Ah, ‘tis a fine state of affairs we find today in the land of the formerly free. Here, in a nation created through revolution, by revolt against what was then the most powerful empire in the world, we have agencies and organizations that routinely operate with a palpable contempt for the Bill of Rights, the Constitution, and the rule of law. We have a veritable army of government workers and parasitic industries whose salaries, benefits, retirement, and job security rely on intimidating, persecuting, and destroying families.
Under the auspices of “protecting” children – never mind that by the government’s own numbers, far more children are beaten, starved, raped, and killed in state care than in the general population – agencies under the child protective services umbrella seize children and threaten families, without even a criminal conviction of a crime. Organizations, like the DARE program, encourage children to snoop and turn in their parents for suspected wrong doing. In today’s socio-political climate, in the same way that a responsible parent teaches a child not to touch the stove, not to take candy from strangers, and the difference between ‘good touch’ and ‘bad touch’, the wise parent must also teach their children how to resist interrogation.
Laying a good foundation is the best way to start, and that foundation is truth, told in age appropriate terms. The fact is, policemen are not always our friends, so don’t teach them that they are. They should be taught from the very start about privacy, what is for public knowledge and what is to be kept within the family. Children should be taught a healthy caution of any outsider, and to be careful of what they say. And, in the same way that one is truthful in telling a child what the potential outcome could be of falling for the “Can you help me find my puppy?” line and getting into a car with a stranger, one must be truthful in explaining the potential results of speaking to government agents, such as police, CPS workers, etc.
Establish simple, easy to follow rules of engagement right from the start. That will help to make smart behavior habitual. My children have always been taught that, other than their mother’s name, address, and telephone number, or those of an uncle or aunt, they are not to speak to a police officer, CPS worker, or any other governmental agent about anything at all without an adult of our family present. To any question outside of the norm or any question regarding family matters, their answer is to politely tell the questioner that he will have to ask their mom about that.
Define family matters for your children, with specific examples, as well as interrogation methods. This is best accomplished via role playing and by offering specific explanations for why somebody would be asking that particular question, what type of information they are hoping to elicit. Demonstrate the difference between a family friend, for example, asking what the child had for dinner last night and a CPS worker asking the same question. A family friend is making conversation, the CPS worker is trying to find out whether or not there are grounds for a neglect charge.
That is why it is best to simply teach children not to speak to them at all without a family adult present. It is too much pressure on a child to have to try to determine whether a question is innocuous and safe to answer or whether answering that question could result in separation from their family. A mistake in judgment on the part of the child that results in innocent words being twisted and the family torn apart could result in guilt that could damage the psyche for years to come.
Detail interrogation methods. These are professional manipulators and children need the tools with which to resist. Again, tell the truth, in age appropriate terms and be direct. Explain the specific lies they will tell the children. “If you just tell me about – fill in blank – you can go home.” During a recent refresher course on this matter, my 8-year-old chimed in with “and, they will pretend to be your friend.” Frequent discussions with increasingly in-depth explanations and examples are an essential part of enhancing your children’s success in resisting questioning and interrogation. Children old enough to read should be familiar with the Bill of Rights and how it applies to them.
In an absolutely bizarre situation that arose a few months ago (you can read about it here, if you like), my refresher courses took on a bit more urgency. Keeping things simple is best. As much as I would have liked my children to be cool and collected enough to state, if need be, “you are in direct violation of my Fourth Amendment protections,” my middle child expressed concern that if nervous she may not be able to remember to say that. So, we decided on a simple phrase that even my 3-year-old could say with gusto – “I have nothing to say to you.”
It is absolutely essential that children understand that you recognize that they are children facing down professionally trained adults, that you only expect them to do their best, and that if a mistake happens, you are not going to be upset with them at all. If something bad happens, they need to know that it is not their fault, but rather the fault of the agency itself and its illicit means and methods. Make sure you do not make your older children feel as though they have to be anxious or responsible for younger children’s answers. Such a situation is stressful enough, without adding undue psychological/emotional pressures.
Encourage their confidence in themselves with children’s literature featuring strong child characters standing up for what is right, even against adults and even when it is difficult and scary. And, always remind them, that no matter what happens, no matter what they are told, no matter how long it takes, if a family separation occurs, you will spare no effort, no expense in their rescue. They should have complete confidence that you will retrieve them by any means necessary. Teach them that you will never surrender, and neither should they.