What to Do if Your Teen is Violent
If your teen starts to threaten you, to break things or to do anything physically violent, accept that you can’t stop him or her at this point. It can be dangerous to try to stop a teen when he or she is violent. The most important thing is to keep yourself and your other children safe.
Try to remain as calm as possible. Do not continue the argument or discussion.
Immediately separate yourself and your children from your teen. Go to another room or if necessary, leave the house.
If your teen is physically violent, or you think he or she might become violent, call 911
(see Should I Call 911?
Police response gives your child the message that their 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 teen. Calling the police is a difficult decision, however many parents say that it was not until after the police were called that their youth stopped using violence.
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.
Don’t talk to your teen again until he or she is calm and respectful. Separate again if needed.
Take precautions in your home by figuring out ahead of time what is the safest and fastest way out of the house.
If there are guns in your home, remove them until you feel safe around your teen at all times.
If there has not been an arrest, you may want to consider getting an At-Risk-Youth Petition (see At Risk Youth Petitions
) through which your teen can be mandated to counseling.
Call the Step-Up Program for more information 206-296-7841 about responding to youth violence at home.
What to Say to your Teen:
It is important to let your teen know that anytime he or she starts to use abusive or violent behavior that you will immediately separate from him or her, and that you will not talk or engage again until he or she is calm and respectful.
Let your teen know you will call 911 if there is any physical violence and be prepared to follow through.
Be specific with your teen 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
- Yelling or screaming at people
- Swearing at people
- Name calling or hurtful words
- Threatening behavior
- The moment your teen 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 it becomes physical, you think it is heading that way, or you feel afraid for yourself or others. Follow this plan of action every time your teen uses abuse or violence.
- Remember that most violence begins with abusive language, so separating at the start of abuse can prevent the escalation to violence.
Give the following messages to your teen when there has been violence:
- When you are violent or abusive I will separate from you.
- Your behavior was not safe. Our home needs to be a safe place.
- Violence is dangerous and it is against the law.
- 911 will be called if you are violent, or if I feel afraid for the safety of our family.
- We will talk about consequences for your behavior (this should include getting professional help. Call Step-Up 206-296-7841 for information and support or to attend the program.)
Should I call 911?
Calling 911 sends an important message to the teen that violence is not acceptable and that it is a crime. If the teen is arrested or a police report is filed (sometimes the teen is not arrested and taken to detention, but a police report is filed) he or she will probably be required to attend counseling, which can be helpful. The court’s response can be the most effective consequence for a teen who is violent. The parent receives support from the court in enforcing the rule of nonviolence in the home.
You can call the police if your teen is physically violent (including, but not limited to pushing, shoving, grabbing, kicking, hitting or any physical contact that is hurtful), violent with property (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 teen is going to become violent, you can call the police. If your teen 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 teen 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.
It is not easy to call the police on your child. You may feel guilty and worried about what will happen to him or her. You may be afraid of how he or she will respond. However, safety is the most important consideration when deciding to call 911.
Washington State Domestic Violence Law
In Washington state, domestic violence is a crime that requires officers to arrest the violent person if they are 16 or older, when there is “probable cause” that he or she committed a domestic violence offense. If the suspect is under 16, they can be arrested, but it is up to the “officer’s discretion”, meaning the officer decides if it warrants an arrest. There is “probable cause” to make a domestic-violence-related arrest when any the following have occurred:
The suspect is alleged to have committed any one of the following:
An assault of a family or household member
In Washington, Assault is defined as an intentional touching of another person that is harmful or offensive regardless of whether any physical injury is caused.
An assault can also be any physical action intended to cause another person to reasonably fear bodily injury or death (even if there was no intent to actually inflict bodily injury).
Harassment of a family or household member
In Washington, Harassment is defined as to knowingly and unlawfully threaten (when by words or conduct it places the person threatened to reasonably fear that the threat will be carried out) to:
1. Cause bodily injury in the future to another person; or
2. Cause physical damage to another’s property; or
3. Subject another person to physical confinement or restraint; or
4. Maliciously to do any act which is intended to substantially harm another person with respect to his or her physical or mental health or safety.
In Washington, a person is guilty of malicious mischief if he or she knowingly and maliciously causes physical damage to the property of another.
Interfering with Reporting Domestic Violence
This Washington DV crime is committed when a person commits a crime of domestic violence and prevents or attempts to prevent the victim or witness from calling 911, obtaining medical assistance or making a report to any law enforcement official.
Sometimes officers make an arrest even though parents request they don’t arrest their child. The decision to arrest is the police officer’s decision, not the parent’s. However, if you want your teen to be arrested, explain your teen’s behavior to the police officer and let them know if there have been previous violent incidents. Inform the officer if you do not feel safe with your teen at home.
Most parents have mixed feelings when their teen is arrested, including feeling guilty, shocked, tearful and like they are a bad parent. But they often report that their teens’ abusive behavior decreased after the arrest. Most parents in the Step-Up program say that calling the police was one of the hardest, but most beneficial decisions they have ever made for their child. They are finally getting help and there is no longer violence by their teen.
At-Risk-Youth (ARY) Petitions
When parents do not want to call the police (or they have called the police but there has not been an arrest or police report filed), they can file an At-Risk-Youth petition in juvenile court. ARY Petitions are civil petitions that enable you to get help from juvenile court in setting limits with youth under 18 and have them mandated to go to counseling. ARY petitions do not require police involvement or the filing of criminal charges.
Criteria for ARY Petitions:
To be eligible for an ARY the youth must have one of the following conditions:
1. The youth is ‘beyond parental control’ –using behavior endangering the safety or welfare of child or other person (includes violence or abuse); or
2. The youth is absent from the home at least 72 hours without parental consent; or
3. The youth has a substance abuse problem with non-pending criminal charges relating to the substance abuse.
For assistance, call Family Reconciliation Service at 1-800-562-5624. Tell them you want to get an At-Risk-Youth Petition. ARY Website.
You can let the court or caseworker know that you would like your son or daughter to do the Step-Up program for mandated counseling.