Police: Children's Misbehavior Forcing Parents To Call 911

10:45 PM, Oct 31, 2013   |    comments
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Parenting is a difficult job: you cook, clean and ensure the welfare of your child - among other responsibilities.

But no matter how good you are at being a parent, nothing prepares you for a badly behaving child.

Parents at their wits-end with out-of-control children are getting police involved.

Another uncomfortably familiar knock at the Gullen household; Paula Gullen's teenage daughter just clocked her 32nd run away from home this year and police are at the door to take a statement.

It's been horrifying.

"We've had police at our home as many as three to four times in one night. They bring her home, she leaves, they bring her home, and she leaves. It's like a constant cycle," Gullen said, frustration evident in her voice.

It started as simple rebellion, but with drugs, alcohol and risky behavior now in the mix, Gullen is at her wits-end.

She has tried everything to discipline her child from grounding to taking away her phone and internet to even installing a security system. But the frustrated mother says none have worked.

"I'm waiting for the phone call that tells me that they found her in a ditch, and that we need to come identify her body. And there's no easier way to say it," she said.

Law enforcement agents across the Triad say the calls have been coming in, and on the other end of the line, parents with uncontrollable, misbehaving children.

"They have a 13-, 14-year-old or younger of an unruly child. They want an officer to come by," said Lt. Shannon Coates with the Reidsville Police Department. "Some of them get violent; some of them will assault their parents, damage property inside the house."

In her child's case, Gullen says she sometimes contemplates physical discipline but she knows that won't work.

"We're talking about a 17-year-old girl. One of us is going to go to jail," she explained. "I call 911 because I have nowhere else to turn."

But police say sometimes that's not the case. Parents are calling 911, taking up officers' valuable time and resources.

"We just see instances like that where they don't want to take time to parent and want somebody else to try to do it," Lt. Coates said. "They'll call us and want us to 'handle the situation' instead of them being a parent, don't want to have to deal with it or afraid that if I punish my child, I'm going to get charged."

Coates says it can be exasperating because for each call about a child who is sexting or playing too many video games, there are hundreds more real emergencies police can attend to.

"Parents now often feel helpless in that they need outside help but actually, if they can learn the skills, it's better for the discipline and encouragement to come from the parent," said Marilyn Swinson, a retired certified counselor who now teaches a parenting class through Rockingham Youth Services. 

"They come looking for ways to discipline their child," she said. "Looking for ways to communicate with their child, but mostly looking for ways to understand their child and understand why this is happening." 

And sometimes, Swinson continued, once the class ends and the parents put the learned skills into practice, the bad behaviors of their children disappear or are better controlled.

"It'd be nice if things worked that way, but it doesn't because at that point most teenagers have their minds made of what they are going to do and you're not going to stop them," Gullen said, explaining that she's tried everything and in her household nothing has worked.

Swinson says, unless a child is breaking the law, parents should try using other resources before calling police.  She advises parents to consider a family member whom the child respects to talk to them; a trusted teacher or guidance counselor might also work. And in extreme cases a behavioral clinic could be an option.

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