Teaching Our Children to Trust – Building Sustainable Relationships with Authority Figures

Growing up we always heard adults say, “it’s all about respect,” when addressing relationships between children, teens, and young adults with teachers, pastors, police, and parents. But that is not altogether accurate. It is not “all about respect” and it is most certainly not just about respect. Relationships on both a personal and public level are built not only on respect, but on trust, understanding and the consistency of fulfilled expectations. As a firm believer that respect is something which must be earned, when it comes to these other characteristics they are the building blocks of a respectful relationship, thus inherently must come first.

Whether you watch the news, follow social media, or simply exist in our society today, you are inundated with a plethora of articles, clips and captions where the lack of trust and therefore respect between today’s youth and the authority figures in every community is seriously lacking. No one trusts the police, children do not respect or abide their teachers, parents do not discipline their children or support the teachers – we are at war within our very own walls and the messages we are sending to our children daily are not likely to improve this catastrophe anytime soon. We are not a nation of peaceful protestors or protective police, but rather violent, offensive individuals who believe that there are no acceptable opinions different than our own.

The idea that we need to begin building and repairing sustainable relationships with the authority figures in our children’s lives is not a new concept. From an early age, two groups of concern who we need to start teaching our children to trust are teachers and law enforcement. Both of these underpaid, under-appreciated professions have less positive than negative factors and yet the people who enter into them are civil servants willing to work with some of the least popular groups – children and criminals. The fact that these 2 groups are the least valued sounds ludicrous, but take a look at the governments funding structures and feel free to disagree. These are two groups who are expected to serve, protect and educate our children.

We place our children’s lives in the hands of others daily, especially once they are school-age so let us take a moment and truly recognize why we need to fix this problem and how to start.


As parents we are sometimes so critical of our children’s teachers within our children’s presence. Further, we ourselves know we don’t possess the skills, patience or ability to teach our children 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, therefore maybe we should stop to consider our words before we speak. We oftentimes tell our children to think before they speak and should be doing the same. Whether our child has the best, brightest teacher we love or not from one year to the next is all going to change, so teaching our children to trust and at least act respectfully to all teachers is crucial.

Teachers, whether in public or private school, spend all day with a variety of students doing their best to educate on a multitude of different levels. In addition they deal with the fragile emotional and social development of our kids, all while trying to supervise a large number of children, educate them, test them and ensure all of their academic milestones are being achieved. They are also responsible for keeping our children safe. This is no small feat. During lunchtimes and at night they grade papers, after-school they are expected to volunteer supervising clubs and sports…this is literally more than a full-time job, it is their life.

As parents we do not have to agree with every lesson, homework assignment or grade, but we need to respect that the teacher in the classroom has the best of intentions and may just know what he or she is doing when it comes to our child’s education. Now that does not mean that you surrender your role as parent and advocate for your child’s best interest, but it does mean that you respect the teachers decisions, rules and lesson plans within reason. By supporting the teacher you are demonstrating to your child how to act appropriately or professionally in a real-world environment.

Teachers, just like everyone else, come with  different personalities, attitudes, and teaching styles, thus from year to year your child will experience a variety of differing methodologies. But that is ok. Diversity is ok and teaching your child to sometimes deal with adversity from an early age is a good thing. Out here in the adult world, we don’t get along with everyone we encounter or work with and we don’t always get our way which is a lesson our children must learn. We need to stop placating our kids and only placing them in situations/classrooms they like as that is as far from reality as it gets. Understandably you do not want your child to hate school, but if your child’s teacher is treating him or her fairly, with respect, and is not imposing unreasonable expectations upon your child, then your child needs to be expected to do the same.

Children are resilient creatures who often appreciate and work well with structure and expectations that are clear, understandable, and enforced. Although you may think your child’s teacher is too tough, he and she may have a great relationship in the classroom which may greatly benefit your child in the future.

Tips for Encouraging a Healthy Relationship with Your Child’s Teacher:

  • Expect your child to follow the rules.
  • Encourage your child to exhibit appropriate classroom behavior and explain why.
  • Accept that your child is going to be disciplined/reprimanded by an adult other than yourself.
  • Expect your child to complete assignments on time and without complaint.
  • Do not fight your child’s battles – if his assignment is late make him deal with the consequences.
  • Do not criticize the teacher in front of your child.

Law Enforcement:

Overcoming the challenge that is the hatred and distrust for law enforcement in so many of our nation’s communities is a cause we as parents must champion. We need to start teaching our children right now how to act respectfully in the presence of law enforcement before it is too late. Police are people too, they are not always right, but they are not always wrong either. So many of them leave their families each and every day to protect and serve their communities to the best of their abilities. This does not mean that they don’t make mistakes, bad decisions or that all police are perfect, but what is does mean is that it is in everyone’s best interest to act like a decent human being in the presence of law enforcement.

When it comes to law enforcement we need to teach our children that they are usually there to help. Our officers deal with physical and verbal abuse that should never be acceptable in todays society. We should be supportive of our officers because they will come when we call. This does not mean that our teenagers must let them search their cars, that we should allow them into our houses, or that by acting respectfully we are somehow waiving our various legal rights. What is does mean is that it is never acceptable to ignore, curse at, or run away from a police officer. Our children need to learn how to act respectfully whether or not they agree with, believe, or respect the other person’s position. And this is not only out of respect for the officers, but it is also a matter of self-respect and self-preservation lest any wrong move be made in front of an already nervous police officer, again they too are human.

In working with at-risk youth the disheartening distrust in this group of civil servants is a huge part of their demise. The fact these children, from a very young age, have been taught to distrust and disrespect law enforcement by parents and guardians who simply refuse to be held accountable for their own actions is concerning because it in turn results in these children exhibiting unacceptable behaviors and ending up in similar situations to their adult role models. In many communities however law enforcement is working tirelessly to try and change this perception among the younger children with the hope that they will come to better respect the law and the people in authority. These children need to learn to trust the police so that they can better rely on their help when they need it most.

Our children need to learn early to answer the call of first-responders in a life-threatening situation and to follow the instruction of police officers in the the case of an emergency. Although we as parents all wish we lived in a more peaceful time, we do not and therefore our children need to feel safe in the hands of our law enforcement, fire-fighters, and first responders. Kids need to be able to trust and talk to the police or school resource officers in tenuous or potentially dangerous situations both at school and in the community. One measure in preventing our children from becoming a victim of a crime is to teach him or her to call 911 and cooperate with the police, not to yell, curse and run from them.

As a matter of self-preservation respectful behavior toward law enforcement is key. Teenagers need to know that mouthing off to a police officer may not be against the law, but you are most likely not helping yourself or whatever situation you’re involved in. This does not mean that a 16-year-old has to agree to a search of his car or that she cannot ask for her parents to be present before speaking to law enforcement, but remember everything we say and do is not just about our words, but our tone of voice and body language as well.

Tips for Encouraging a Healthy Relationship with Law Enforcement:

  • Introduce your child to their School Resource Officer.
  • Participate in Police Athletic Leagues or Police Explorer Programs designed to foster these relationships.
  • Participate in Shop with a Cop, baseball game nights supporting law enforcement or other similar activities in your community.
  • Tour the fire station or police station with your child.
  • Be pro-active with your child’s school and set up a day when first responders come to school with their cars and trucks, speak to the kids and usually have an activity or coloring book to leave them with.
  • Check your local police station for community events being hosted for the officers and children to meet for rock painting, story time or a host of other events.

The demise of societies historically has been a combination of militant governments and distrustful constituents, and frighteningly enough history often repeats itself. As a parent, the threat to my children’s future drives me more than anything else to try and correct this problem before it is too late. Although I may not have the ability to change the world, I have the ability to effectuate change around me – in how I raise my children, in how I interact with other adults, and in how I treat the people in the community around me. I believe that is really all any of us can do, but I also believe grassroots movements have an impact. Start in your home, your schools and your businesses attempting change for the better and see where it goes – I promise at the very least you will likely teach your children a valuable lesson in kindness, compassion, respect and empathy.

For more valuable lessons we can teach our children in empathy and compassion check out A Southern Christian Mama’s Response to Charlottesville.

Photo credits:Kristin dePaula, Kristen Douglas

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Kristin Depaula

Kristin is a native Floridian who loves warm weather and sunshine but owns too many scarves and boots. She lives at the World’s Most Famous Beach with her husband, 3 boys and enough animals both warm and cold blooded to make up a zoo. She is a practicing attorney who spends her days working with at-risk and delinquent youth and her nights being a Montessori Mama to her independent, strong willed little humans. On the weekends you can find her at soccer games, chasing her boys at the Beach or cooking for her husband who suffers from Crohn’s disease but is healing with a healthy diet. In her free time, Kristin loves reading and laying by the pool.

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