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The Hole-in-the-Wall Gang

How parents handle violent teens in their home.

Posted: February 14, 2008 8:49 p.m.
Updated: April 17, 2008 5:02 a.m.
As a high-risk teen counselor, I have been running tough love parenting groups for over 25 years. It never ceases to amaze me how many stories I have heard, and will continue to hear, about teens who are violent - teens that don't get their own way and manipulate mom and dad by punching holes in the walls, throwing things and destroying property, teens that exert their desire for control in the worst possible ways - and worse yet we let them.

I will never forget being in a family group and a dad opening up to the group and saying, "My kid Alex punches holes in the wall and I can't do anything about." Another parent jumped into the conversation and said, "Yes you can, as soon as you decide that you are in charge, and are sick and tired of that behavior. Further more, I contend once you set consequences for your kid's actions and then have your kid fix the wall he keeps destroying, his behavior will stop."

Safety First
When a teen becomes violent in the home, whether it is hitting someone, punching a hole in a wall, throwing things or making threats, parents react in many different ways. Sometimes a parent will try to stop the behavior, physically or verbally. Other times a parent will try to calm the teen down. Another will leave or call the police. The most effective response to violent behavior depends upon many variables, such as the teen's reaction to different approaches, past incidents of violence, and the parent's view of the situation. The most important consideration is the safety of everyone in the home.
Calling the police is a way to hold teens accountable for their use of violent behavior. Violence is illegal and a crime. When parents do not call the police after repeated incidents of violence, teens get a strong message that the violence is tolerated and acceptable.
Calling the police is not easy, particularly when it is about your own child. If you are dealing with a violent teen in your home, I want to support you in making your own decision about how to respond.
As a parent, you may have a number of choices to make when your teen is violent. My goal is to help you think about your priorities when your teen is becoming violent. Safety is always your first concern when anyone is using violent behavior. It is important to know how to stay safe and address the use of violent behavior and to know what steps to take when there is violence in the home.
The way you respond when your teen becomes violent is important. Writing a safety plan will help you think through the details of risk and safety in your home, as well as take action to reduce the risks and make your home a safer place.
When 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. The most important thing is to keep yourself and your other children safe.
When your teen becomes violent do not continue the argument or discussion. Don't argue or yell. Separate yourself and your other children from the teen. Go to another room, or if necessary, bring your other children with you and leave the house. Call 911, if it seems appropriate. Do what you can to help yourself stay calm (take a walk, call a friend). Don't talk to your teen again until he or she is calm.

When you do talk to the teen again, give the following messages: When you are violent, I will separate from you. What you are doing is dangerous, and it is a crime. I won't let your brother(s) and sister(s) be around you when you do this. Your behavior is not safe and it is not acceptable.
The next step is discussing the consequences of your teen's behavior. Don't get pulled into arguing about why he or she was violent, or who is to blame. When the teen starts to deny his or her actions, justify his or her actions, minimize his or her actions, or blame you, don't respond. The only message your teen needs to hear is that the violence is not acceptable, no matter what. Don't say anything more.
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 charged with domestic violence, 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.
It is not easy to call the police. You may feel guilty and worried about what will happen to your teen. You may be afraid of how he or she will respond. However, safety is the most important consideration when deciding to call 911.

The Law
In California, domestic violence is a crime that requires officers to arrest the violent person - a child versus the parent in this case. Unfortunately, many officers lack training in teen domestic violence, and do not arrest the teen. Instead, the officers may try to give the parent advice about parenting, or give the teen a lecture. If that happens, you can respectfully remind the officers that in California, domestic violence is a crime that requires officers to make an arrest when there is "probable cause."
There is probable cause to make a domestic-violence-related arrest when all of the following factors are in place: (1) The suspect is 16 years or older. (2) Within the preceding four hours, the suspect has assaulted a family member or household member. (3) The suspect is alleged to have committed any one of the following: An assault that resulted in bodily injury to the victim (physical pain, or impairment of physical condition), whether or not the injury is observable by the responding officer; any physical action intended to cause another person to reasonably fear serious bodily injury or death; as felony-level assault.
When their teens are arrested, some parents feel extremely guilty. However, they often report that their teens' abusive behavior decreased after the arrest.

Plan Ahead
When someone has been violent in the home, there are things you can do to plan ahead for safety. Think about what you can do to prevent harm to people in the event of another violent incident. This plan is about how to increase safety in your home. If your teen becomes violent, follow the guidelines listed earlier.
Making a decision to set boundaries in your home and setting consequences for actions will lessen the teen violence.
Cary Quashen is a certified addiction specialist and the founder and president of ACTION Parent & Teen Support Programs and the ACTION Family Counseling Centers. Quashen may be reached at (661) 713-3006. The ACTION hotline number is 1-800-FOR-TEENs. The ACTION Parent & Teen Support Group meets at Saugus High School, Tuesday evenings at 7 p.m. in the Q buildings on the West end of the campus located at 21900 Centurion Way in Saugus.


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