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?
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.
- Don’t talk to your adolescent again until he is calm and respectful. Separate if needed.
- If there are guns in your home, remove them until you feel safe around your adolescent at all times.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Immediately separate yourself and your younger kids from your violent adolescent. Go to another room or if necessary, leave the house.
- Take precautions in your home by figuring out ahead of time what is the safest and fastest way out of the house.
- Try to remain as calm as possible. Do not continue the argument or discussion.
What to say to your teen:
- 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.
- Let your adolescent know you will call 911 if there is any physical violence and be prepared to follow through.
- Remember that most violence begins with abusive language, so separating at the start of abuse can prevent the escalation to violence.
- 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.
- 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:
- 911 will be called if you are violent, or if I feel afraid for the safety of our family.
- Violence is dangerous and it is against the law.
- We will talk about consequences for your behavior after you calm down (this should include getting professional help).
- When you are violent or abusive I will separate from you.
- 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