The linked article is about a mother with an unruly ten year old boy. She managed to organise for the local police to ‘arrest’ him in handcuffs and ‘take him away’.
I feel really strongly about this sort of thing. Although this article is a few weeks old and from the USA, this school of thought – ‘the cops should give kids a boot up the bum’ – exists everywhere.
The ten year old in this article is described as being disrespectful and back-chatting. Not good. But not criminal. He’s not breaking into cars, graffiting trains or smashing windows. However, it was enough for a couple of obliging officers from the local police station to come and ‘arrest’ him. They cuffed him to the rear, marched him out to the police car and locked him in the back for a few minutes.
As a result, the mother claims her son’s behaviour has improved dramatically. Yes, it probably has. By the look of the photos, the officers scared the living daylights out of him. But I’m going to guess, the good behaviour will be short term. Clearly, everyone in this situation cares about this child. But I don’t believe bad behaviour can be cured by a set of handcuffs and two minutes of terror. And the thing that bothers me most is the way this reflects on the role of police. It shows the child that police are scary enforcers who will render you powerless. Whilst this is often true, this is not how police should be seen by pre-adolescent children.
Of course, police should be respected. But there is a huge difference between respect and fear. People often confuse the two because some people can only gain respect through fear. But this is not the mandate of police. We are the keepers of the law, working to keep society civil. We are the good guys.
Parents want their children to have respect for the law, and its upholders, don’t they? So why do parents regularly try to convince kids that police are scary? Why do they tell them that we’re there to lock them up and punish them? Why is it that every time we do a foot patrol through the local shopping centre, invariably at least one parent points us out to their young child and says something along the lines of – “Look, there’s the police. They’ll lock you up if you don’t behave yourself/ stop your tantrum/ do what I say.”
Ever done this? Stop it! Please. You do not want your young children to be scared of us. We are the ones they should run to, not run away from in fear. We will protect them. Please, do not use police as a threat. If you are unhappy with the way your child is behaving, then parent them – don’t contort our powers and turn them into a threat.
When do children generally come into contact with police? When they are lost or offended against or caught in the middle of an adult situation – these are all times when police are involved to assist them. You don’t want them to be scared of the people trying to help them.
When kids reach their teenage years, they can sort out for themselves which side of the law they choose to stand on. They will have a better understanding of their actions and consequences. But before that, cops should always be the good guys.
I have done many talks at pre-schools and kindergartens. Children are fascinated by the accoutrements police carry and there are always questions about weapons. I usually show kids my handcuffs. Then I find a willing underage volunteer. I put the cuffs on their tiny little wrists, then I encourage them to pull their hands straight out of the cuffs. I tell them, “These handcuffs are not for children. They are too big. These are for adults. We don’t handcuff children.”
Please, please, for the sake of your children (may they never need us) – if you see the police, by all means point us out to your children, but say “Look there’s the police’. But then say, “why don’t you give them a wave”. If it’s me, I promise I’ll wave back