Should You Ever Call the Police on Your Child?

Children, and in particular teenagers, certainly know how to push our buttons, and they can frequently be a source of conflict in our homes.  If you are the parent of a teen who is using drugs, engaged in illegal activity or is violent or abusive, then the level of stress in your home is very high.  In certain situations, you may wonder if it might be a good idea to call the police on your child.  It can be a very hard decision, but before making that call, make sure you understand what the police can and can’t do when called and the consequences on your child if you get the police involved.

What Can the Police Do if You Call About Your Child?

If your child is in danger or threatening real danger upon you or others, calling the police may be considered.

You should understand that once you call the police, you may not have control over what happens to your child. The officer decides how to handle the situation based on everything he or she is hearing and seeing.

You should know that the officer who answers your call may only act in two situations: the commission of a “status offense” or a “criminal offense.”  Truancy, underage drinking, tobacco, and curfew violations are examples of offenses based on a teenager’s status as a juvenile; while selling drugs, stealing, and committing physical injury on another person are examples of criminal offenses. If your teen has committed a status offense, the officer may give them a warning, issue a citation, or, if this is not the first offense, remove the teenager from the home for evaluation. If your teenager has broken a criminal law, the officer must arrest your child, even if you request that they not make an arrest.

If your teen has not committed a criminal offense, then the police have no authority to intervene. PLEASE note that a child’s reluctance to follow a parenting plan or follow your instructions is not a status offense or a criminal matter.  Therefore, the police will not enforce your parenting plan or your house rules unless you have already obtained a special and specific order from a judge authorizing the officer to do so.  An officer will not take your child away because you say that you no longer want them to live in your home.

The Consequences of Calling the Police

Deciding to call the police will have a major impact on your family, so you need to be prepared for the possible repercussions before you invite an officer into your family situation:

  1. If the police arrest your child (and they might even if you ask that they not), a criminal conviction may stay on your child’s permanent record (depending on your child’s age and the state in which you live).  A police record will significantly impact your teen’s future, including finding employment.
  2. Calling the police can potentially damage your relationship with your child.  Your child will likely feel betrayed by you, and you may never be able to maintain a healthy relationship with them in the future.
  3. It can be embarrassing to you, your family and your child when neighbors and friends ask why the police came to your home. That public stigmatization of your child and your family may last for years.

However, sometimes it is necessary to make the call still.  But calling the police should be a last resort. The juvenile justice system may provide a consequence for your child’s behavior, but most often, it does not treat the underlying problems or provide your child with the help they need.

Ultimately, every parent has to make this call on their own. The best way to make the decision might be to ask yourself, “Years from now, will I regret that I called the police on my child or will I regret that I didn’t?” Think about your child’s well-being and act in their best interest.  Either way, we recommend that you tell your child that you are considering calling the police and be very clear with your child. But remember, if you tell him or her that you’re planning to do it, you better do it. If you don’t, then your threat may be considered a mere bluff.  Then every time that you issue a warning to your child in the future, he or she will become more contemptuous of your authority.

If your family is struggling with an out-of-control child, we suggest you ask for a Parent Coordinator’s help.

You may also want to try reading books like these as a first step:

Parenting Your Out-of-Control Teenager: 7 Steps to Reestablish Authority and Reclaim Love by Dr. Scott P. Sells

The Whipped Parent: Hope for Parents Raising an Out-Of-Control Teen by Kimberly Abraham and Marney Studaker-Cordner.