Teaching Kids to Respect Police
It starts at home, practically from the time they can toddle
Parents shaking their heads over the current climate of distrust and disrespect toward law enforcement in America need to ask themselves a critical question: How respectful are my kids to police?
“I have teens routinely yell at me out car windows and treat me disrespectfully during traffic stops,” one police officer on the north shore of Massachusetts told LifeZette. “These are kids who have had all the advantages in life.”
“Why should we write a card for cops? All they do is kill us,” fifth-graders said to their teacher. Other kids then joined in — an example of the bandwagon mentality.
He added that it’s discouraging to be “disrespected by a kid decked out in Abercrombie & Fitch with the latest iPhone plastered to his ear. We are just working hard to keep them safe. But you can tell that many of them view us as the enemy.”
In today’s culture, nowhere is the need for respect across all relationships more important than with America’s kids. Immersed in their own lives (and their mobile devices), they often see a police officer as trouble — or at least aggravation and annoyance.
Exceptions, of course, to that attitude do exist among those who give law officers a fair chance and see them as fellow human beings.
“I had a strong friendship with a police officer all though my growing-up years,” one Murfreesboro, Tennessee, millennial said. “No matter what, he was always kind to me, and shared details with me about his profession. I always looked up to him. I am glad I had his steady influence in my life.”
Paul Grattan Jr., a police sergeant and 15-year veteran of the NYPD, believes good things begin at home. Parents play an enormous role in developing respect in youth for law enforcement officials, and Grattan is concerned about the level of distrust and disrespect many young people have for police.
"Over the last 16 years, it's grown steadily, and it's worse now than it ever has been," he said. "That said, I do still find that the majority of people hold us in reasonably high regard. Negativity spreads so quickly, though — this feeling of police being the enemy."
"People tend to focus on the small percentage of negative stories."
The Volunteer State millennial agrees. "In this age of social media, people tend to focus on the small percentage of negative stories. That takes away from our ability to see all the good police do out there."
"Disrespect spreads like wildfire," said Grattan. "When any bandwagon rolls up, many young people jump on. There's a big family problem in the U.S. — strong homes and families make a huge difference in relationships with law enforcement. When you don't have the proper support and guidance in your environment, you are more likely to hold officials in contempt."
Grattan said that in America's larger urban areas, single-parent families and the complex issues that often come with lower incomes create a lack of the personal accountability that is central to all good relationships.
"At the core of this problem is the ability to take responsibility for your own actions. I can't stress how huge that is," he said. "It has to be taught by example in the home, and there's just no way around that. Now everyone blames others — institutions, the government, the police — and they don't look to themselves for fault."
RJ Beam, a Wisconsin police officer and author of the popular website RescueHumor.com, said our smallest actions have big consequences with children.
"Almost every other time I go for lunch at Subway, I will hear a variation of the same thing," he told LifeZette. "Some child, usually under the age of eight, will be whining in the parking lot. The parent will see me walking by, point at me and then say to their kid, 'You better start behaving right now or that policeman will come arrest you and take you away from Mommy and Daddy forever.' That makes me the boogeyman — something for this kid to fear."
"We often live in the communities we serve, so it benefits everyone to have healthy relationships," said a police sergeant.
Good instruction from parents about the role of law enforcement has to be repetitive, said Grattan. "It has to be in all you do — there are tons of teachable moments that parents are not capitalizing on. When an event occurs, break it down with the kids. React based on some level of fact, not just what others are saying. There's no more powerful educational tool than your own example. If parents go out of their way to demonstrate how approachable police are, that will go an incredibly long way."
The level of distrust and even hate from young kids toward police is eye-opening.
"A fifth-grade teacher reported to my boss that some of her students refused to sign a card for two cops' families, after those cops had been killed. ‘Why should we write a card for cops? All they do is kill us,' these fifth-graders said. Then other kids joined in. It was that bandwagon mentality again."
Those in charge looked immediately toward positive change. "My boss saw it as an opportunity — what can we do to improve that?" said Grattan. "Is it possible we're not touching these kids' lives as early as we could be? Now, precinct commanders are interacting with teachers and students. With greater interaction, kids can come to understand that they can be comfortable with police."
"There are always ideas to be explored," Grattan continued. "We must lead by example, and we must maintain professionalism. We often live right in the communities we serve, so it benefits everyone to have healthy relationships."
He added, "A lot of parents don't operate that way, however — they're not teaching children to be respectful. This will only lead to more of what we're seeing today."