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Why I Marched My 12 Year Old Into the Police Station

(This post may contain affiliate links. For more information, see my disclosure policy.)

I know that in writing this that there will certainly be those who disagree with my decision and I’m okay with that because parenting choices are one of those things that people have strong opinions about, which is understandable. Those who don’t disagree with my decision may still disagree with me choosing to share it in such a public forum and I have to admit that I am on the fence with that one myself.

I am always looking to find that balance between helping other families and protecting the privacy of my kids. In this case, I happen to have two sons who are the same age which provides a small layer of anonymity since there is a 50/50 chance I’m talking about the other one! In the vein of putting my kids’ first, I am also going to gloss over some details. If you are, or have ever been, the mother of a 12 year old child, I assume that you will be able to read between the lines somewhat!

Why I Marched My 12 Year Old Son Into the Police Station (or knowing when something is a mountain and when it is a molehill)Image Copyright: jgroup / 123RF Stock Photo

It was a Tuesday. He was having a day where he was attempting to assert his independence more boldly than usual. For a 12 year old boy, trying to find the edges of those lines is not uncommon.

On this particular day, we had an appointment for his sister that we were running late for. He didn’t want to come, but I was going to be gone most of the day and him staying home was not an option. Things went rather downhill from there.

There were refusals; there were words. We were very late for the appointment. It was downtown in the city nearest to us.

Following the appointment, there was a 20 minute standoff in a parking lot because he refused to put his seatbelt on and I refused to drive without him buckled in. Eventually, he let out a big sigh and I heard the click.

Just a few short blocks from there in heavy traffic, the kind that you only see in cities in rush hour or anytime in construction season (where we live, anytime there isn’t snow on the ground is construction season), there was almost an accident in front of me and I had to slam down hard on the brakes.

Unbeknownst to me, this same son of mine had unbuckled his seat belt the minute I had taken my eyes off of him. Unrestrained, he flew forward and hit the seat in front of him with such force that the following day, he had a large scrape and bump on the upper bridge of his nose.

I explained again the importance of his wearing his seatbelt and pointed out that not only was he risking his own life, he was also endangering others because if we were to be in an accident, he could essentially become a projectile, a potential problem especially for the brother seated directly in front of him.

There were eye rolls and tone and grumbles but the was buckle was clicked in once again. Until…I wasn’t paying attention to him and was instead paying attention to the road when he unbuckled it again. And again. And again.

I try to be a “yes” mom. I choose my battles. I know better than to lock horns over trivial things. I know a molehill and I know a mountain. This was a mountain.

I know a molehill and I know a mountain. This was a mountain. Click to Tweet

I calmly explained to him that not wearing a seatbelt was against the law and that if he took it off again, I was going to have to involve the police. He took me up on my offer.

I had five kids with me and a list of errands that had to be done a page long and we had company coming over for supper that evening and I knew the house was still a mess. Since we were already running behind because of being so late for that first appointment and the 20 minute seat-belt-standoff in that parking lot, I didn’t have time for an extra stop that day. I did not WANT to turn around and drive to the police station. But I did.

When we arrived, said son did not want to get out of the van to go in. I stated that it was his choice but that either way, I was going to go in and ask for an officer to speak to him. I suggested that if an officer had to come out to the parking lot to talk to him because of his refusal to go in, they might be more frustrated. He chose to come in.

I think all of my kids were shocked that I was following through with my threat. When we got inside and took a number, reality set in for him and he started begging me not to go through with it.

“Mommy, I’ll wear my seatbelt. I promise. We can leave now.”

There were 5 people in front of us so it was a substantial wait, but I stood my ground. When our number was called, I walked up (I was shaking inside and super nervous but tried not to let the kids see that) and apologized for coming in for something that was wasting their valuable time. I explained that my 12 year old son refuses to wear his seatbelt and that it is unsafe for me to drive with the distraction of having to check his seatbelt status every few minutes, not to mention that it is illegal and risks his life.

There was a bit of a process, but eventually an officer came out to speak with him. She told him that she had been to car accidents where those who were wearing seatbelts walked away and the one who wasn’t was thrown from the vehicle and died at the scene. She explained that if she were the officer to pull us over because he wasn’t wearing a seatbelt, she would have to issue me a ticket but she would expect for him to have to pay it. She also said that the next time he takes his seatbelt off while I’m driving, she suggests that I should pull over and make him walk home.

He was embarrassed and unbelievably angry with me, but he has worn his seatbelt without a word of protest since.

So why did I march my 12 year old into the police station for something that some would say is not that big of a deal?

Why I Marched My 12 Year Old Son Into the Police StationIt’s very simple. A seatbelt can make the difference between living and dying and if my son isn’t going to listen to me on a life and death issue, I’m going to make darn sure that he understands that there are consequences to that.

Because the next time I’m trying to talk to my son about something that is a life and death issue, it may be about drugs or about drinking and driving or about gangs and I want him to know that I am serious.

But my biggest reason is this: I want him to know that his life is valuable to me. It might not be valuable to him at the moment (whether that is because of his trauma related issues or because he is young and he thinks he’s invincible because his frontal lobe hasn’t fully developed), but I need him to know that it matters to me.

His life matters more than getting my groceries on 15% off day or getting the house clean for company or even getting supper made on time (it was ready an hour and a half after they arrived incidentally, but everyone survived). His life matters more than my own embarrassment or my concern about what others are going to think of me.

I need him to know, really know, especially going into the critical teen years, that I will drop everything else in those crucial moments. I need him to know the difference between a molehill and a mountain and to know that to me, his life is a mountain.

I need him to know the difference between a molehill and a mountain and I need him to know that to… Click to Tweet

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Comments

  1. Twelve can be a difficult age! I’ve never had to go the route that you did, but I admire your tenacity and willingness to do what you felt you needed to do to keep him safe and set a great example for him and his siblings. Thanks for sharing; I know it can be difficult to open up about personal family matters, but it does open conversations that help others.

  2. Way to go Sharla! I applaud you for taking action, for your follow through, and for so many points you made about the lessons taught in that situation. Such a great post!

  3. Thank you so much I love this. Lessons learned, I read this out loud to my 8 and 3 year old and they did not say a word but I think they have it sinking in… great post !

  4. Beautiful reason for taking a stand. His life matters to you. This is an awesome post!

  5. I think you totally did the right thing and I applaud you for it 🙂 xx

  6. Evamarie says:

    If he didn’t learn from when you slammed on your brakes and receiving some small injuries this was the next best step. Sometimes children are stubborn and learn best when another adult steps in and supports the parents.

  7. I think you made a great decision and I’ll bet all your kids realize that you mean business after that event.

  8. Yes, yes, SO much yes. One day your son will thank you. Strong mamma.. WAY to GO!

  9. I love that you were more concerned with showing your son true love than having him like you in the moment.

  10. A very important lesson, indeed. In 1977, when I was 8, I remember riding in the back of the car without a seat belt, it had fallen between the seats, and people didn’t always wear them back then. We were driving to town, my parents arguing about whether dad was driving too fast for the icy conditions, when we slid across the road and rolled over 3 times. I flew all over the car, and got a concussion. Probably the only reason I survived was all the snow on the ground. Seat belts are an absolute must in our family!

  11. This post gave me chills! Thank you so much for posting this. I think you make excellent points, and although I don’t have children myself now I respect your reasoning for standing your ground and hope that it encourages others to do the same. Seat belts save lives. A friend of mine from high school died in an auto accident because she wasn’t in a seat belt. (To make matters worse, they suspect she was texting and driving, which is a whole other police department visit!) So glad you were able to convey this to your son and that you made the call that was right for your family.

  12. I love this. My son is 15 and we have had our share of stand-offs. I think you have to plant your feet in and hold on sometimes to get your point across.

  13. Thank you for sharing! I totally agree with you!

  14. Yeah for you!! I honestly can’t see how any parent would disagree with your tactic that day. You’re right, you can’t keep your eyes on the road when you keep having to check on him. He’s lucky all he got was a little bump on the nose. On another note, TWO 12 yr old boys, God Bless You!! 😉
    Kristine 🙂

  15. Sparrow says:

    When my youngest son was ten years old, he built a stack of hot-wheels tracks into a ‘fire pile’, placed assorted rubber & plastic bugs along the tracks and then preceded to light it all on fire! This was in his bedrooms walk-in closet. It started to get out of control, so he ran down stairs to get a glass of water to put the fire out. After I found out about it, my husband & I took him to the local fire station and asked a firefighter to please talk some sense into him! They were very kind and understood what lesson I was trying to get through to him. It worked…..no more fires IN the house. (He is much older now & has kids of his own).

  16. Thank you for this!!

  17. While I am very happy that this worked out for you, I would not recommend that everyone resort to these means. In some cities, the police may see a different situation from you bringing your children into a police station. They could see a mother with an older child that is being very disrespectful to his mother…and four more kids that could grow up in the same manner. If a child feels free enough to disrespect a parent, they usually will disrespect all authority; therefore, not being upstanding, contributing members of society. Now, I am not saying I believe that of your children at all. What I am saying is that when you deal with law enforcement in SOME cities, you are dealing with their perception of you, your children and your situation. They may jump the gun and turn what you feel is a good lesson into a disaster for your entire family by involving CPS. For some people, it’s not worth the risk.

  18. I can’t imagine anyone disagreeing with your actions. Your post brought me to tears. Yes, his life is more important than anything and you showed him that. Great job, Mama!

  19. Perfect consequences! You showed him love him despite his unloveable actions. He will remember that for a lifetime.

  20. GOOD FOR YOU!! that is just great that you did this. I am with ya on this one honey. WOW…..I have tugaht parenting classes for several years in a crisis pregnancy center as well as being a special educator in private and public schools and let me tell ya MOST parents do NOT make good on their “threats” (which is important so the child knows to take you seriously). I have a 21 and 16 year old daughters and I’m going to share this story with them. God wants us to take parenting responsibly and it is a HARD job with NO instruction manuel (besides the Word of God I mean). But sweetie, just for the future, how about hiring a good older college girl (or guy) babysitter for the children who don’t have the appointments?? Just a thought 🙂

    • Faith, thanks for your encouragement and for the suggestion about hiring a babysitter. Unfortunately, with five of our kids having special needs, there are so many appointments that we would need a second mortgage to pay for a sitter if I hired one every time!

  21. Absolutely the right thing to do.

    When my oldest was in middle school, he was angry and decided that he would run away to his dad’s house, across town through the bad section.

    When he was discovered, we brought him back.

    Then I called a sheriff friend of mine to have a talk with him during school hours. Pulling him OUT of class to do it. He joked and pretended it was funny, but he never did anything like that again.

  22. Kudos, Sharla! I’m really big on following through with consequences and standing by our word. If anything, he knows you mean business. Your situation was extra tough because, while it’s not ideal to have a teachable moment when kids are frustrated, it’s not like you could’ve just let it go and talk about it another time. He was in the car and it would’ve been unsafe to just wait til you get home to discuss.

    Thanks for sharing your story with us!

  23. Absolutely love this. You go, mama!

    Jennifer @ The Jenny Evolution

  24. Bravo! Stand your ground and be a parent not a best friend. If you give an inch they will take a mile and one day it might save his life. Gratitude will not come now but I guarantee one day your efforts will be appreciated to the fullest extent. “parenting ain’t easy”

  25. Lauralee says:

    Way to go Mama! Not only did you follow through and teach him a valuable lesson about doing what we say, and that fact that there are very real consequences in life. You taught him that our laws are in place for a reason and his parents love him enough to not hide his law breaking and will bring him to justice. 🙂 This is something he will remember as a teen and older and may deter him from other law braking, by any means this lesson will at least cause him a second thought 😉

  26. Sharla I love your decision!! I have had many stand offs similar to that with some of mine and I think you handled that brilliantly!! I took notes. Way to go!

  27. Thank you for sharing. I pray I never have to follow through with something like that but we have been butting heads with my 8 year old lately. It’s gotten to the point that I’ve told him we are leaving and if he wasn’t out the door then we were going without him and he was staying home alone (my mother lives right next door so I wasn’t too worried if I had to follow through). The first time my husband just looked at me and said “What are we going to do? Are we really driving out of the driveway?” I said “YUP” and sure enough out walks the 8 year old grumbling but ready to go.

  28. This is the best post I’ve read in a long time! Good for you, mama.
    We’ve adopted three kiddos, two with special needs, and have a 12-year-old boy right now. It keeps life interesting!

  29. I’m afraid I would have given in and had it out at home, but you have encouraged me to stand firm in any disciplinary situations I find myself in. Thank you for your post. I found you through Keeper of the Home’s weekend links. Subscribing!

  30. I just want to say that I think the fact that you shared this story is SO important. We live in a time when too often parents want to be a friend to their child before they want to be a parent. I also don’t see this as shaming, either the actions your took or in sharing it with others. You taught a lesson to your son that could save his life and by sharing it you may give other parents the strength they need to follow though when it really matters. This was not only smart parenting, but showed true bravery, which is an excellent example for us to set for our kids.

  31. I spent 5 months in a wheelchair, 6 months out of my junior year in high school in the hospital, 4 months on walkers and canes, 6 months in inpatient rehab, and 18 months in outpatient rehab because I wasn’t wearing my seat belt. It is no joke. I am now 40 and still walk with a limp, have 2 steel rods holding my spinal column together, and will forever carry the marks of having been too careless or cool to care about seat belts. Way to go, Mama!!!

  32. I love this! My 3 year old pulled the fire alarm twice at our church! The second time he did it, we had him talk with the firemen when they came to shut it off. He now tells us that it’s only for an emergency, like a real fire. I’ve threatened my older kids as well with talking to the police about seatbelts. My 5 year old especially, as she sounds just like your 12 year old.

  33. Rock on mama. You did good.
    And it’s so good to hear that I’m not the only mother struggling with a 12-year-old son.

  34. This is such an awesome post! My dad would have done the same thing if it had been me or my sisters. My dad is the general manager of a hotel and I had one time when I was about 7 or so where I was wandering his hotel, waiting for him to be done with work and I ended up in one of the hallways, playing with the pay phones. Well, being 7, I was unaware that it didn’t cost money to call 911. So playing around, I called 911 and my heart stopped when it started ringing. I quickly hung up and ran away from it and about 15 minutes later, the police, firefighters and an ambulance arrived outside. My dad asked me about it and I blamed it on a friend of mine whose family was staying at the hotel. My dad let it go at first, but I could tell he didn’t believe me. When we got home that night, he sat me down and asked me again until I finally broke down and told him the truth. The following day, he made me go to the guest’s hotel room and apologize to my friend as well as his parents for lying. I also had to go to the police station and apologize for wasting their time as well. I never did it again haha

  35. Jane Shaw says:

    Wonder how many of us would have the guts to do what you did, but good on you.

  36. LaSondra says:

    Way to go!!! I wish more parents would stand behind their “threats” and not let the child call their bluff. You did great! Good for you!

  37. I can see the view of some regarding taking a child to the police station but I think the post has a more fundamental point to make. Never make empty threats to your child about the consequence of their actions. I was due to take my child with both her grandmothers to a musical. The day was all planned and paid for but she was going through a spell of lying to me. I told her that if she lied one more time she would lose the trip she was looking forward to. She lied again and so lost the trip. I still went and we had a great time. She learnt that when mum says no, she really means it. She had thought that I would give in and other parents thought that I should have let her go but if I gave in on that, what’s next? Giving a clear boundary for your child is worth more than the tantrums and the look on your child’s face when you say no – the next time you stop them it could be for the same reason as this mum, to save their life.

  38. Charmaine says:

    Well done mom! Our mom called the police to our home when my youngest brother told her that at age 14 he wanted to join a gang! The officers came, took him away in the van and showed him the conditions of the holding cells! He had a rapid change of mind after that! My siblings and I all tested the boundaries but knew that if we were threatened twice, our parents meant it. Today we are well balanced. I did the same to my kids. My 13 year old kept on complaining about a teacher. Amidst an entire evening and morning of protest from her, I marched her off to school to go and find out what the problem was, only to find out that my child was sassy and back-chatting the teacher, the evidence came out in her presence! There were no further complaints about the said teacher after that day. I firmly believe in tough love and today I have two respectful, respected, loving and well balanced adults. We were slapped upside silly for little misdemeanours and have turned out alright! It is because everyone gives in to their kids or just gives their kids “what they didn’t have” that we have such a lot of dysfunctional children the world over! I salute you mom, you have nothing to feel guilty about. At the end of the day when your child misbehaves in public, you get blamed for not disciplining the child!

  39. I am pleased I am not the only one to have done this! I [believe it or not] did it with my 4 yr old, who thought it was funny to unbuckle his seat belt. I warned him that if he didn’t listen to me, we’d have to go to the Police Station. Once I’d said it, I knew I had to follow through. I felt silly, but the officer was lovely, stern to my son, but very understanding. I think it helped that he had children of a similar age! Do I have any regrets? No! My son has never unbuckled his seat belt again whilst travelling in the car. He wouldn’t listen to me, but he DID listen to the Police Officer!

  40. Tyler James says:

    Before we had kids, I was a guardian ad litem (CASA) for a 9yo boy who had been removed from his parents and was staying with an older couple (foster parents). One day the foster mother called me. She was exasperated because they had given the boy a bicycle (his prized possession) and told him that he could ride the bike anywhere he liked around their country home/roads but he could NOT ride up to the two-lane highway. But that’s exactly what he would do every time he was allowed to ride his bike. They would take the bike away, ground him, etc. But as soon as he got the bike back, the first thing he would do was head for the highway. She asked me to go talk to him and try to find out why he refused to obey them.

    I went to his school to talk with him and I will never forget the moment when he looked me in the eye and said, “I just want to know if they love me. My mom was always threatening to punish me but she never did. She doesn’t love me. I just want to know if they love me.”

    So kudos, Sharla. Once again, you proved to your son that you love him.

  41. Love that you stuck to your word and followed through with taking him to the police station.
    12 is a difficult age, and you are right — he needs to know that his life is more important than finishing errands, getting dinner ready or a long list of other things you had to get done that day.
    Kuddos to you!

  42. Way to go!!!!!!! You picked the right mountain, believe me, he will never forget and he will one day tell his own children about this. Thank you for sharing and for not being a push over!!!!
    Hugs from Canada!!

  43. I get why you did this – sometimes it feels like nothing will get through to a bullheaded teenager!

    But I also dated two men that worked as police offices in our urban city and they were just disgusted by the parents who called the cops because “my kid won’t listen to me.” As a taxpayer, I’d much rather have my city’s officers out fighting crime. And as someone else pointed out, this is a risky strategy because plenty of cops would have a knee-jerk reaction and call child protective services instead.

  44. Finally a mom who isn’t scared to stand up and do what is best for her children and them selves. Its about time we all stop thinking oh what will the neighbors say and do what we belive and know is right for our family at the time it takes place . Glad I came across this and good to know we moms who just CARE are still here.

  45. You’re his mama, he should know that when you say something is important… it is. Yes he’s 12 and head strong but when he took his seat belt off the first time and went flying…. that should have been a lesson learned. You did exactly what you needed to do to teach him that seatbelts are not a plaything. Good for you!

  46. Oh and thanks for linking up at the Welcome Home Wednesday link party… we can’t wait to see you next week!

  47. FANTASTIC!! What a powerful lesson, I have an 11 year old and I know the impression that this follow through would have! So glad to have visited from TGI Saturdays!

  48. Ive done the same exact thing with my son but he was five years old and would unbuckle and constantly climb out of his seat and get in the back window of the car and would never listen to me. Ive pulled over 30 times and a 20 minute trip back home turned into a 2 hour trip. I decided to go to the PD and luckily there was an officer outside and my son all he did was cry and cry and promised the officer he would stay buckled.

  49. Your description of construction season makes me think you must be in my neck of the woods. Not an easy set of choices, but as a mom I’m proud of you for sticking to your guns. I hope this lesson sticks with him for a long time – sounds like it might!

  50. wow! i think what you did is so smart. i don’t have children yet and i am always observing friends, family members and others with children to learn new and creative ways to teach life lessons, and handle problems as they may come… other than values i’ve been taught and want to pass down to my future kids. thanks so much for sharing your story.

  51. A friend of mine son was 11 and started stealing money from granny and the aunts. when she found this out he refused to talk so she had the local cop to come talk to him. He was handcuffed and put in the cops car and after a long talk, the cop let him go. He’s now 30, said it was the best lesson of his life.
    Sue

  52. I completely agree with what you did. He has to learn When they are stubborn, they sometimes get themselves into such a strong minded position that they literally will not allow themselves to back down! I would and will do the same if I find myself in the position. Thank you for linking up with #featurefridays

  53. You did the right thing. And while some may not agree with you sharing it, I would argue that you’re giving some timid mama out there a boost of courage to do what is RIGHT when she otherwise may not have been able to work up the gumption. It’s important to be bold when it’s a fight worth fighting…and this one totally is. That doesn’t mean it’s easy, but your mama bear instincts may well have saved his life (or someone else’s).

  54. Thanks for sharing this article and your story! I so appreciate it! It is so much harder to take the time to follow through or to discipline, or to set limits. Thanks for your beautiful example!

  55. Way to go, mom! (and welcome to Thought-Provoking Thursday!) 🙂

  56. Way to go, mama! My husband is a law enforcement officer, and he’s always happy to talk to kids or parents about safety concerns, etc. and never feels that it’s a waste of valuable time, just so you know that. 🙂

  57. Absolutely brilliant. I applaud you for your follow-through, for knowing the importance of this moment as a life-lesson. Thank you for sharing! #getyourshineon

  58. Amen to you mama! Tough love is sometimes the only way. I admire your courage and yes, by all means you should share this, so other parents can see that they NEED to be the parent not their child’s friend. Featuring this post on our Tuesday Talk next week. Come on over and see other topics of real life!!

  59. I agree with what you have done completely. I think more people should follow your example. Thanks for sharing and for linking up with #Alittlebitofeverything! Have a great weekend!

  60. It’s not easy raising preteens. I agree with your approach. At least he knows you mean what you say. That’s saying a lot, too. Thanks for sharing with us at Merry Monday:-)

  61. It’s so important for us as parents to stand our ground when it comes to our children’s safety. I think you did the right thing and are brave to share! Thanks for linking up at the Thoughtful Spot Blog Hop!

  62. Raising my four now-adult daughters through the stand-offs of their teen years, I found that taking an extreme stand – such as you did – had an infinitely valuable payoff. Not only was the point of the particular situation made to a T, but in the following weeks, months and years, when I found myself in another stand -off, I could say, “If you continue to do x, then I will be forced to do y” and the daughter in question knew very well that i would indeed follow through.

    Powerful stuff. You did good.

  63. You could be my sister, I only tell my children what will happen next when I’m going to do it if I have to, Sometimes it hurt me more than them, But my kids know that I’ve a very unique and creative style of parenting and once I announced a consequence it will going to happen. It is up to them if they want to push it. I can see myself in a policestation for the same reason. I also had my child get out of the car and walk. (of course it was safe for him, but not as comfortable). Some people call me coldhearted or not caring, but my children learned often only the hard way. You did your job well.

  64. I totally support you in your decision! I bet he will remember this for a long time and he should! Wearing seat belts is not a battle you can compromise on. I have a 9 year old boy and I already know what you’re talking about. At this age, I can still reason with him, but I imagine this is going to be harder and harder in the future!

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