In days of old kids grew up and wanted to take on the role of those who society considered heroic.
My buddy wanted to be an astronaut. Another friend from the neighborhood was going to fly fighter jets. Some wanted to be firefighters. And yes…some wanted to strap on a gun and be a police officer.
In the current climate our children’s career pursuits seem to have shifted. Ask the same question today and you will hear today’s youth more often see themselves eventually having the title of video game designer, or software engineer.
What changed? Why are today’s youth (many times) less focused on public service than the kids of the last several generations?
Well, the answer to that is probably long and varied but for those of us in the law enforcement community it is becoming more and more commonplace to be painted by parents, not as a community helper, but as someone to be avoided, someone to be considered suspect or distrusted.
When I was growing up in the 70’s and 80’s if a police officer had to call our parents for practically anything, our parents would have apologized profusely and then turned their wrath on us. Whatever we had done, would certainly never be repeated.
Duplicate that scenario today and you have roughly even odds that the parent will question the officer, question the evidence that their child was involved in any wrongdoing, all while setting the tone for how that child will probably see law enforcement for the foreseeable future.
As a career police officer I can tell you that by and large police do not like to bust kids for whatever delinquent behavior they may get involved in. The facts are that we were once kids and know that mischief of some type will occur (to some extent) wherever kids gather on a regular basis. We get that. Police officers also will usually try to sift through an event to decide what the best solution is. Often times it is to give them a lecture on the consequences of bad choices, sometimes it is to drive a kid home and inform his parents of the problem. Occasionally it involves arresting someone.
If you have kids between 10-16 understand that you can have a huge influence on how your kids view law enforcement and how they see police through your eyes. There are a few things you can do to promote a positive relationship between your kids and officers in your town.
- 1. Please don’t use us as leverage to make you small child act right. We hate being in a store or restaurant in uniform and hearing, “You see that policeman over there? If you don’t act right he is going to take you to jail.” We want kids to come to us when they are in danger, not be afraid of us.
- 2. Find out if your police department has an Explorer Program or Citizen Police Academy. These programs give youth an inside look at the world of law enforcement and are excellent tools to build trust between us and the youth of the community.
- 3. If your child gets into trouble, ask to speak to the officer involved privately, away from your son or daughter. Gather any information you need and have the situation explained to you (including asking questions) without your son/daughter within ear shot. Once you and the police are on the same page you can address the issue with the child as a team and move forward toward finding a viable solution.
As a parent it is our instinct to defend our children, but how we do that can leave a lasting impression on our kids and have lifelong impacts on how they view those who in the vast majority of cases are there to help society.
I can testify that even situations that start off on a negative note can end on a positive one when the stakeholders make a conscious effort to have a positive outcome. There are plenty of police officers on the street today who were inspired by a cop 20 years ago, who set them straight when they were young and making questionable decisions.
The reality is that’s the way we like to see the story end. We want the kid who is on the fence to decide that being the good guy… is a good thing. We want to find the kids that will one day replace us and protect our communities. When that happens, we all win.
Parents can’t be everywhere and neither can the police, but we can certainly work together to make sure the next generation understands that we need young men and women with a strong moral compass to respect those who protect society and become the men and women that we can pass the torch to one day.
Here’s to teamwork… and the future of those who will one day “protect and serve”.