How should children see police?

The  linked Daily Mail article tells the story of this photo

The linked Daily Mail article tells the story of the ‘arrest’ of this ten year old boy.

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


15 thoughts on “How should children see police?

  1. Absolutely agree. I found this story horrifying. Especially to have happened in America- I’d be terrified of cuffed by an American cop, let alone if I were a small, black child.


  2. The power to render someone completely powerless (at any age) should not be taken lightly. If you read between the lines, I’d say the officers (as well-intentioned as they may have been) may have got a boot up the bum from the boss…


  3. I’ve been around friends who’ve used the threat of police to make kids behave, though I don’t think they’d ever actually have them taken to a police station etc. It is a hard one isn’t it. I agree kids should see police as adults they can trust and rely on, but we’re also bred to fear them (to an extent) and what they stand for (lawlessness).


    • Thanks for your comments, Deb. One of the problems when kids fear police is if they actually do need us, they’re too scared to receive help from us. This is the reason why Adopt-a-cops and similar programs were introduced within schools, so kids would feel more comfortable with police.


  4. I completely agree with you on this one. My friend is a police woman and pointed this out on Facebook one day and until that point I had never thought of it that way. My husband told my son the police would come and get him one day when he was misbehaving and I gave him the same lecture and he got it immediately. Such an important message!


    • Thanks for passing on the message! I think parents often do this without considering what effect it may have. Bad parents bring their kids up to loathe police rather than be scared of them.


  5. I’m sure it’s you that has written a post before about being friendly to police officers and teaching your kids that they’re not scary etc. It has something that has stayed with me. Just the other day, a car of three police officers pulled up outside our house with flashing lights. They were busting a P plater for something. We happened to be in the front yard and watched it all go down. After the P plater drove off I told the girls to wave to the police officers. The policemen were so friendly and even asked the girls if they wanted to hear the siren. My four year old declared it the best day ever after her interaction with the police 🙂 #teamIBOT


    • Yay! Most police will at the least wave back, so many of us are parents too. Yes, I thought I had blogged about this sort of thing before but couldn’t find the post due to having to re-jig my blog a while a back. I thought it was worth a second mention anyway. Thanks for your comments 🙂


  6. We’ve got a good friend in the police force, and my sister, so our kids are generally pretty comfortable around them. I also have regular conversations about the police only arresting people who do the wrong thing, so there’s no reason to be scared of them; they are helping you. 🙂


  7. Good god that turned my stomach!

    My first experience of the police wasn’t good. I went to an open day as a kid and we all had a good look round.
    In the cells the police woman shouted “Let’s lock them in” now I realise that’s an innocent comment said for a laugh. But for me I was horrified as we all run out screaming and crying! (I have since spoken to police officers who don’t do that “joke” anymore).
    My parents were happy to tell me I would be “taken away” by the police if I was naughty. I had seen the cells I knew where I would end up!
    To this day I still have periods where I struggle with what happened. It’s so hard to reprogramme yourself as an adult when something so distressing is said to you after experiencing something that frightened you.


  8. I overheard something the other day: a dad said to his child as they passed a pair of officers, “look, there are some police. If you’re ever in trouble, you go to these guys and they’ll help.” 🙂
    The way I see it is that it’s better to encourage children to view police positively. When they’re a bit older, nuance can be introduced.


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