“There is no school equal to a decent home and no teacher equal to a virtuous parent.” -Mahatma Gandhi
Parents are the ultimate teachers. From a young age, our kids are watching us, modeling our behaviors, and looking to us for answers on how to navigate life. No pressure, right?
As a parent and attorney who works with parents, I have found learning how to provide these answers to our kids is critical. Education is huge, whether understanding social media and technology to be on a level playing field with our teens, learning the risks associated with prescription drug abuse, or even knowing how to deal with law enforcement.
When it comes to teaching our children how to interact with police officers, parents tend to fall into a few different camps. Some do not think it is applicable and are oblivious to the notion that their child could have an encounter with the police. Others may feel that embracing this topic is introducing and even condoning the topic of misconduct and should be left alone. Others feel it is necessary or even vital for our kids to be equipped with this knowledge. And I wholeheartedly agree with this last point of view—knowledge is a powerful tool.
The topic of how youth should interact with law enforcement is actually quite simple. In fact, it might seem like common sense. However, kids and teens are impulsive and their brains are not fully developed until their late teens. Therefore, reminders and education can make a huge impact.
To start with, a child should always remain calm when approached by a police officer. It is also important to stress that under no circumstance should they raise their voice, lose their temper or become involved in an altercation with a police officer. I have seen examples of even the most polite, reserved, and intelligent children becoming angry and even combative in a heated situation. Unfortunately, acting in this manner can not only lead to additional charges in a potential case, but can be used against the child when the time arises to negotiate a lesser charge or dismissal. And in many instances, a criminal case against the child would not have even occurred had the child not acted out in the first place.
I understand there are times when a child may feel they are being treated unfairly by law enforcement, and you can prepare your child by suggesting a different course of action for this type of situation. You can advise your child to politely ask for or take a mental note of the officer’s name and police department on their badge, and later write down or commit this information to memory. If you feel that your child was treated unfairly or with unnecessary roughness, you can later report the officer for their actions. In any situation where police misconduct may be at issue, you might consider speaking to an attorney before taking action or filing a complaint.
In addition, if your child’s encounter with the police results in the police questioning your child, your child does have rights. As a parent, you can learn what these rights are and discuss them with your child. There are many tips for education on Miranda warnings here.
I think Gandhi hit the nail right on the head. Parents can be virtuous teachers and pass on life lessons to their children that could impact them for the rest of their lives.
Kathryn Boortz has a passion for working with youth and their families. She is the founder of Boortz Law, a law firm that focuses on juvenile defense.