No, I won't "scare your kid straight"
I have been a police officer for three years and, as most cops do, have developed some pet peeves over those three years. Ask any cop and you’ll find similarities in the things that irritate us.
Number one on that list for me would have to be walking into a store, restaurant, or any number of places and hearing some variation of an adult telling a child, “you behave yourself or I’ll have that officer take you to jail.” This also goes for parents who bring their misbehaving child to the police department and ask to have them placed in a cell to “scare them into behaving.” I’m sure there are several people reading this thinking, “what’s the big deal? All I’m trying to do is get them to behave themselves.” Well, the road to hell is paved with good intentions, so let me explain why I wish adults would STOP DOING THIS!
Reason number one: kids, especially young kids, have a very black and white understanding of the world. If the only interaction kids ever have with law enforcement is being told that we are going to take them to jail if they don’t eat their vegetables or go to bed on time, they are going to be terrified of us when the day comes that they do need to interact with us. It also creates an unrealistic and skewed perception of the role of a law enforcement officer. Kids don’t understand that taking people to jail is just one of the many things we do. If all they ever hear is, “the cops are going to take you to jail,” they learn that any time the police show up somewhere, someone is getting cuffed and put behind bars. We want your kids to know that they can call for help, or for any reason, without having to worry. This really comes into play when your child accidentally dials 911. Kids think because they called 911, they are going to get in trouble. In reality, all we ask is that you stay on the line, give your information, and explain it was an accident so we don’t have to make the unnecessary trip to your house to learn this. But that is a whole different can of worms for a different blog post.
Reason number two: using these phrases subtly instills a lack of trust in law enforcement officers. How many times have you taken your kids to the store, playground, etc. only to realize one of them walked away when you took your eye off them for two seconds? I can tell you this happens way more often than you think, even to the best of parents. I’m sure you can see where I’m going with this. If all your kid ever hears is that the cops take people to jail, they are going to be afraid of us. If they don’t trust us because they are afraid, what do you think is going to happen when we search for your lost child while yelling their name? They are going to do one of two things: run or hide. Kids can already be hard enough to find—don’t make it harder to find them by unintentionally teaching them not to trust us. Lack of trust can also manifest into lack of respect. Kids who grow up afraid and mistrusting of cops will grow into adults who are mistrusting and disrespecting of cops. And the cycle continues.
Final reason: asking a cop, “can you put them in a cell for a little bit to scare them straight?” is ultimately a reflection of poor parenting skills. Now true or not, this phrase tells me (and everybody else) that you have no control over your children or that you won’t or can’t discipline your child. I understand that kids have their days and won’t behave no matter what you do, but asking us to put them in the back of a squad or in a detention cell is not the answer. I can’t speak for all departments, but mine can’t put the real juvenile delinquents into locked cells, so I definitely won’t be putting little Timmy in one for not cleaning his room.
To sum it all up, I know that parents have an incredibly hard job and sometimes you resort to whatever tactics will get your point across, even if it means asking us to have your kids scared straight or telling them the cops will take them to jail. Just because this may seem like the easy way, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the right way. There are already enough people who fear and/or hate us, please don’t raise your child to become one of them. And just know that next time you ask me this, I may put YOU in the cell while your kid and I go get ice cream.
About the writer: The writer is a Minnesota law enforcement officer who wishes to stay anonymous. He has served as an officer for three years and is looking forward to celebrating his first anniversary with his wife. About Backing the Blue Line services: BtBL provides support to MN Law Enforcement Officers and their families by maintaining a list of professional and confidential resources available for those that need it. The list includes marriage and family counselors who have experience specific to law enforcement dynamics. Paid members of Backing the Blue Line also have access to special discounts for some providers. You can access the Members Only area of this website by using the password provided in your membership confirmation email. About Membership in Backing the Blue Line: We invite MN police wives/significant others to become members of Backing the Blue Line to take advantage of all available membership benefits and have additional opportunities to give and receive support. We also invite MN police wives/significant other to join our private Facebook page, which is an community of support offering friendships, networking, and discussion. It is also for raising awareness of the need to support our unique lives and share the bond that comes with being a law enforcement family. Find out more on our About page.