Is It Time to Call the Police on Your Child? Assaultive Behavior, Verbal or Physical Abuse, Drugs and Crime

by James Lehman, MSW
Is It Time to Call the Police on Your Child? Assaultive Behavior, Verbal or Physical Abuse, Drugs and Crime

There are times when your authority as a parent isn’t enough. If your adolescent has escalated to the point of physical abuse and destruction of property—or if he is engaging in risky or dangerous behavior outside the house—you already know you need help. Calling the police on your child poses a risk that you might not be willing to take, but it’s an option you might want to consider. James Lehman tackles this tough subject in a frank one-on-one interview.

"You should not have to live in fear of your child—and you shouldn't have to live in constant fear of how he will manage in life later on if he’s out of control now."

EP: Many parents feel powerless to stop their out-of-control adolescent’s behavior. They write to EP and say, “My teenage son is bigger than me, and he threatens me physically. I’m afraid of him. What can I do?” James, what would you say to those parents?

James Lehman: To parents who tell me “I’m afraid of my teen,” I say, “I believe you. These kids can be very scary and threatening. But I think if your child doesn't respond to your authority, there's another authority you can call upon if you choose to.”

Kids with behavior problems often make choices that lead to less and less self-control. They'll say and do things which give you the impression that they're out of control, but remember: everything they say and do is a choice. And it's those choices that we need to be concerned about.

Picture your child’s school for a moment—they don't let him assault people, punch holes in the wall or speak in a verbally abusive way to others there. In fact, all the schools I've worked with call the police if a student assaults someone, uses drugs or is destructive. Schools take action because they understand something that parents can lose sight of: kids make the choice to do these things, and as a result, they should be held accountable.

And why do we give somebody a consequence or a reward? To encourage kids to make better choices. If your son can choose to handle his emotions maturely and not curse out his little sister when she's annoying, that's a good choice; we want to reward that. If on the other hand, he chooses to be verbally abusive to his sister, the consequence you give him holds him accountable for that choice. So whenever we're thinking about steps like calling the police, I think the important thing is to understand that kids make choices—your child made the choice to hit you, take drugs or destroy your neighbor’s property. And I believe you should hold him accountable for that by using whatever appropriate means you have at your disposal.

EP: James, what would you say to parents who aren’t comfortable with taking this action?

JL: I know that many parents are alarmed at the idea of calling the police on their kids. And believe me, I really understand that. You’re getting the law and the government involved in your home. Many people are afraid that if they call the police, they'll lose control of the whole process. I also think there’s a social stigma attached to it; many parents are embarrassed by what their neighbors will think if they see the police at their house. They also may feel ashamed of themselves; they question themselves and wonder why they can’t handle their own kid.

I want to be very clear here: it's tough for parents to call the police and it's a very personal decision. It’s not for everyone, and if this option does not work for you or your family, then I think you should listen to your gut feeling. I really think everybody has to honor the choice of the parents. After all, you have to live with yourself for a long time. 30 years from now, your child’s teachers and counselors won't remember him, but you will, and you want to act in a way that you won’t regret later.

EP: James, let’s say a parent has decided that they would be willing to take that risk. How do they know when it’s time to call the police? In other words, what behavior would constitute a good reason for taking this action?

JL: I think you call the police when safety is an issue or when the behavior crosses the line and becomes criminal. This includes when things are getting broken and when people are getting threatened or hurt. To be more specific, if your child grabs a book and throws it across the room, I don't think you call the police. But if he punches holes in the wall or breaks something on purpose, I think you tell him “Next time you lose control like that, I'm going to call the police.” And if he does it again, you follow through.

To put it another way, I think you should consider calling the police when you see a pattern of behavior that's unsafe and threatening to others. Make it clear to your child that “This is the consequence for abusive, destructive or criminal behavior.” And hopefully he will learn from that consequence and make a different choice next time. I think it’s very black and white. When you have a child who is willing to violate the rules of your household—a child who’s willing to climb out the window and stay out all night, break his sister's iPod, punch holes in the wall or push his father or mother or siblings—you need to take very strong action. Believe me, you have a child who’s really in an awful lot of trouble as a person.

Don't forget, one of the things about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is that the trauma comes from feeling like you didn’t have any control over the pain or the stressor. And I think that siblings who grow up with a violent, destructive or explosive brother or sister can be traumatized because they don't know when they’re going to get hit, pushed or verbally abused next. I know from personal experience that many siblings of kids who act out—the brothers and sisters of kids who are assaultive, abusive or destructive—develop PTSD-like symptoms. That's the bottom line.

When I hear from parents in this situation, I think of the terms “domestic violence” and “domestic abuse.” And that's what it is, because somebody in your home is taking advantage of weakness and physically assaulting family members. I think that's when you have to ask yourself, “What do I have to do keep my family safe here? And what am I going to do to help my child learn that he can't behave this way anymore?” For me, calling the police is part of the equation, because they can exercise greater power than you can over your child.

By the way, if this is a choice you’re willing to make, I think you have to let kids know what you’re planning to do. When things are going well, you can say, “The other night you pushed your mother. If that happens again, I'm calling the police.” It’s important to have that kind of plan in place. Let’s say you don’t have a plan and you wind up hitting your child in self-defense. You’re the one who will be arrested and penalized. And not only may you wind up in jail, but the courts are going to blame you for all your kid's previous problems.

I think you should tell your child you're planning to do this and I think you have to be very clear. But remember, if you tell him you're planning to do it, you better well do it. If you don't, then it's just another joke; it's just another bluff. And every time that you bluff your child, he will get more contemptuous of your authority—that's just human nature.

But the bottom line is that you should not have to live in fear of your child—and you shouldn’t have to live in constant fear of how he will manage later on in life if he’s out of control now.

EP: What about parents who are worried that their child will be sent to a juvenile detention center; that he’ll have a record that will follow him for the rest of his life?

JL: I think those are legitimate fears. I can't in good conscience tell you those things won't happen, because they do. But in my 25 years of working with the juvenile justice system, I’ve found that the wheels of justice turn very slowly. If the police come, they might write a report, but they can't do anything if you don't want to press charges. And they'll usually encourage you not to press charges the first or second time you call them. Look at it this way: nobody wants to take custody of your son or daughter; nobody wants to take responsibility for your teenager.

Why are you calling the police? You're calling them to give your adolescent a strong message that you're not going to tolerate his behavior and you're not helpless. I think that if the behavior continues, parents should press charges—especially if a parent or another sibling gets hurt. Press charges, because nobody goes to jail on their first charge; it just doesn't happen that way. Certainly, your child is not going anywhere if he has a family. The state doesn't want to pay for him; they're going to try all kinds of non-institutional resources. Hopefully they'll set you and your child up with counseling.

EP: What if you call the police, but the behavior continues?

JL: If the abusive, destructive or criminal behavior continues, the main thing that you want is for your child to be held accountable on another level. One way the courts do that is by putting your child on probation. Having a probation officer adds another dimension of accountability. Now if your child punches a hole in the wall, not only do you tell him to stop, but you call his probation officer. When your teen meets with him, the probation officer says, “Your mom told me you punched a hole in the wall. I thought we said you were going to work on that. I thought you promised me you weren't going to do that anymore.” Think of the probation officer as another level of authority.

I've seen probation officers and judges work out plans for kids who are aggressive and violent. They'll put them in "juvie" for a weekend or two. It can be very effective. They don't send the child away forever. After his time is up, they bring him back to court and say, “So what do you think? You think you can stop hurting people?” If the kid smarts off, they send him back for another weekend. They're trying to teach him to be accountable. Ideally a counselor or therapist points out, “You're not punching any holes in the walls here. What's different is we’re holding you accountable and you know we won’t tolerate your disrespect or abuse. You're making different choices about how you treat people and property. You can punch a wall here, but you're choosing not to. Now let’s figure out how you can make those same choices at home.”

That’s how coping skills are developed by professionals. These punishments and consequences are all designed to teach your child to make different choices; hopefully those choices will be healthy and safe.

EP: What about getting a permanent record?

JL: Parents ask me, “Will my child have a record for the rest of his life?” I'm sure the fact that they’ve been in detention or had a probation officer will be written down somewhere. But if something happens before your child is 16, in most states, that gets sealed when they become adults; there's no access to it and the public can't find out about it.

I understand that parents don’t want their kid to have a record. That's what you have to weigh out and struggle with. Ask yourself, “Is this behavior dangerous enough that it warrants me taking this action? How dangerous is he, really?” Personally, I'd rather have a child learn to be in control of himself and have a juvenile record than be out of control and have no apparent future.

Many kids blackmail their parents by saying, “If you call the police, I'll get a record.” Or “They’re going to send me to juvie.” They manipulate their parents this way. But I think if the abusive, assaultive, destructive behavior doesn't change, your child is going to have a lot more problems than whether or not he has a juvenile record. Make no bones about it; some day he's going to get an adult record. Out-of-control juvenile behavior becomes criminal behavior the day he turns 18.

EP: Any other reasons to call the police on your child?

JL: Another issue that I think parents have to think about is crime. This would include possession and selling of drugs or stolen property. I think you can say ahead of time, “I can't stop you from using drugs and if you're high, you're high. I can't tell the difference and I'm not going to play detective. But if I find drugs, I'm calling the police.”

If the police come over to your house and find some pot, they're usually not going to arrest your kid. They're going to warn him, because a quarter an ounce of marijuana is nothing to the police. You want to give your child the impression that you're just not going to sit by and let him throw his life away. But again, it's a strictly personal decision.

EP: How can you expect your child to react afterward?

JL: When things are calmed down the next day, your kid is going to be mad at you. He’ll say, “You stabbed me in the back.” He’s going to feel a sense of betrayal, but that's what bullies do. When you stand up to them, they feel like you've betrayed them and that they're the victim.

I think when things are going well, you want to say, “If you make different choices, we never have to call the police again. But if you assault somebody, if you break people's stuff, if you bring drugs into the house, if we feel intimidated by you, or if I'm afraid somebody's going to get hurt, I'm calling the police. And I just want you to know that.”

What your child will learn to say is, “So what, they won't do anything anyway.” But I think you say, “That may be, but I'm still going to keep calling them.” And here's the deal: every time you call, you’re adding to the paper trail on your child. You want to create that so there's clear documentation that he is out of control. I also think that it's important for parents to follow through on their plans. Say, “Well I don't know if the authorities are going to do anything, but I'm doing something. I'm calling the police.”

EP: James, Is there anything else parents should know?

JL: I think that it's just very difficult to raise a child, especially if they have behavior problems. But it's important for parents to know and remember that these kids make choices. Even when they seem overwhelmed by feelings, they’re making conscious choices—although that's not what they want you to believe. They want you to believe that they were overwhelmed by anger and so they really couldn't control themselves. That's an out-and-out lie. They're making choices all the time, and I think one way or another they need to be held accountable for those choices. If they don't respond to the level of accountability that they're held to, when they become adults, the game gets very serious and the consequences are severe: you lose jobs; you get arrested for possession; you go to jail for stealing.

Challenging kids who have out-of-control behavior patterns is not for the faint of heart because they strike back forcefully. Every now and then you're faced with a really tough decision. Hopefully you have knowledgeable people to talk to and access to learning tools. In any case, it's a tough job being a parent and there's not a lot of community support for that role nowadays.

Again, calling the police is one of the options parents should seriously consider, but it's not the only option. And if parents take that off the table, for whatever reason, that's perfectly sound judgment. Many, many parents choose not to exercise that option, and I support them. That being said, calling the police should be something people consider, and either reject or accept. Remember, you have the same right to protection from crime in your home as you do out of your home. It's not as if the law is different. We should have the same expectations of our children.


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James Lehman, MSW was a renowned child behavioral therapist who worked with struggling teens and children for three decades. He created the Total Transformation Program to help people parent more effectively. James' foremost goal was to help kids and to "empower parents."


We have a 16 year old boy with an undiagnosed illness on the Autism Spectrum. He is sometimes out of control, and we have used the police to help with these situations. It is the hardest thing for me to do, but by wife does not feel safe and that is where is crosses the line.

Comment By : Chris

My son had become physically and verbally abusive. He lost his friend to suicide, and couldn't stand the fact that he hadn't saved her, hated himself, and turned to very destructive behavior. I had also spent too many years rescuing him. I finally called the police and it saved his life. They did have to arrest him, because he had put his hands around my neck. We were able to have him go to a program in Utah called Second Nature Wilderness Program. It was a lifesaver for him- it literally brought him back from self-destruction. He was shocked that I called the police, shocked that he was arrested, and shocked that we hired a transport service to send him to Utah. But the hard work he did in that program saved his life and convinced the judge to drop the charges and expunge it from his record. It gave him a sense of being competent and a leader in his group and the realization that every choice has consequences. He came back to the really amazing person he was underneath it all and started liking himself again. He is a college student today and a much happier, healthier guy. I really believe if I hadn't called the police he might not be alive today.

Comment By : Lovingmom

How does a parent with an out of control child deal with their child when the other parent - Disneyland Daddy and the Parenting with your Wallet and every other category I read - undermines you totally. Does this program work for out of control fathers who have access to their children?

Comment By : Cindy from Australia

In Texas, I live near Austin, if your child does hit you and you call the police, they will take them in for domestic assault. A judge will most likely release them in the morning and they will probably be assigned a probation officer and an 8pm curfew for six months. It is actually a wonderful resource for out of control children. (speaking from experience - parent of a 14 year old daughter)

Comment By : MomUnderStress

Thank you for this article! I have 15 year old internationally adopted son and have actually called the police on him twice this year and I have struggled with the decision each time. Friends of mine who are married tell me "Well, if there was a dad in the house, he wouldn't be acting that way" or my guy friends say "You need to get that boy on leash, if I was there...blah blah blah, fill in the blank." So it really makes me feel like I am not doing a good job parenting. He isn't bigger than me but when he gets into a rage and starts punching walls, doors and windows in my rented house, I can't say anything that will make him stop. It's literally like his rage takes over. When he was younger he likened himself to the Incredible Hulk, turning into something rageful when he gets mad. Consequences like grounding don't phase him and spanking a 15 y.o. is almost laughable. The last time I called the police was because he stole a neighbor's PSP and sold it at school but was incapable of seeing his actions as stealing. Instead he blamed the other boy for "snitching" when really, all he did was come over and ask for it back. The more I tried to explain it to him, the louder and more verbally abusive he got and finally out of frustration, I called the police. If he didn't understand criminal activity from me, then maybe the police could talk some sense into him. Now that the cops have been to the house twice, my son is starting to see that I am not fooling around or that I am making empty threats. Sure the neighbors probably think I suck as a parent, but I only have one son and I'm going to do what I need to do to make sure he grows up understanding right from wrong and than his actions have consequences. Thank you again for the article!!

Comment By : sherit

You know I don't have a real bad kid, I have a 13 year old son that tries to push his limits and I have used this program with him, but I came from a tough family life and I find that I have to use this program with my personal life more than with my son so thank you. By the way it sure is hard to have to use this on yourself first.

Comment By : Tonya

One night 2 years ago, my son was hiding from us at 11PM. I did call the police after I discovered where he was staying. The police were nice enough to get him and bring him to the station and inform him of consequences for breaking curfew before releasing him. He was quite embarrased in front of his friends while the officer was taking him away. We as his parents also explained that he would face consequences for disobeying us. He has been a little better ever since but he knows that we will call the police again and I believe this keeps him in check. We would do not intend to make a habit of calling the police every time he gets out of line nor do we threaten him with calling the police - that would be extreme behavior for us. We just wanted to get the point across that we will call if he crosses the line and gets out of control. We are just sharing our experience. Thanks for this article.

Comment By : CRR777

Another instance not covered here-My 17 year old son had a rough patch about 2 two years ago. It was very tough. The short version is that I turned off his capability to send or receive text messages on his cell phone and blocked phone calls except to 911 as a consequence. He went off the deep end and unknown to me left the house. I did not even realize he was gone until he called me. He left without saying anything to me and without my consent. I knew that if I did not draw a hard line right then and there that it would only be the beginning of this behavior. I called the police. He had returned home before they had arrived and I prayed that the police officer that responded would be helpful and understanding of the situation. Thankfully he was. He talked to my son and told him that as long as he was a minor he was under my authority, like it or not, and that it only took that one time of his leaving without telling me and he was considered a habitual run away. He also told him that this was just a warning but that if he had to come back again that he would be arrested and taken to jail. Glory to God I have not had any more issues of him leaving without talking to me first. It was very hard to think about in the days that followed. I could not believe that I had called the police on my own child. I am glad that I did. Given the opportunity to do it over again, I would not change my decision.

Comment By : Kimberly K

My 13 year-old son let go of all self-control earlier this school year and was wreaking havoc in our family and in our house. He broke down the front door and smashed a lamp out of anger. He pushed me and made both his younger brother and me feel afraid for our safety. He was also ditching school and hanging out with friends. Finally, I called the police one morning and asked for their help in getting him to school. He's bigger than I am, and I couldn't physically make him go. (And he knew that.) The police were really supportive, and they went to my house to retrieve him while I was on my way to work. This had to happen twice, but several months have now passed, and he's not ditched again. I had many people in my family telling me not to go to the police because it would harden my son against them and cause him to have a record. In the end, though, I decided to utilize the resource since my authority had lost its effect. Thanks for your article. It made me feel better about my decision, and I also feel less alone knowing others are coping with willful, angry children. You're right; parenting is NOT easy.

Comment By : Tonya

We had to call the police on our adopted 12 year old daughter. Sounds amazing, and laughable, but she would get mad, threaten to kill her brother, pull all the pictures off the walls and throw them, and generally wreck havoc. Yes, it was difficult decision to make, However, living with an abusive, destructive child was worse. They would always Baker Act her because of her mental health diagnosis (PTSD). On the 6th visit to our house, we decided to press charges figuring she might as well, sooner rather than later, learn that you can't abuse people. The police tried to talk us out of it, saying she would never meet the criteria for juvenile detention. I'm guessing she was less than cooperative in custody, because she spent the weekend in juvie. The judge was very matter of fact with her and what was going to happen if she didn't change. She is now in a community based intervention program and has not had another meltdown since. Seems like a miracle, but I think she has gotten the message that we will not be intimidated and if she will not accept our authority in the home, she will answer to the police.

Comment By : Diane

My then 16 yr old closed the garage door and cornered me as I was getting into my car. He then proceeded to punch me in the eye. He had threatened to kill me before this and had been abusing his younger brother. This was the last straw and I called the police. He was arrested and put in a state home where he received counseling. He hated me for years and called me every vile name in the book but our relationship is now better than it has ever been and he knows that if he ever does something like this again I won't hesitate to have him arrested. It is never acceptable to threaten and physically abuse someone and this was the hardest thing I've ever done in my life. My son is now 23 and is finally maturing but even so I will never trust him again.

Comment By : Daisy

* Dear ‘Cindy from Australia’: The program can work very well in these situations. What James Lehman emphasizes in the Total Transformation program is the importance of creating a ‘culture of accountability’ in your own home. He will teach you how to hold your child responsible for his own behavior choices. Kids are capable of learning the different rules for home and the different rules for school and can also learn that rules are different in their mother’s and father’s homes. If your child tries to argue with you that they are allowed to do something at Dad’s you are telling them not to do, just say, “You may be able to do that at Dads—however, in this house, these are the rules.” We don’t want to allow the influence of others to be an excuse for behavior choices. Regardless of what your child’s friends are doing at their homes, or what he is allowed to do at his Dad’s home, he is responsible for following the rules in your home when he’s with you. Call us here at the Support Line. We will be glad to help you apply the Total Transformation techniques in your specific situation. Keep in touch.

Comment By : Carole Banks, Parental Support Line Advisor

A parent should absolutely call the police, but only if the parent is ready and willing for the child to face the consequences. My 16 year old son stole my car last year while my husband and I were sleeping. Due to a fluke, we discovered that he was gone and so was my car. I called the police, he was arrested, held in juvenile detention for almost 2 months, then spent 4 months at a placement facility. I fully expected him to come home to seek revenge, but he come home with the intention of not going back to placement. He knows that I'm not messing around when it comes to that kind of behavior. Your the parent, don't be afraid to take control!

Comment By : Wendy

From my own personal experience and in my profession with my own children - the police do not just sit on reports. They are sent to the P.A. or given a citation and action is taken by the Court. For me it was about setting boundaires and what is unacceptable behavior with it's my child or another person. It is a very hard and confusing issue but when it comes to violence, the child no matter what ages needs to learn there are consequences to his choices and he needs to learn that it is a choice when you act out towards others. It's a choice when you amage property or even call someone names. There are so many issues going on in a pre-teen or teenagers life - but they still need to be held accountable for their actions. Which we read about in some many issues and posts with Empowering parents. We did call the police on our child and told him that we would also be held accountable if we allowed certain behaviors to go on in our home. Today, he is 26 years of age and we have a good relationship - you really do worry at the time everyting is going on if the child will turn completely away from you and if you'll even have a relationship - our jobs as a parent is to love the child and teach him to be responsible and accountable for his choices. Our we embarrassed when the police show up yes, but one thing to recognize is that your neighbors probably already have some idea you are struggling with this child and secondly, we don't know what's going on in their house - could be the same thing that's going on in yours. Most important for me to remember is I'm the person responsible to teach the child at that's what counts.

Comment By : moontan

Sherit: If I was your neighbor, I would be glad you did something; I would not think you suck as a parent!! I threatened to call the police several times, and finally called. Merely knowing that I had called calmed him down immediately, and we were quietly talking by the time they arrived (in a very timely manner). The cops saw one of the holes in a wall and asked if it had happened that night. It hadn't. They told me that if it had, they would have no choice but to take him to juvie for an overnight stay. If I call, and there's current damage, he's out--at least overnight. That put some real fear into my son. He still yells and acts snotty at times, but things have toned down.

Comment By : Jan in AZ

I think your article on considering calling the police is great. There is one situation that was not covered. While I think it is rare, it would be helpful to cover it. That is, those situations where the police do nothing or worse, do not back the parent up. I have seen this happen in the community I live in. I think it is partially because we do not have a local resource for either parents or police to use and because the police are poorly trained. Would you comment on this?

Comment By : SmallTown Ann

Amen. It worked for us. There is no change if there is no consequences. Police are the last resort, but it will work when they get to spend a night in lock up with some REAL bad kids and young adults. It is a wakeup call that they NEVER forget. PROZAC helped work wonders also. Good Luck.

Comment By : DAD

* Dear ‘Small Town Ann’: On the Support Line, we sometimes recommend to parents who are considering calling the police the next time their child acts out to call the police before it happens. We suggest that parents find out in advance what kind of support the police can offer for the behaviors they’re concerned about. For example, what will the police be able to do if your child does not come home at night or if your child is violent? If you have this information ahead of time, it will help you make your decision whether calling the police will support your authority as the parent and have the impact on your child that you were hoping for.

Comment By : Carole Banks, Parental Support Line Advisor

Thanks for this encouragement. I have a hard time thinking that I would call the police on my 13 year daughter, but lately her abusive mouth, uncoperative attitude and destructive tendencies are making me think twice. My wife left the house tonight and does not want to put up with her anymore. She has ODD and when I limit her computer time because she is not completing work at school, she comes unglued and blames everyone for her own problems. Doors slam, things are thrown, people are shoved, the dog is mistreated and she holes up in the bathroom. Probably tomorrow she will say that she is not going to school and we can not make her. My wife just wants to keep things calm and give in to her. I think that we are creating bad habits. I don't think she really believes that there consequences to her actions. So far she has glided thru life because she is loved outside the house, but feared her at home. We walk on egg shells and try to make her happy at our expense. I am fearful but I really think that we need to consider the option of calling the police. I can't believe that I just wrote that but we need a higher authority. My wife asked me to pray more for her and that she will grow out of this stage. My older daughter can't wait to move out and go to college somewhere else. So sad to write this, but it is true.

Comment By : menlo dad

Hi, I have a question---my son is 10 and he has been diagnosed with "general mood disorder"---we are treating it with megadoses of vitamins and things have gotten better, however, he will still rage at times. His rages consist of calling me (mom) names and telling me to shut-up, while throwing things and at times breaking items. My question is, if he is truly suffering from a brain disorder (which does show up in abnormal brain scans---so definitely biological component---)how do we hold him accountable for his behavior?

Comment By : kp

* Dear ‘kp’: That’s a really good question you ask about whether to hold someone accountable who is struggling with a mental illness. It does seem reasonable that if someone is not able to control their behavior because of illness, they should not be held accountable. Start by finding the treatment that does stabilize your son’s moods. James Lehman states that the Total Transformation program is not intended to take the place of professional therapy, counseling or medical treatment. However, the Total Transformation program can be a helpful addition to a treatment plan because after your son’s moods are stabilized, he still needs to learn the skills to manage his behaviors. We wish your family the best as you continue to seek out resources for your son.

Comment By : Carole Banks, Parental Support Line Advisor

This article is great and it's wonderful that it has been so successful for so many parents, but what about my scenario. When my 12 year old daughter loses her temper and throws things, hits me, etc. my current plan of action is to call my sister. She knows how my daughter really is, so when my daughter is all calmed down by the time my sister gets over to pick her up and my daughter tries to explain what just happened with her own little twist on things, my sis knows that she's lying. My daughter claims that if I call the police on her she's going to tell them that I'm hitting her. So what do I do?

Comment By : troubled mom in WI

I have a son who is now 9 years old and have been calling the police on him for a few months now, since he was about 8 and a half. He becomes very violent and very verbally abusive towards myself (mom) and anyone else who is around, including his brother who is 2 1/2. It took me a while to be able to call the police on him, I used to cry every time I did it. Now I know that I'm doing it for safty reasons only. The trouble I have with it tho is that they will take my son to a mental hospital for an eval, and possibly to stay there - and my son likes to go there. So he will now throw fits so bad that I will have to call and report him yet again. My question is - how can I stay safe and not give my son what he wants? He has said repeatedly that he doesn't want to be with me just because I have him do chores. And he likes the place he goes due to them having games he likes to play there. I have tried just about everything that I can think of. He is diagnosed with having ADHD (doesn't respond to any meds for ADHD), ODD, Mood Disorder, Depression,and Anxiety. Any advice would be helpful!

Comment By : Heather

* Dear ‘troubled mom in WI’: We’re sorry to hear that you’re having such a difficult time with your daughter. It’s probably not a good idea to try to handle this situation by yourself, or by just using ‘consequences’. Let her pediatrician know about the frequency of her temper tantrums. In the Total Transformation program James Lehman says that knowing how to ‘problem solve’--not consequences--changes behavior. First your daughter needs to learn what triggers her anger [Total Transformation Program, Lesson 5-Understanding Faulty Thinking: The Blocks to Problem Solving]. Then she needs to problem solve with you about what she can do differently the next time she starts to get upset. Recognizing her emotions as she moves through a tantrum episode will help. As she learns to recognize and name her emotions, she can then try and calm herself down when she realizes she’s ‘annoyed’, for example. You can help her by not becoming overly emotional yourself, by pulling out of an argument that starts to escalate, and by calmly coaching her to, “Take a break and try to calm yourself down.” Call us here on the Support Line for more ideas. We’d be glad to help.

Comment By : Carole Banks, Parental Support Line Advisor

* Dear Heather: We’re sorry to hear your family is going through this difficult time. These are tough decisions you’re making in order to keep your family safe. Don’t be concerned that your son receives some relief when he is hospitalized. It’s not uncommon for those who feel ‘out of control’ to look forward to feeling calmer. If you are also using the Total Transformation Program, be sure to share the program with any professionals who are treating your son. We wish your family the best.

Comment By : Carole Banks, Parental Support Line Advisor

Dear Menlo Dad, My 15 year old daughter has ODD also and is making our lives a living hell. Just recently she sold marijuana to a 13 year old boy. We found out because his mother called us. I wished that the police had caught her and arrested her. On Monday I called the local sheriff's office and they gave me the phone no. of a group that helps families with children with drug problems. We will pursue this line, and pray that it will help. Our eldest daughter has stopped speaking to the younger one; she is disgusted and can't wait to leave our home to attend college. Our youngest daughter has been making awful choices for years now. She is a liar, defiant, disobedient, a great actress (other people outside our family think she is still the great kid she used to be). She chooses the worst people for friends, has chosen to use drugs, uses foul language (when not in our presence), and listens to the worst filthy music (even though we have constantly removed them from her electronics). My husband is at a complete loss how to handle her and what to do. I'm exhausted, but now with this proof of criminal behavior, I am determined that she will be held responsible for this behavior. This program we're entering her into will even require her to have urine analysis done. We know in the past that she has shoplifted, sometime last year, but she was not caught. I am hopeful that if there is any future criminal behavior that she will be caught. I am sending you this message because I want to encourage you to ACT before your daughter sinks farther down, just as our daughter has. Believe me, my husband and eldest and I have prayed and prayed, and we will continue to do so, BUT that doesn't mean we do not work towards parenting our difficult children. You are right, pretending things will get better without actually acting upon that will not work. Ora et Labora... pray and work! Having a child like ours is very isolating. From shame of their actions and fear that they will be shunned, we keep all hidden. We fear that other people will think that their awful behavior is because we are bad parents... not observing our other perfectly normal children. For the sake of our normal children, for the sake of our marriages, and for the sake of our out of control children, we must hold our ground, and if that means getting the help of police or whatever, than so be it! I pray for you and your family!

Comment By : pray and work mom

This really helped me so much.

Comment By : lolakai

My 15 year old daughter has been in a lot of trouble over the past year, she has been hanging out with a bad friend who will come pick her up in the middle of the night and she will be gone for days at a time. I reported her missing and the sheriff said if she goes with the friend again he will arrest her and her parents. Last night she told me to watch it when I am asleep so I called the cops. They charged her with a misdemeanor, menacing, and she has to go to court. We will see what happens. It is very difficult.She has also become very sexually promiscuous in the last few months.

Comment By : Angie, Colorado

My 14 year old son has Tourettes and ADHD and possibly ODD. He went to a private school until jr high and ever since jr high it has been a nightmare. He has chronic leg pain and back pain dut to his tics. He is addicted to marijuana saying that it makes his leg pain go away. He has had behavior problems since he was a toddler. He had had so many behavior problems since starting high school. A couple months ago my mother came to stay and he stole her klonapins from her purse, ingesting them at school, staggering in the hallways and was charged. He has an IEP and the school gave him the option of going to alternative school for a semester to get his grades up and give him a chance to go back to the public hs. Within a week he was taken to detention center twice- first time he was out of his bed gone getting high at 4am and the second time he skipped the alternative school with some kids there and got high all day and eve, didnt come home so we called the police again. They kept him in the shelter part of the detention center for a week. Yesterday we had court hearing and the judge ordered that he may return home, but on home detention and could be released when I get a land line set up. The very next day (yesterday eve. I got a call stating that him and another boy ran from shelter. They are still looking for him. He takes regular medications and does not seem to care about ingesting alcohol or marijuana when told not to, although he says he seldom drinks. We have done a dual diagnostic counseling program for his marijuana and behavior issues. He always went without argueing but always told me that the counseling wasnt helping. His doctors referred him to an childrens pain clinic and prescribed him xanaflex for his painful muscle spasms. His grades has always suffered since jr high due to the fact that his adhd meds were effective for the concentration part, but they made his tics worse and his pain would stay at about an 8 out of ten all day so he refused to take them. Im worried sick. I work at a level 1 trauma hospital as a registered nurse on night shift and the chaos and drama causes me so much stress that I can hardly get through my 12 hour shift. I have listened to the ODD cd's from empowering parents and im about have way through the total transformation cd's. I really feel like when he eventually gets on home detention, he will run away. Can I ask his probation officer about the request to send him to a residential treatment program/school? Im desperate and can only afford so much a month towards these expensive treatment centers and I am wondering if I can request help from the system?

Comment By : concerned mother and nurse IN

* To 'concerned mother and nurse IN': It sounds like the situation with your son is becoming overwhelming for you at this point. We would recommend talking with your son’s probation officer about other possible options for your son once he is found, and letting him or her know about your valid concerns that he may run away once again when he is on home detention. As mentioned in The ODD Lifeline, it is helpful to work together as a partner with the legal system to hold your son accountable for his behavior. Asking for needed help from them is a good example of partnering with them to do just that. For more information on this, we advise reviewing lesson 5 of the program, and if you would like more assistance, please call us on the Support Line. The number is included in your package materials. Good luck to you and know that we support you as you work through this difficult time with your son.

Comment By : Rebecca Wolfenden, Parental Support Advisor

I adopted two children four years ago. Though both our kids have given us some trouble, we cannot seem to get our daughter under control. She does good for a while and then as soon as either a boy comes into the picture or she decides she wants to abuse drugs she runs away. Then once she is done doing whatever, she calls and asks to come home and promises to do better. There has been 5 runaways in the last year. She has not been physically abusive to anyone in the home, but has been abusive outside of our family. I have two other kids that I am trying to keep on the right path and it is hard with her behavior. According to them, is they want to disobey any house rule they can just runaway for a little while and then come back when there done. My home cannot be an apartment for teenagers who think they can some ad go as they please! What do I do?!

Comment By : TexasMom1

* To 'TexasMom1': It is hard to have a child in your home that runs away whenever she feels like she cannot abide by your rules. As James Lehman points out, children who chronically run away do so because they do not have more effective ways of solving their problems. We recommend starting with some problem solving with your daughter. Ask her, “What are you going to do differently next time this happens instead of running away?” Focus on something specific that she can do, rather than promises to do better next time. For example, instead of “I won’t do it again-I promise!” look for something more along the lines of “Next time I feel like running away, I’m going to sit in a quiet space in the living room and journal for 15 minutes.” A helpful resource for you may be the Runaway Switchboard. This service provides information, referrals and intervention services to both you and your daughter to keep her safe. You can reach them by calling 1-800-786-2929 or by visiting National Runaway Switchboard online. I’m including links to some articles I think you might find useful as well:
Running Away Part I: Why Kids Do It and How to Stop Them
Running Away Part II: "Mom, I Want to Come Home." When Your Child is on the Streets
My Child Is Using Drugs or Drinking Alcohol—What Should I Do?

Comment By : Rebecca Wolfenden, Parental Support Advisor

What do you do when the LAW does nothing? My child is 14 and was 13 when he committed 4 acts of larceny (2 misdemeanors and 2 felonies). I have always had rules and reprimanded him but he's been a basket case ever since my husband and I got married and his biological Mom died. All Psychologists and counselors say they do not understand the defiency and his past doesn't play a role. However, in court WE the parent had to pay to DEFEND him even though we didn't defend what he did. He placed on parole and half the time don't do what he's supposed to but the PO still tries to work with him. Yesterday he hit me and left a mark...the police told me because he was 14 they could do nothing but release him back to me. They said once he turns 18 they can take him but until then I am to file and go to court with him. Guess what...then I have to pay to defend him again! Not to mention my husband and I had to pay court costs and do the community service with his lazy arse. So we got all the punishment and he's left smurking still doing bad stuff!

Comment By : Shocked

* To ‘Shocked’: It’s not at all uncommon for parents of children who get in trouble with the law to feel like they are the ones being punished rather than the children. When the legal system imposes penalties that parents end up taking responsibility for, it’s a good idea to look at how you can hold your child accountable for the paying you back for the fines at home (in this article, Kimberly Abraham and Marney Studaker-Cordner offer some ideas that you can apply here: Is Your Defiant Child Damaging or Destroying Property?). That said, we recommend that you continue to report your son’s abusive behavior to the police as well as the probation officer. Be sure to focus on the legal issues (rather than venting about your frustration) when working with law enforcement- if your son hits you and leaves a mark, that is abusive and your rights have been violated, and you can certainly stress that and ask the officer to at least write up a police report for you for your records. You might also look into some more support in your area, such as CHINS/PINS (Children in Need of Services/Persons in Need of Services) through the juvenile or family division of your county court. You can also call 211 to find more services in your area. 211 is an information and referral service you can reach by calling 1-800-273-6222 or by visiting We know this is hard and we wish you and your family luck as you work through this. Take care.

Comment By : Sara Bean, M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor

I am a girl of 18 years old now and all throughout my highschool years I made it very tough for my parents. I got kicked out of my private highschool for fighting my friend and his girlfriend that I didn't know, used pills and drugs and alcohol, got baker acted frequently, and smashed all the windows out of my house. My patents did not know what to do and called the cops on me several times when I threatened them and destructed my home. Now i am doing better than I ever have after years of trying to get the right medication for anxiety and depression. I still go to therapy every week and it is a very long road ahead for children who have mental disorders. Something that will be with me forever. There is nothing i regret more than hurting my parents as they are emotionally hurt forever as a resut. My heart goes out to you parents and just keep trying . One day things will get better .

Comment By : exdefiantteen

I am a girl of 18 years old now and all throughout my highschool years I made it very tough for my parents. I got kicked out of my private highschool for fighting my friend and his girlfriend that I didn't know, used pills and drugs and alcohol, got baker acted frequently, and smashed all the windows out of my house. My patents did not know what to do and called the cops on me several times when I threatened them and destructed my home. Now i am doing better than I ever have after years of trying to get the right medication for anxiety and depression. I still go to therapy every week and it is a very long road ahead for children who have mental disorders. Something that will be with me forever. There is nothing i regret more than hurting my parents as they are emotionally hurt forever as a resut. My heart goes out to you parents and just keep trying . One day things will get better .

Comment By : exdefiantteen

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Responses to questions posted on are not intended to replace qualified medical or mental health assessments. We cannot diagnose disorders or offer recommendations on which treatment plan is best for your family. Please seek the support of local resources as needed. If you need immediate assistance, or if you and your family are in crisis, please contact a qualified mental health provider in your area, or contact your statewide crisis hotline.

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