The Evil Sherriff??

I just finished watching the viral video of a police office handcuffing a boy above the elbows and refusing to let him loose until he stops kicking and is respectful.  Apparently the child took a swing at the officer when he appeared, and this was his reaction.


While the majority of reactions to this tend to be “Sheriff bad!” or “Sheriff good!” this event can only be understood by taking a couple of steps back and looking at why a sheriff was called in to deal with an 8-year-old boy in the first place. 

The sheriff was called in to deal with this child because no one in the school was allowed to put their hands on this child.  Inevitably, strong willed children figure this out quickly and push the boundaries with teachers.

So what usually happens when children become physically aggressive with staff at school?  At most public schools the staff isn’t allowed to place hands on a child.  The child hits the teacher (or kicks them, or throws something at them) and the teacher must try to talk to them until they calm down or get someone else who can.  Some teachers have been given direction to evacuate the classroom of all but the tantruming child.  If the physical aggression is a regular occurrence, the school will likely write up an Individual Education Plan (IEP). Sometimes this includes a stipulation that the staff can restrain the child.  If the school can’t handle the continued aggression, the child may be moved to a Non-Public School (NPS) with staff who are trained to physically restrain children. 

But in the typical public school the hands of the teaching staff and administrators have been tied, and they are rendered ineffective against any strong willed child who decides to have a tantrum that includes hitting and throwing things (chairs, books, desks, etc).  So they call the police, and the police do what they are trained to do.  All things considered, I think the officer in this video behaved in a calm and compassionate manner.  He’s not trained in methods to physically hold and de-escalate a child until they calm down.  He’s trained to use handcuffs when necessary and not to release someone who is still non-compliant and aggressive.

On a related note: if those who are wildly offended by this video were to watch video of professionally trained individuals restraining out of control children, they would likely be equally offended.  These restrains can go on for an hour or more.

The bigger problem is two-fold.  First, a higher and higher percentage of children are willing to have tantrums that include hitting and assaulting their parents, teachers and other children.  These children have realized that there is no line in the sand where an adult will physically stop and contain them, and they proceed accordingly. 

Second, we deal with physically aggressive children without any comprehensive plan (or we wait until a child has been put into an NPS and let them come up with a plan).  But most aggressive children never make it to an NPS, because school districts are understandingly reluctant to take on this financial burden.  Instead schools encourage parents to use daily chemical restraints, otherwise known as psycho-pharmaceuticals.  But I don’t place too much blame on schools.  We live in a culture that pathologizes any child with consistently willful behaviors, and then tells schools they have no right to put hands on children when they hit their teachers. 

I realize there are those who will object to my saying that children “choose” or “decide” to be aggressive or out of control.  These people will say the disorder the child has prevents them from having the ability of self-regulation.  This is exactly the kind of enabling thinking that is at the root of this epidemic of out of control children.

Just because a child has a diagnosed disorder or disability (ADHD or PTSD), this doesn’t mean they can’t also be clever, manipulative or willful.  The labels don’t define the child. The child may have the disorder, but they also have a range of different abilities like any child.   Just because you have difficulty focusing, doesn’t mean you can’t be manipulative also.  

I’ve seen children with serious developmental disabilities learn to control their physical aggression when a consistent set of predictable, manageable consequences is put in place to frustrate those outbursts.  But rather than setting real boundaries for children, it’s become PC to think any child with any kind of disorder is also completely stupid.  If not, why would they excuse these children from basic reasoning and an understanding of cause and effect simply because they are ADHD? 

Don’t get me wrong; I don’t advocate restraining children in ways that are reactionary, punitive or inconsistent.  But if we’re going to deal honestly, and humanely with children who will strike and defy not only there parents and teachers, but police officers, we need to understand that physically stopping and restraining these children will need to be part of a comprehensive behavior plan.  The sheriff that was called in to restrain the child in the video is a pawn in a system that is misguided and broken, and blaming the pawn won’t solve the bigger problem.