Reasons You Shouldn't Call the Police on Your Child

Don't use the police to help you discipline your child.

Police Car with Flashing Lights
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Whether you’re sick and tired of your 12-year-old picking on his sister, or you want to convince your 15-year-old that she should stop talking back, think twice before using the police as a scare tactic. It's not always effective, and you may not get the results you were hoping for.

Although there may be times when you actually need to call the police on your child—such as safety concerns, illegal activity, or dangerous behavior—it should not be used as a discipline strategy. Wanting to scare your child into behaving is not a good reason to call the police. There are better ways to get your child's attention without involving local law enforcement. Here are seven reasons why calling the police on your child for misbehaving isn't a good idea.

It Shows You Can't Handle the Situation

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. Believe it or not, healthy discipline gives children a sense of security. Children need to be confident that you are capable of keeping them under control, even when they can't control themselves. Turning to the police for backup may cause your child to lose respect for your authority.

Your Child May Not Learn the Lesson You Intend

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. Usually, in these situations, police give kids a warning or tell them to "behave." But there is little they can do beyond that. Additionally, receiving a warning like that may backfire. Children sometimes conclude that having the police called isn't a big deal because nothing happened to them. Instead, losing privileges for 24 hours is likely to be more effective than a brief scolding from a police officer.

Scare Tactics Don't Create Lasting Change

Scare tactics tend to be effective in the short-term. But over time, they lose effectiveness. Children may change their behavior for a few days—or even a few weeks—following police intervention. But, as the 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. Longer lasting consequences are much more likely to be effective.

It Ties Up the Police Force Unnecessarily

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. Remember, your community's police force has many other important tasks, like preventing crime and responding to emergencies. What's more, these situations could be a matter of life or death for people in the community. If the police are delayed in responding because they are at your house, you could be putting someone else's life in danger.

The Outcome May Be Out of Your Hands

When you call the police, you may not have control over how they respond to your situation. 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. Sometimes state laws dictate that charges be filed after you make the phone call. Then the court system has control over what happens to your child, not you. While there may be times that warrant a call to the police, be aware of the potential consequences before you pick up the phone.

Calling the Police Will Impact Your Relationship

Contacting the police about your child's misbehavior is likely to take a toll on your relationship with your child, especially if the situation was not a dangerous or life-threatening one. Consequently, your child may feel a deep sense of betrayal and may not trust you in the future. Unfortunately, a damaged relationship with your child can lead to increased behavior problems. Rather than thinking you're there to help them, children often assume you're out to get them.

The Police Don't Provide Treatment

If your child’s behavior problems are severe enough that you’re considering calling the police, seek professional help. Your child may have a behavior disorder, a mental health issue, or may 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 issues like ADHD or ODD, which may 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, it may be time to re-evaluate your approach. Talk to your child's pediatrician about your struggles and ask for suggestions. Doctors sometimes have access to parenting resources, classes, and support groups that can be beneficial in helping you address your child's behavior.

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

When You Need to 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. Only you will know if this is the right approach to the situation.

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 other family members as well.

Meanwhile, if you have a troubled teen who is already involved with the justice system, you may have specific instructions on when to contact the police. A curfew violation, for example, may be a serious issue if your child already has legal issues. So, 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. But, unless your safety, your child's safety, or someone else's safety is at risk, you should step away from the situation for a few minutes and allow yourself to calm down. Once you're thinking clearly, then you can make the decision that is best for everyone involved.

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