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Should schools call the cops on kids throwing a tantrum?

November 11, 2011 - Andrea Johnson
A couple of weeks ago, the police were called on a 9-year-old girl in Fort Myers, Florida who threw a temper tantrum on a school bus when her bus driver told her to stop eating Halloween candy. The conflict escalated and now the kid is facing several felony charges for battery on a school employee and a law enforcement officer after spitting and swearing at the school bus driver and, later, throwing pieces of asphalt at the bus windshield and heaving a lawn chair at a police officer who tried to arrest her. Eventually the officer used pepper spray to subdue the child, handcuffed her and arrested her.

I suppose it's necessary to call the police when a kid starts flinging large rocks and destroying property, particularly since she could have hit a human being, but I also wonder why the driver didn't simply grab her and restrain her. Unless she's the rare adult-sized 9-year-old -- and even if she is the size of a small woman -- an adult should have been able to subdue her and forcibly hold her until she calmed down.

It bothers me a bit that schools seem so quick to call the police to deal with the bad behavior of very young children. A few years ago, I believe also in Florida, the police were called to a school when a 5-year-old girl threw a long temper tantrum. Other schools across the country also seem awfully quick to summon the police for what the school principal would have handled in-house a generation ago.

This is the flip side of the debate over whether corporal punishment is child abuse. I think it can be. I also think, in some cases, that kids are hurt more because school teachers and principals are afraid to discipline them or even to restrain them. In some cases, I think a mild spanking or having a teacher hold a child down in timeout might be preferable to the trauma of being arrested and going in front of a judge.

Any 9-year-old who can do such a thing is clearly a disturbed little girl, probably a child with some sort of special needs classification. Her mother told reporters that the girl is schizophrenic and can be aggressive without her medication. This kind of behavior is also possible from kids with other mental health problems -- emotionally disturbed, autistic, bipolar, kids with attachment disorders, etc.

She probably needs psychiatric help and behavioral therapy if she isn't already getting it. Now, since the police were called and the courts are involved, she'll get some sort of help. She'll also have a record and a label that will follow her into adulthood and I don't know if that's preferable.

How would you handle cases like this one?


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