Kids and Cops

I had a police officer tell me once that his job was highly rewarding, but his biggest pet peeve was how often parents use the law, and specifically the police as a weapon of fear when dealing with their kids. He told me specifically about a time that he was eating lunch at a restaurant while on shift. A mother with a child who was being a a bit unruly, sees his uniform and tells the kid loud enough for the officer to hear: “If you don’t behave, I’ll have that policeman come over here and arrest you.”

If we stop and think about it, we can all probably think about a time in our lives where we were told something similar, or recall a time as a parent where we were the ones that said it, or something similar.

What the officer told me, and I wholeheartedly agree- is that this is a problem. We are teaching our kids at a very young age that police officers should be feared because they’re always looking to arrest you, or to catch you doing something wrong.

Your personal proclivities regarding law enforcement aside, wouldn’t you rather your kid recognize a police officer in an emergency as someone who can help, rather than someone who should be run away from in fear?

The town we live in is very small, and I’ve known most of the people on the local police department for much of my life. One of them told a story of how he went into the school right after his shift was over with the intent of picking up his son. One of the school officials asked him to leave because he was in uniform, and there was no reason for him to be in the building where he could potentially scare the kids. Uniformed police officers are (or were, I don’t know if its changed) literally not welcome in the school.

I understand that there are negative aspects of police work, or media stories of unfavorable police encounters, but by and large law enforcement officials are NOT something that your average 3rd grader should be scared of. A school that escorts them out of the building, or a parent that uses them as an instrument of fear to control a youngster is quite possible creating more problems than solving.

As a member of a volunteer fire department, every year we do a “Fire Prevention Day” at the local school. Part of the education is to teach the kids that while a fully geared up firefighter might be scary to see, or hear while he’s breathing air out of a tank on his back- he is a friend. Run towards him. We even do drills where the lights go out in the class, and several of us crawl around on the floor with flashlights. The kids are taught to yell, scream, and grab onto the firefighter to let them know where they are. The man dressed like a martian, breathing heavily, and carrying an axe is there to help.

Meanwhile, I’m seeing the opposite where law enforcement is concerned. The man with the uniform carrying a gun and a badge is not brought in to meet with the kids. He is not asked to tell them what he does, he is not given the opportunity to answer questions that kids may have. Instead, he’s escorted out of buildings, or treated like a problem when he does have to go into the buildings.

As a result, I’m worried that a lot of our kids are being brought up with the mentality of “Oh crap, there’s a cop, something must be wrong, RUN!”

The Narrator is old enough that I’m trying to correctly educate him about law enforcement. What they do, how they work, and why they’re not to be scared of. I’ve had friends of mine stop by the house in uniform, so he can see there’s nothing to worry about. One of his grandfathers is a police officer, although he’s never seen him in uniform. We’ve run the line “Pa is a policeman, and he’s not scary is he?” past him, and it seems to work. He came with me to the police station one day where I had some business to conduct, and there were two officers in there. It took him all of 5 seconds to warm up to them, then he filled the room with chatter and talk, and my fears that he was still scared of ‘the man’ were put to bed, but I’m ever vigilant to make sure there’s no misinterpretation, and I certainly keep the “He’s gonna get you!” lines out of our bag of tricks when he’s being a pain in the butt.

A very close friend of mine was doing some training with a local organization, and he was working on a road patrol. A car pulled up and the driver asked him if he could ‘scare’ the little kid in the back seat, who kept taking his seat belt off. My friend told me he played it differently- rather than put the fear of God into the 4 year old in the back seat as his mother asked, he introduced himself to the little boy, and asked him to ‘be his helper’ – and see that everyone in the car always wore their seatbelt. The kid got over being terrified of the police officer, and by the time they drove away, the he was waving and promising to help the officer out.

In short, I think we’re spinning law enforcement in the wrong light to our kids, either at home or in school. In schools, police are only there if there’s a problem. At home, they’re being used as another tool to exert our control over a sometimes unruly child- and I don’t think that any of these are a good thing, because you never can tell when a kid will need to turn to an officer of the law for help, and if they’re afraid to do so because “The policeman is going to get you” – who knows what can possibly happen.

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2 thoughts on “Kids and Cops

  1. We were at the beach this Summer and overheard a Mom and Dad tell their son they should hurry up and get ready to leave or the police would come and take him away for taking too long. It was the strangest thing I had ever heard a parent say. What people like that are doing is removing any responsibility of discipline from themselves and placing it on an outside force. ‘Don’t be mad at me because you have to go to bed, its the police who are making you do it’!

    • Exactly! Aside from instilling fear, you’re 100% correct, its removing parents from that responsibility, and shifting it elsewhere. I’m all for using tricks and things for instilling discipline or restoring order, but this is just a bit too much.

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