Last week, a fellow police wife posted a story about her husband’s attempts to get dinner after a 13 hour day. He approached a drive thru in his police vehicle wearing his uniform, ordered, and paid for his meal. When he came to the second window, the worker refused to serve him because he was a cop.

The post went viral to the point that Fox News picked it up. As a police wife myself, the situation both angers and saddens me. As an educator, I see the other side. I don’t personally know what it feels like to fear police, but some of my students do. Recent actions by an officer in the Midwest have prompted even more controversy. The divide between citizens and law enforcement grows tragically larger with each news report.

As parents, how do we address these media stories with our children to alleviate this fear and create habits that keep everyone safe? Here are a few ideas to spark conversations at your dinner table tonight.

 Teach Your Kids Not to Fear Police

The news is full of tragic reports about officer-involved shootings. The loss of any young life is heartbreaking for all involved. That said, law enforcement exists to serve the community. Those in blue are the helpers. They put their lives on the line each day for our families, and they are more than willing to do this for your children. It’s why they put the uniform on to start with. 

Teach Your Children to Be Discerning

Should your community be the site of an officer-involved incident, please let your children hear you suspend judgement of the situation until you hear the full story. Whenever there is a crime, there is much confusion around the scene until the situation is sorted out. Initial reports can be confused as media outlets are eager to get information to the public. Press conferences will give the most accurate portrayal of the facts. Even if you’re boiling inside, let your kids see you weigh all the information before passing judgement. 

Try Not to Hate

Even if your community has been affected by a tragedy, please steer your kids toward peaceful activism and discussion rather than rage, violence, and terror. Hate clouds judgement and doesn’t solve anything.

Talk About Guns

Guns are a source of rampant discussion among politicians and news outlets these days. Whether you allow them in your house or not, others do. Teach your kids never to touch them, unless you or another trusted adult are present and part of the action.

Additionally, carefully consider where you allow your children to play with toy guns. Our son got a realistic-looking cap gun while we traveled out west. My husband made him leave it at the hotel and only allowed him to play with it in certain spots. There have been countless reports of kids with guns shared with police, only to find out later that the guns were toys. Sometimes these incidents end well, sometimes tragically. It’s nearly impossible for anyone to tell the difference between a realistic toy gun and a real weapon from a safe distance. Please don’t allow your child to jeopardize his or an officer’s safety by playing with them in public places.

Teach Your Kids to Listen to Officers

Teenagers are world-famous for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Often kids are incorrectly detained by police just because they were in an area where a crime has just occurred. Please, please explain to your kids that they must do what the officer tells them. Ask them to be respectful and tell their stories. Nine times out of ten, an officer will instantly recognize that they have the wrong person. If further action needs to be taken, do it through legal channels. Discuss your complaints, problems, or even praises with the precinct or sheriff’s office after the fact. During a situation, officers may seem curt. This is because they are on high alert, trying to keep the public, as well as themselves safe. 

Science tells us that an officer has less than one second to evaluate a threat. They have less than two seconds to decide what to do. One slip-up in this minute amount of time could result in tragedy—either an officer or a suspect won’t go home to his or her family. It’s easy to judge these high profile shootings—some of them have been the result of tragic mistakes on the part of officers. Others have been shown later to be justified decisions. If you or I, the average person, were in a life-or-death situation could we make the best decision in less than three seconds? Could we get it right every time? Officers make these choices every single day. As you discuss these stories with your kids, I respectfully ask that you remember this. 

Jennifer Worrell

Jennifer Worrell has been teaching in both the elementary and middle school classroom for 22 years. All the while, she has been writing for a variety of publications including Trailblazer, Women in the Outdoors, Practical Horseman, Daily Press, Virginia Wildlife, The Virginia Journal of Education, and TeeterTot. She also creates high-quality instructional materials for the classroom which she shares on Teachers Pay Teachers. As the wife of an outdoorsy guy, a stepmother, and a biomom, her humorous and poignant perspective enables her to create powerful content for clients and for her own blog.