Parents of kids who struggle might believe that they need to resolve every issue on their own. They might feel that intervention from the outside is a burden to others. Worse, parents might worry about potential repercussions from calling emergency personnel when overwhelmed with their teen’s behaviors. When a child’s behavior is so out of control that parents call 911, they might have some common fears and apprehensions about doing so:
- “Will my kid hate me for this?”
- “Will my child be held legally responsible?”
- “What will people think of me as a parent?”
- “Am I unfit to raise my child?”
- “Will I be arrested?”
- “Will they take my child away from me?”
Contacting emergency personnel for help with a troubled child is never easy. We need to admit that the situation is out of control. We might feel shame or guilt about the escalating crisis, worrying that we are to blame or that someone will punish us. We also might fear that we will ruin our relationship with our child if we call emergency services. Was there something more that we could have done to prevent this?
When to Make That Call?
What situations warrant a call to emergency personnel or the police? If we are parenting a child who struggles, we should consider a crisis plan if something life-threatening occurs. For example, if our child struggles with an addiction, when does the behavior cross the line for outside intervention?
Our child’s behavior crosses the line when the physical safety of themselves or others is in jeopardy. Some examples include:
- Storming out of the house into a vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol
- Suicidal ideations, threats, or attempts at suicide
- Uncontrollable rage or violence directed at others, like ourselves or siblings
- Drug overdose requiring emergency medical services
- Self-injurious behaviors that have caused severe damage, like a deep cut or a severe burn
- Any crisis that risks the life and limb of our child or anyone else
When our child risks the life and safety of others, they lose their rights to compromise or work the situation out with us. Sometimes, kids might use threats to get attention, which can be confusing to parents. Do we call emergency personnel if we do not think the threat is credible?
Sometimes, troubled teens might use a threat of suicide or harm to others as leverage to obtain their needs or seek attention. How can we tell if a threat is credible? We cannot always know with certainty. When a child threatens to harm themselves or someone else severely, we cannot take a chance on this behavior. Consider the consequences of this threat being serious, or if they made these kinds of threats outside of the home. If the threat is credible, then we are doing the right thing to prevent harm. If the teenager is using these threats to seek attention, they need to learn that this behavior leads to consequences out in the world.
Things We Cannot Call Emergency Services for
We also need to understand what situations do NOT require emergency services:
- An argument or screaming match (though neighbors might call on us if we are disruptive)
- When our child is not listening to us or obeying our house rules
- Finding out that a teenager used drugs, alcohol, or tobacco recently (example: if a kid went to a party last weekend and confessed that they tried cocaine)
- Playing hooky or skipping school
While we might want assistance when we have arguments or discover that our child has done something illegal in the past, we need to remember that emergency personnel can only intervene during an immediate life-threatening crisis.
How to Call for Help
We also need to be mindful of calling for emergency services, as they need to be aware of the context of the situation to respond appropriately. Depending on the issue, we might want to call emergency mental health services or crisis interventions, for example, with suicidal threats or extremely withdrawn behaviors, like a child refusing to leave their room for days due to depression. We will most often call 911, and the dispatcher will provide guidance while contacting appropriate emergency services.
Remember to inform the dispatcher that the call is for a teenager or child struggling with mental health or addiction issues. Providing context is critical when contacting emergency personnel. Once the imminent threat is neutralized with assistance, we can begin working on the problems that lead up to the crisis. Our child might face consequences, such as staying at a psychiatric unit or having legal repercussions depending upon the situation.
When in doubt, we need to consider our child’s best interest and ask ourselves, years from now, will we regret not calling for help?
Parents of kids who struggle with problematic behaviors, such as cutting, running away, promiscuity, addiction, or other issues, might feel overwhelmed during heated arguments with their kids. They might wonder when calling for emergency and crisis personnel is appropriate or necessary. Parents might also worry about the consequences of calling 911 on their children. Will their kids be taken away or arrested? Will they get into trouble themselves for their child’s behavior? During life-threatening scenarios, we need to consider what will happen if we do not get help. When the physical safety of our kids, ourselves, or others is threatened by our child’s behavior, we know that we need help immediately. When kids struggle with problematic behaviors, parents might feel overwhelmed as they just want their kids back. Fire Mountain Residential Treatment Center is here for kids who struggle and their parents. Call us today at (303) 443-3343 for guidance and information on how we can support you and your family.