What to Do if Your Teen is Violent
If your teen starts to threaten you, to break things or to do anything physically violent, and attempts to calm him or her are not working, it is usually safest to disengage from the situation. 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. The following suggestions are safety tips to prevent the situation from escalating and decrease risk of harm to family members.
- Do not continue the argument or discussion. Do not physically engage with your teen.
- Separate yourself and your children from your teen. Go to another room or if necessary, leave the house.
- If your teen’s violence is escalating and you are concerned about the safety of family members, call someone for help:
- Calling 911 is the fastest way to get help (see Should I Call 911?)
- If it is a mental health crisis, you can also call the King County 24 hour Crisis Line:
866-4CRISIS (427-4747) to access the Children’s Crisis Outreach Response System, a mental health team for children who are in a mental health crisis. Calling 911 is a faster response, however, and officers can transport to the hospital, if needed.
- 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.
- Do not engage with your teen again until he or she is calm and you feel safe with him or her. Separate again if needed.
- Take precautions in your home by figuring out ahead of time what is the safest response to your teen’s violence, and make a safety plan about how you will respond the next time your teen is violent.
- Plan ahead about where you can go or who to call for help if your teen is escalating. Put phone numbers on speed dial on your phone.
- Tell your other children what to do to stay safe if your teen is violent.
- If there are guns in your home, remove them until you feel safe around your teen at all times.
What to say to your Teen:
It is important to let your teen know ahead of time how you plan to respond if he or she is violent, such as:
“Any time your behavior is not safe, or I am worried you might become hurtful, I will separate from you until you are calmed down. Our home needs to be a safe place for everyone. If it becomes dangerous, I will call for emergency help. I don’t want anyone in our family to be hurt.”
Be specific with your teen about the behaviors that will prompt you to disengage, such as:
• Physical violence or aggression
• Yelling, screaming and swearing at people
• Name calling or hurtful words
• Threatening behavior
Follow this plan every time your teen becomes verbally abusive or violent. Most parents state that this response was the most helpful in prompting their teen to stop the abuse and violence.
Remember that most violence begins with abusive language, so separating at the start of verbal abuse can prevent the escalation to violence.
After the violent episode
Later, when you are both calm, tell your teen that you want to make plan together to prevent violence from happening again. Make a plan about what he or she can do instead of becoming aggressive toward family members. You can use the Step-Up ‘Safety Plan’ (link to page with the Safety Plan) to help your teen make a specific plan to prevent violence. This is an opportunity to ask your teen to attend Step-Up or other needed services, or ask for help from current providers.
If your teen refuses to participate in needed services, you may want to consider getting an At-Risk-Youth Petition through which your teen can be mandated to counseling.
Call Step-Up at 206-296-7841 for more information and resources.
Other King County Resources for Children and Youth Services