7 Reasons Calling the Police on Your Child Won't Work

Police car with flashing lights
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If you're tired of your 12-year-old picking on their sibling or you want to convince your 15-year-old to stop talking back, think twice before using the police as a scare tactic. Wanting to scare your child into behaving is not a good reason to call the police. There are more effective ways to get through to your child.

7 Reasons Not to Call the Police

Instead, consider the following seven reasons why calling the police on your child for misbehaving isn't a good idea.

It Undermines Your Authority

Calling the police reinforces that you don’t have any effective ways to discipline your child at home. It also shows that you need the police to serve as your backbone. Discipline gives children a sense of security. Children need to feel confident that you can keep the situation under control—even when they can't control themselves. Turning to the police might cause your child to lose respect for your authority.

There are situations when you might actually need to call the police, such as when there are safety concerns, illegal activity, or dangerous behavior.

Your Child Might Not Learn a Lesson

If you call the police about a mild offense, like when your child refuses to sit in time-out, the police aren't going to do anything beyond talk to your child. Police usually just give kids a warning or tell them to "behave," but there is little else they can do.

Additionally, receiving a warning can backfire. Children sometimes conclude that having the police called isn't a big deal—and maybe even think it was exciting—because nothing happened to them. Losing privileges for 24 hours is likely to be more effective than a brief scolding.

Scare Tactics Rarely Work

Scare tactics tend to be effective in the short-term but lose effectiveness over time. Children may change their behavior for a few days—or even a few weeks—following police intervention. As fear subsides, old behavior patterns are likely to return.

Children also quickly realize that having the police called on them is only scary for a few minutes. Consequences that last longer are much more likely to be effective.

It Prevents the Police From Doing Their Job

Remember, your community's police force has many other important tasks. The role of a police officer is to keep the community safe. Calling the police to your home to scold your child prevents them from doing their job.

The Outcome Might Be Out of Your Hands

When you call the police, you may not have control over how they respond. Their response will depend on your child’s age and the severity of the issue. Even if you say you don’t want your child charged with a crime, you may not have a choice. Remember that sometimes state laws dictate that charges be filed after you make the phone call.

From there, the court system has control over what happens to your child, not you. While there are situations that warrant a call to the police, be aware of the potential consequences before you pick up the phone.

It Could Change Your Relationship

Contacting the police about your child's misbehavior is likely to take a toll on your relationship, especially if the situation was not dangerous or life-threatening. Your child may feel a deep sense of betrayal and may lose trust in you. A damaged relationship with your child can lead to increased behavioral challenges. Rather than thinking that you're there to help them, your child might assume that you're out to get them.

Police Don't Provide Treatment

If your child’s behavior is severe enough that you’re considering calling the police, seek professional help. Your child may have a behavior disorder, a mental health condition, or might simply need a different approach to discipline. Unless it's an emergency, speak with your child’s pediatrician and request a referral to a therapist. It’s important to rule out causes like ADHD or ODD, which are likely to respond better to treatment than police intervention.

What to Do Instead

If your discipline strategies aren't working and you feel like your child is out of control, you might need to re-evaluate your approach. Start by talking to your child's pediatrician. Providers often have access to parenting resources, classes, and support groups that can be beneficial.

Many times, parents consider calling the police because they feel like they are out of options. Support groups and parenting classes can expand your discipline toolbox and give you ideas on how to handle difficult situations with your child.

When You Should Call the Police

When kids are actively threatening to hurt themselves or someone else, and they have the means to do it, you need to take action to keep everyone safe. In some circumstances, that may mean calling the police. You also may need to call the police if you realize that your child has been involved in criminal activity. For instance, if you find stolen goods or evidence of a crime, contact the police. Failing to do so could result in legal issues for you and your family.

If your teen is already involved with the justice system, you might have specific instructions on when to contact the police. A curfew violation, for example, might be a serious issue. Be sure you are following the instructions you were given.

A Word From Verywell

Sometimes parents can feel overwhelmed by a child's behavior, and in the heat of the moment, it makes sense to call the police. However, unless your safety, your child's safety, or someone else's safety is at risk, step away from the situation for a few minutes and allow yourself to calm down and think through your options. Then, you can make the decision that is best for everyone involved.

6 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  4. American Psychological Association. Find the right psychologist for you.

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By Amy Morin, LCSW
Amy Morin, LCSW, is the Editor-in-Chief of Verywell Mind. She's also a psychotherapist, an international bestselling author of books on mental strength and host of The Verywell Mind Podcast. She delivered one of the most popular TEDx talks of all time.