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Executive protection and children: Letting kids be kids, safely

By Kyle Faust

The urge to protect our children lies deep within us. Rich or poor, parents everywhere want their children to be safe and happy and get the best possible start in life.

For parents who need executive protection, this means that their children will usually also need professional protection in some form or another. Indeed, many executive protection programs include the children of the principal. Sometimes, children are included explicitly in scope of work agreements and have their own dedicated programs; in other cases, only a parent is covered by the program. But even if children aren’t the primary focus of an executive protection program, when principals are parents, program dynamics change.

Executive protection with children is different than with adults

Although the goal of executive protection – keeping people safe so they can get on with their lives – is the same for adults and children, the protective contexts can be quite different and have significant consequences for agents and managers.

For example, the schedule of busy CEOs is usually much less predictable than that of their children, and executive protection programs must be flexible to provide security and facilitate productivity. Normal business life often includes:

  • Lots of travel and trips on short notice
  • Meetings that get canceled, moved, or drag on
  • New projects that pop up and demand even more time and attention.

However, the schedules of young children and even high schoolers are much more regular, centering on a foreseeable mix of school, sports and other activities, family, and friends. Thus, from a scheduling point of view, working with children is often easier than working with adults.

In other ways, it isn’t. Protective work with children can be challenging because sometimes you must be there, but you really shouldn’t. It is often much simpler for agents working with adults to blend into the background than for agents working with children. One or two more adults don’t draw much attention at a cocktail party or business function. Agents keeping an eye on a six-year-old will stick out like a sore thumb at a children’s birthday party, however. Agents working with children sometimes need to find creative, inobtrusive ways to do simple advances that are better than none and maintain the protective bubble even if from a distance.

Covert protection is one way to keep such a distance and is increasingly used in family and children’s programs. Most parents, including those who might be highly prominent and very wealthy, don’t want their children to grow up thinking they are different than other kids – even though their circumstances are different. Well run programs that include covert protection can be an excellent way to give children and families room to breathe, the ability to better blend in with everyone else – and mitigate risk.

Some of the training that EP agents require is also different when they work with children. First aid is different, for example, and knowing how to use a car seat correctly is essential. EP agents should also consider doing some basic security awareness training with nannies and other staff to help lift the household’s overall protective readiness. We even need to switch out the contents of the “booboo kits” we carry. Children’s aspirin and other meds dosages are different, and band-aids might need to have dinosaurs or princesses on them, something adult principals don’t always find endearing.

As everyone with experience with children knows, spending time with children can be extremely rewarding. This is definitely also the case in executive protection, too. At the same time, doing executive protection with children can also be a minefield for agents and companies. It’s not always easy to always do the right thing, because sometimes neither the child, parents, nor you know what the right thing is.

Small children, small problems. Big children, big problems.

As the old saying goes, if you think you have problems with young children, just wait until they get older, and you discover what problems actually are. There is some truth to this in providing professional security for children, too. The contexts and protective needs of a six-month-old infant are very different from a six-year-old starting school or a sixteen-year-old navigating the party scene.

Think about it. When a parent walks with a 2-year-old on a busy city sidewalk, it’s natural to hold the child’s hand at least some of the time, and always when you get to an intersection. A two-year-old child cannot be counted on to comprehend the risks of moving vehicles, so we understand for them: we hold them by the hand to prevent them from wandering into traffic and getting hurt. This is a natural thing to do with small children, less so with a six-year-old, but at some point, you have to let go. No self-respecting 12-year-old is going to put up with mom or dad holding their hand to keep them safe on a street corner. Now, project this little example across the added dimensions of family and group dynamics, vendor-customer relationships, psychological and cultural differences, changing risk environments, and the everyday challenge of good communication about things large and small.

What’s needed to protect children changes as children mature and become more autonomous. The older they get, the more autonomy they have, the trickier things can become. Agents and programs need to adapt to the principals’ changing needs and abilities.

Sometimes teens find it easier to be around younger agents who aren’t that far away in age and might share some of the same interests in music or sports, for example. Sometimes older agents are good matches for young children and provide the continuity that builds long-term trust and even make them feel like part of the family – although we never are.

Understand your role – and stay in your lane

The role of protective agents is to mitigate risk, not to raise the child or tell them what to do and not to do. But as we saw above, sometimes we do need to tell them what to do. Sometimes the role of protector is more ambiguous than others.

If a two-year-old doesn’t want to hold hands at a busy intersection, well, they have to, and either a parent, the nanny, or an EP agent will do it. If a 16-year-old wants to go out at night even though her parents forbid it, and it’s your job to protect her, do you tell her to stay home or do you accompany her on her illicit night out? It’s a hard call. You’re an agent, not a paid friend or a parent, and you have to play according to the rules.

Sometimes, however, there can be conflicting rules. To take a simple example, if a teen wants the music in the car to be really loud, that’s something you have to live with. But what if the volume affects your ability to hear your radio or phone or maintain good situational awareness? The well-being of your principal might depend on your decision. So might your job.

You’re not the one who decides what parents allow and don’t allow their kids to do. But you do need to live with the consequences of those decisions.

Executive protection agents must remember that they are part of an environment that includes others who also have roles to play – parents, siblings and other family members, nannies, household help, tutors, even pets. Of course, good agents take their jobs seriously, just as good nannies do, and there can sometimes arise conflicts of interest and questions of who’s opinion matters most. If agents think they outrank anyone, they’re wrong. Nannies get trusted with the kids, protective agents get trusted with the car. Nannies’ opinions will always trump EP agents’ opinions when it comes to children. Live with it and do your job.

But wait, there’s more…

One blog is not enough to cover all the issues that can arise when working with children and teens. We won’t get into much more here, but we do want to mention that there are plenty of other areas that deserve further attention:

 

  • Liability and teenagers: What happens when teens start getting interested in sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll? That’s a whole other can of worms …
  • Traveling with children and teenagers: Vacations are different from everyday life – that’s the whole idea. Domestic and foreign travel with children and teens presents its own set of challenges for EP professionals.
  • Dealing with separation and divorce: Plenty of good families go through hard times. Unless they are extremely careful in these situations, executive protection agents can get pulled in directions that are not helpful for protecting their principals – or good for their careers.

As the baby boomer generation gets replaced by millennials and Gen Zs, we believe there will be even more executive protection programs that include children. We hope this brief look into some of the issues will contribute to more attention to this aspect of our field.

Photo by Sandra Seitamaa on Unsplash