Imagine you are sitting in the station finishing up the last of a burglary report. The radio crackles on the desk and an officer states he is they are bringing one back to the station after a traffic stop. He's being arrested for DUI. Just as you're getting up to leave and head home, your cell phone vibrates. It's a text from another officer. "Wait at the station," it says. You wonder about it and sit back down. Soon the back door opens and a person appears in handcuffs. You slump back into the chair when you realize you recognize this person. In fact, you've known this person all their life. The DUI arrest is your teenaged son.
When a Child Gets into Trouble
Parenting is hard work. In fact, it's downright exhausting. Some nights, especially when a child is going through a particularly difficult time like the teen years, a parent falls into bed worn out from what feels like an entire day of direction and redirection. Because there is no manual, parenting must be done on the fly. Most parents do the best they can. They attempt to instill values and guide children how to live as respectful, peaceful and law-abiding citizens. When a child gets into trouble, this can create a sense of self-doubt within the parents. Essentially, it can be internalized as, Where did I go wrong? What could I have done differently? Why is this happening to me?
"There is a lot of disappointment and embarrassment," says Mike Wasilewski, a fourteen year veteran of an Illinois department holding a Master of Social Work. "Some get defensive or minimize. Disappointment is the big thing I've seen and there is a sense of fear about the future." When one of the parents is a law enforcement officer, this can complicate things even further.
When an officer's child gets into trouble
"There's a compounding of that sense of embarrassment," Wasilewski explains. "A personalization in that I'm supposed to be above the law. It's a bigger blow and especially the sense it's looked at a little more harshly by my peers and colleagues especially the first time a kid gets into trouble."
Although retired at the time his son was 15 years old and began to get into trouble, Keith Bettinger dealt with many common feelings. "I was embarrassed and ashamed," he states. "I was also very angry and wanted nothing to do with him." The dynamic of being in law enforcement does change things a bit. The three most common ways are in judgment of self-worth, by colleagues and by the community.
When an officer goes to a call involving a child getting into trouble, often there are questions about the skills of the parent. "There's a tendency to be a little bit judgmental," Wasilewski states. "There is a judgmental attitude about parenting. They ask things like, 'What is the parent doing?' When that officer's child then gets into trouble, it becomes a sense of self. Essentially, it becomes an attack of self." Wasilewski explains the officer then turns the questions internal and asks, "What am I doing wrong? Am I not better than anyone else?" He states officers themselves place a greater stigma on the situation. "The sense of embarrassment is strong," he states. "The bigger issue is if the person doesn't have a strong ego, it will attack their sense of self. Is my kid rebelling against me? Is this normal? Am I being a hypocrite? I'm a law enforcement officer and I can't even keep my own kid out of trouble." As if judging themselves personally wasn't enough, law enforcement officers also face potential judgment at work.
In most other places, co-workers are not necessarily going to know if someone's child gets into trouble. "If you don't take it into work there's not going to be a lot of knowledge about it," says Wasilewski. "Police departments tend to be a gossip nest. A lot of speculation and grudges get drawn out there." Fortunately, a negative reaction is not always experienced.