"In our case, I think they were more understanding and understood my embarrassment as being a former LEO with a criminal for a son," Bettinger explains.
Wasilewski points out the reaction at work often depends on the way the officer handles the situation. "If they come in with respect, they're going to get respect," he explains. "I have a friend who said 'I have a kid or two who've gotten into trouble and it's not a reflection on me'." Unfortunately, keeping a child's trouble from becoming personal can be even more difficult for a law enforcement officer due to the judgment from the community.
In the Community
"If it becomes public, it's a huge stigma," Wasilewski explains. "It's a Gotcha moment. Any smack of hypocrisy either real or perceived is huge. If an officer is in trouble or his family member is in trouble (blogs) light up. A cop here busted his child for possession of cannabis, but you'd have thought the kid was found with a garage full of dead hookers." Many officers, especially those from small communities, feel they spend their careers living in a fish bowl. What would be a small family matter for a non-law enforcement family becomes a community scandal for an officer. Unfortunately, many in the community look for chinks in the armor of the police. An arrested child gives them the opportunity to point fingers and boast, See you're not better than us.
This expectation of behaving better than the average citizen doesn't remain wholly in the community. In her book, Cops Don't Cry, Vali Stone explains, "Police officers often expect more from their children than other families, especially when it comes to obeying the law. This expectation can cause children to rebel just to prove that they are individuals who have different values and attitudes from their police parents." How do police parents deal with this rebellion?
Officers deal with problems by taking immediate action, Vali explains. They usually take a cop's view before thinking it through. "Because officers are used to being in complete control at work, when they use the same technique at home they are shocked to find they are usually unsuccessful," she continues. "Kids, especially teenagers, do not like to be treated unfairly or without respect and will immediately rebel. This becomes a vicious circle - parent takes control, child gets back up, parent becomes frustrated and more determined to make the child listen, child rebels and can cause problems in other areas. Then it starts again with the next incident. Enforcing strict rules and regulations makes for a good police officer, but using that same tactic on a teenager can cause major waves." Being a parent means constant guidance. Wasilewski offers several steps for doing this:
- Set very clear boundaries-With adolescents in particular. Let them know they represent the family and you like it or not. If you have clear expectations, they will meet them.
- Pick your battles wisely-Kids will rebel. Decide what you're going to hold your ground on and what you're going to allow them to do to express themselves a little more.
- Don't be overbearing-Again, children need guidance, but they also need the room to grow and make their own decisions. They are not mini-clones of you.
- Don't step in and rescue them- It enables the behavior. If you let them take the consequences, be it civil or criminal, then they realize you're not going to bail them out and the likelihood of them reducing the problem is greater. It shows the kid, we do have consequences. Everybody does.
- Don't overreact-This aggravates things and makes it worse.
Supporting your Child
If your child does end up in trouble, you can continue to guide and support them. First, remember everyone makes their own decisions. Every parent makes mistakes but most are trying to do our best. Ultimately, your child is responsible for his or her own choices. What they need most, according to Wasilewski, is unconditional love. "(They need to know) we care about you. We will be here for you. We love you no matter what. The family love needs to be unconditional. It does not mean you're not going to be held accountable. If you need your butt kicked, it's going to be kicked. If I need to, we'll throw you into the back of the car and drag you into the station. You need to find that balance of accepting the person and not accepting the behavior."