Policing our children

     Do law enforcement officers worry more about their children? I think we do — and I also think it's tougher being a cop's kid than the child of someone in a more insular profession.

     As parents, it's hard to reconcile what you see on the streets with your duties as the caretaker of a teenager: To come from a vehicular fatality involving teens and resist the urge to retire your own child's car keys; to bust a group of kids on drugs and not want to toss your own child's bedroom; to search for a runaway and not see your kid's eyes reflected in the runaway's face.

     So we caution them on their driving, watch for signs of drug and alcohol use, and carefully — maybe even a little obsessively — vet their friends. We discuss with our daughters what to do if someone is following them or tries to grab them. We talk to our sons about fighting. We show them pictures of accident scenes, take them on tours of the jail, teach them that all weapons are loaded and point out mistakes made by crime victims. We know what's out there and we tell them every chance we get, and by doing so we also try very hard to build a protective wall around our children, arming them with knowledge born of our admittedly biased experience. Then we compulsively examine every move they make.

     In return we sometimes end up with kids who chafe at what they view as our over-protectiveness, refrain from sharing school gossip because they're not so certain what we'll do with that information, and resent our tactics when we talk to them about their private lives, school and friends. As my daughter once said to me in the middle of one of my lectures, "You always suspect the worst."

     That remark surprised me because I thought of myself as leaning toward being both democratic and fair, but when I considered it from her point of view, I decided she was right. I did consider everything a threat, everyone is a potential criminal. I had suspicion oozing from every pore. And, in some cases, that's good. In others, it's just the opposite.

     Cops' kids live in a fishbowl. Because at least one parent is a law enforcement officer, the outside world intentionally raises the bar for your child. Often, without knowing it, so do you. I know I do. The trick is to bring our kids up with full knowledge that what we do for a living makes us more determined than most parents that our kids won't make those kinds of mistakes. It's OK for them to know we're influenced by our jobs — just like teachers and accountants and carpenters are influenced by theirs. But in the process, we sometimes forget that our kids are, well, kids — they don't always make the best decisions. Not because they're bad kids and going to end up on the other side of a set of bars, but because they are immature and have yet to perfect the art of making good decisions. It's a learning process, but a tough one for everybody.

     Raising teenagers in an age of extremes is difficult no matter what you do, but if you're a law enforcement officer, then the process is not only a reflection of your parenting skills, but your professional acumen. That increases the pressure at home — and at work — many times over. How can agencies help officers avoid this stress?

     Sometimes the answer is simple: listen. Encourage officers to talk with the departmental chaplain or psychologist or even their first-line supervisor about their hopes and fears. Having someone to bounce these concerns off of can help. If you're listening, assure your officers that their children are no different from any others. We simply view our kids through the lens of who we are and what we do.

     A 12-year veteran of police work, Carole Moore has served in patrol, forensics, crime prevention and criminal investigations, and has extensive training in many law enforcement disciplines. She welcomes comments at carolemoore@ec.rr.com.