming out sounding at all like something I would say. Still, the bottom line was I told her I understood she has a crush on this boy who came over and it's excited to have those feelings, but she needs to be in charge of her feelings and not let them control her. She understood what she did was wrong - leaving the house even after Murray (my fiance) told her she couldn't. She told him ok and then promptly turned around and left! He is still shocked by this. But, in retrospect, I do believe she would do it exactly the same way again, so nothing has been learned, no progress made.

She is unwilling to start with a new therapist, which I can't say I really blame her for.

Anonymous said...

Well, you were right - it got worse before it's gonna get better. She beat up on her younger brother pretty badly (not hospital badly, but lots of cuts, bite marks and choking). i called the police and pressed domestic violence charges against her and they arrested her. We live in Cuyahoga County, so they'll likely send her to the downtown Cleveland juvie center, where she's been once before. She was terrified - shaking as she gave me her jewelry and begging me to not let them take her. I told her it's time to take responsibility for her actions and she was going. I wanted to hug her, but didn't realize that until after they took her. I wish so badly I could hug her. I'm really scared for her.

Mark said...

I'm proud of you. You are a good student. I wish all my parents were this committed.

Let me assure you that you made the right choice. She's going to be fine. And I'm sure she is a good kid, too.

You are helping her develop emotional muscles that she will NEVER develop otherwise. Better that she experience some short term, mild pain now -- rather than a lot of long term, major pain later. For example, if she does this bullshit as an adult, she could go to prison. You may have just prevented this misfortune! This is what we are trying to accomplish here: preventing WORSE problems later.

You're doing good, just like all the other parents who have been committed to this program. Unfortunately, tough love is often tougher on the parent than the child :)

Keep me posted ...and be at peace,

Anonymous said...

I'm so lost as a mother. I have a 14 year old is verbally absuive and destroys things when he is being redirected or punished. This issue has been going on for 3 years now, I'm a single mother and in the past he's been baker acted and I have had to call the police a number of time. I have pressed charged against him in the past and he has been in and out of DJJ and he was even put in a DJJ residental facility. He was released early Demeber of 2015 and now here we are in September and he's doing it all again. Tonight he threw a chair and threated to hurt me, I separated myself in my room locked the door and dialed 911 and he was threating to kick my bedroom door in. When the police officers arrived the female officer spoke to my son and the male officer spoke to me. I was historical crying begging them to take him out of my house, while I was explaining to the office my son's past and what he did tonight and expressed once again I was scared he threated me and I didn't want him there the officer laughed at me, I replied with you laugh but he has attacked me with hammers and knives in the past and he's going to end up hurting me one day. They ended up baker acting him since he expressed he will kill me in my sleep if they leave him. I need help, I don't want him in my house anymore as hard as it is for be to say that. What can I do?

Anonymous said...

My 14 year old son is verbally absuive and destroys things when he is being redirected or punished. This has been an on going issues for the past three years and I have tried everything from Physiologist, outpatient therapy, and in patient therapy. Hebhas been in a d outof DJJ and was even put in a DJJ residental facility and is still continuing to do the samethings. It's sad to say as a mother I no longer want him in my home. What can I do as a parent to have him permanently removed from my home? I strongly feel if I do he's going to end up hurting me.

Summbooddyy said...

Boarding school is an option.

Parent said...

Help!!!My 15 year old son is skipping school everyday even when I park walk him into the office and have the principal walk him to class.He leaves and tries to come home to a locked house so he decided to break what ever door or window he chooses to get in that day then smokes pot in the house.when I come home and confront him about it he gets physical with myself and my husband.my son is over six feet and very athletic we don't stand a chance even together he terrifies my 8 year old.The bills are pouring if from all the theft tickets he has been getting I have missed so much work trying to get him to school we are about to loose our house.We have tried taking everything tv,cell phone,speakers,even his door he just punches holes in all the walls and steals our things to retaliate.last week he stole my husbands credit card and charged over $800.I called the police last time he got physical with us and the very helpful female officer baisicly told me not to waste her time and told me to grow up and be a parent and this wouldn't happen if I was doing my job and that it's not her job to handle my son and left without even speaking to my son.i don't know what to do

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