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It Takes a Village

It Takes a Village, If We Allow It

By Chris Jordan

If your child was misbehaving and you were not around would you want another parent to say something to your child? Would you want them to call you and let you know about it afterward? Would you want them to do both? Or would it make you angry that someone was overstepping their boundary by disciplining your perfect child? Just to clarify, I am not talking about anything dangerous or criminal, just “normal” misbehaving.

Last week I was talking to the mother of one of my preteen son’s friends. She and I are friendly, I like her, but I wouldn’t call her a good friend. Then she said, “I’m not sure if I should say anything. I know it really isn’t my place, but…” She went on to tell me about one of my sons and how he and a couple of his friends were acting up during a school function where I wasn’t in attendance. Nothing horrible, mostly rambunctious, but definitely not a way she would have wanted her son to be acting and definitely not the way I would have allowed my son to act if I were there.

I asked her why she would have hesitated to tell me. But I already knew the answer. I have experienced it many times myself, even with good friends. For all our talk about needing a village to raise our children, many people get very upset when told about what their children are doing or, heaven forbid, if their children are scolded by another adult.

I remember as a kid adults scolding me or my friends if we were misbehaving, usually saying something along the lines of “I doubt your mother would want you behaving that way!” I also remember a few times when they went directly to my parents, which was even worse. It was an unwritten rule that any adult could scold you for misbehavior, even a stranger. Now I have noticed that the attitude of many parents now is don’t dare discipline my child. Don’t tell me anything negative about my child. And if my child did do something wrong, there is a justifiable reason.

Recently the kids and their friends were bickering outside. It had been a long day of playing. It was hot outside. And then in the midst of it, one child punched my child in the face. I sent all the kids home, telling them I thought everyone needed to go home and get a snack and have a little break from each other. Then I called this child’s parents to tell them what transpired. And they said, “Well, your child must have provoked my child. My kid would never punch someone in the face for no reason.” Odd, because in my world, there never really is a reason to resort to physical violence. I assured them that I was dealing with my child’s part in the bickering that led to the punch, but I thought they would want to know about their child’s part.

All sorts of negative behaviors are excused away. It isn’t their child. It is the other kids. Except, you know what, I’ll let you in on a little secret, all kids act like jerks sometimes. Yes, even yours. All kids misbehave. All kids decide to do something stupid on impulse. People need to stop taking it as other parents interfering or judging their parenting and take it more as someone else watching out for your child. What is so bad about that? When my neighbor came to the door and told me he just yelled at my son and his friend for sitting on their skateboards and rolling right into the street with no regard for the cars driving on the road, I thanked him. It didn’t even occur to me to view it as an indictment on my parenting.

I have done it many times. I have had negative repercussions from doing so, but I don’t regret it. I never yell and usually I work in the “if your mother were here…” as if I am just standing in for the absent parent who would surely be handling it the same way. I have teenagers and frequently I have other teenagers in my home. They are generally polite and have good manners, but sometimes they may be in the other room talking loudly, using language of which I don’t approve. In that case I’d walk into the room and make a joke about offending my ears and gently remind them of the little kids in the house. And I would hope that if my kids were at someone else’s house other parents would do the same.

As I got off the phone with my son’s friend’s mother, I thanked her for telling me and assured her that not only did I want to know, that she should feel free to call my child out for misbehaving should she see it again. She told me that she hoped I would do the same. We can’t always be everywhere to supervise our kids, especially as they grow older and gain more independence. I appreciate the other eyes.

I want a village. These are the people I want in my village. People who think it is a moral obligation to look out for each other’s kids.

What do you think? If you see a child misbehaving would you step up and say something to them? Do you think it isn’t your place? Or are you held back by what the other kid’s parents will think of you?

Photo credit: Thinkstock

Chris Jordan
About the Author

Chris Jordan

Chris Jordan began blogging at Notes From the Trenches in 2004 where she writes about her life raising her children in Austin, Texas.

Oh, she has seven of them. Yes, children. Yes, the...

Chris Jordan began blogging at Notes From the Trenches in 2004 where she writes about her life raising her children in Austin, Texas.

Oh, she has seven of them. Yes, children.
Yes, they are all hers.
No she’s not Catholic or Mormon. Though she wouldn’t mind having a sister-wife because holy hell the laundry never stops.
Yes, she finally figured out what causes it. That’s why her youngest is almost 6.
Yes, she has a television.

She enjoys referring to herself in the third person.

If you would like to submit a question for Chris to answer publicly, please do so to adviceforparentsoftweens[at]gmail[dot]com.

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  • VG

    December 21, 2011 at 10:30 am

    I would say something to the child, but I know I’m not always the most diplomatic or P.C. about how I get my point across (or that I’m just really honest) so I have to choose my words wisely. Even then, parents get up tight. And I totally agree with Chris when she said all kids are jerks. SO TRUE!
    My sister has 4 kids and the youngest is a B R A T, but the others are just fine. I think it’s the whole, oh he’s the baby thing and she & my BIL are just exhausted from working/caring for the kids, so BRAT gets away with MURDER! I’ll call him out on stuff and it’s like THE. END. OF. THE. WORLD. – my sister just looks at me like I did something wrong when he’s having a meltdown. Gimme a break…

  • Kayla

    December 21, 2011 at 10:30 am

    I certainly think there is nothing wrong with stepping up to that role, however, yes, sometimes I can feel held back because of the parents’ feelings. Mostly it comes from the feeling that the ‘I doubt your mother would approve…’ can’t really be assumed anymore. Some parents very much would allow behaviors that I would stop. Although, I do believe there is a ‘my house, my rules’ that removes any care about what the parents’ feel.

  • M

    December 21, 2011 at 10:42 am

    I really appreciate this perspective, and I wish that more parents shared it.  Thank you.

  • Angel

    December 21, 2011 at 10:58 am

    I don’t have a problem calling out a child that is misbehaving. I actually did this the other morning at my sons day care. Kids were waiting for the bus and one of them was throwing rocks at my vehicle in the driveway. I was in talking with the daycare lady. I went out asked him if he was throwing rocks at my car. He did admit it and then just started blankly over my head as I proceeded to tell him that wasn’t nice and that I would be calling his mother on my way to work to let her know. (His mom is a friend & cousin). I did call his mom and let her know. He was supposed to apologize the next morning when I dropped my son off. He did do that with some promting. The mom thanked me for letting her know.

  • Talia

    December 21, 2011 at 11:00 am

    I agree 100% on this. I always tell my child that so and so is a proxy parent and they should be treated the same way I am treated. I do admit that when I’m told that my child has done something completely out of character, I do contact other parents that see my child when I’m not around to see if this is a reoccurring behavior that I need to take a harder line on than just “don’t do that again”.

    I know that most parents don’t like having anyone say anything about their kids. A few years ago some friends with a toddler was staying with us. While the child’s parents were getting ready to head out to do various stuff, the little one started yelling and yelling and yelling. The parents ignored him. After listening to this child yell non-stop for about 30 minutes, I turned around and looked at him and said, “Stop yelling.” He stopped yelling and his parents packed up their things and left that evening,

  • DeAn

    December 21, 2011 at 11:50 am

    I completely agree with you. ;

  • Emily

    December 21, 2011 at 12:57 pm

    We’re not at the teenage stage yet but I have no doubt that I’ll have no problem disciplining other peoples’ kids when necessary.  I probably wouldn’t do it with a stranger (i.e. a kid at the grocery store or something) but if it’s a kid I know then I think it’s fine.

    My friends and I have an agreement that we can all discipline each others’ kids- if we’re having a play date together and one mom leaves the room and her kid acts up, someone steps in to discipline.

  • Erin

    December 21, 2011 at 1:13 pm

    I hope that I will have the strength of character to “allow” others to discipline my children as they grow up. My son is not even two yet so I don’t have a lot of experience with this, but in my opinion, kids need to be aware that they live in a world populated by other kids AND other adults. They don’t live in a nuclear family bubble. I think that adults have the right (within reason, obviously) to voice displeasure with my child’s bad behavior.

    Recently at the post office my boy was touching the lights on a Christmas tree while I waited in line. An older man behind me scolded him, “No!” I personally did not think my kid was doing anything worth scolding, but it didn’t bother me that this man stepped in. My child lives in a society that includes a man who doesn’t want little children touching Christmas trees, and I don’t think it harms my child to know that! It’s not as though he was mean or violent about it. My son is not my property, he’s a (very) young citizen of our city & nation.

  • Jeannie

    December 21, 2011 at 2:06 pm

    I have been known to gently correct other people’s children, and I certainly hope someone would do the same to mine when they are being inappropriate. I grew up that way, and I think it’s great — kids need to learn how to behave in public, and how else do they learn?

    I don’t understand parents who act defensive or angry when someone disciplines their child, or when someone speaks up. Don’t we all want our children to be members of society, and to know manners and how to behave? 

    (Now of course I wouldn’t appreciate if someone really, really screamed at my kid, or — worse — hit them. Not Okay!! But that’s a very different scenario!)

    Thanks for writing this, I think we all need to hear it and consider it.

  • tiffany

    December 21, 2011 at 2:25 pm

    Why should teens do chores

  • Katherine @ Grass Stains

    December 21, 2011 at 4:33 pm

    Chris, I’m with you on this one. I am totally open to other people letting me know if my kids have misbehaved, and I try to constructively do the same. I would never want to pass judgment on someone else’s parenting, but I think you can let people know if their children have done something dangerous or aggressive without seeming judgmental. At least, I hope so.

  • Heather

    December 21, 2011 at 5:17 pm

    I am with you. When I am told that my children have been behaving badly I am always embarrassed as they know better. I know they are just kids and kids do stupid things. They need to be reminded of what behavior is acceptable. I was on the other end recently and had to tell a parent about there child and sadly I’ve been blacklisted for telling the truth about there “perfect angel”.

  • Ms. Huis Herself

    December 21, 2011 at 9:04 pm

    I have certainly corrected other people’s children & have had other people correct my children. But it seems to me that if the parent is there, it’s their job. Sure, a couple of unsupervised 9 year olds start horsing around at the train table at the children’s museum, throwing the trains at each other, they get a, “HEY! That is NOT how we use the trains at the museum!” And they stop… but partly it’s because somebody they didn’t know ‘yelled’ at them. Which they are NOT used to. (Granted, I used to teach, so I’m a little maybe a little more accustomed to/less shy in having a say in other children’s behavior! *grin*) I don’t want my kids, who are seeing that behavior, to think that it’s remotely acceptable.

    Goodness knows kids aren’t perfect, and that we all have different standards/expectations, but if the parent is there, it’s their job to handle the behavior (even if I don’t agree with it)… but I guess that comes with the caveat that if it’s my house, I have a say… i.e. if your kid is jumping on MY couch, even if you’re there watching it, I get to say, “Stop it. We don’t jump on the couch at THIS house.”

  • Jill G

    December 22, 2011 at 10:16 am

    Chris, I love your pieces so much. 

    I am a middle school teacher and I have very high expectations for my students.  Last week I had a young man who was distracting others during a test.  I asked him to stop twice and then, he gave me an attitude so I asked to speak to him after class.  I gave him a detention for giving me attitude and told him that is not an acceptable way to speak to his teachers.  

    I get a phone call from his mom.  (I actually appreciate when they call because then they can get my side of the story).  I was the one who was being questioned for my role in the situation!  I embarrassed him, (weird, because I called him in after class to talk to him privately), other kids were doing it too and they didn’t get in trouble, there must be a “personality conflict” because he has never gotten a bad report from a teacher.  She took off work to come in and sit down because she was “getting a different story from her son and me.”  I assured her that I was the adult in the situation and I was not the one lying.  We handled it well – My team of teachers were present at the meeting and chimed in with stories of how other students asked to be moved away from him, asked for him to not be in their groups, etc.  One told her that if he continues to act up then he WILL get consequences.  I just shake my head because I am not that old and I am shocked at how kids behave and how they run the show at home.  The student wanted her to call to get the detention taken away.  Uh, that ain’t happening.  This is what I have to deal with.  

  • Billie

    December 28, 2011 at 11:44 am

    Love this! I am very much the neighbor that will say anything (I don’t care if I don’t know your kid, I’ll say something if they are doing something wrong, dangerous, etc.). ALL of my son’s friends parent’s know that they are to punish my child as if they were punishing their own. They all know that I don’t put up with any crap and don’t expect them to either.

    Interesting little thing about the, “Would you behave like that if your parent was here?” question. I have actually had MANY kids turn around and say, “Yes” that there mom/dad doesn’t care if they do whatever it is. I usually tell them that I find it unacceptable and that it is not allowed while hanging out with my child.

  • Billie

    December 28, 2011 at 11:45 am

    their, not there

  • N.A.

    January 23, 2014 at 9:05 pm

    If some parents especially irresponsible parents don’t like an outsider criticizing the behavior of their kids then that’s the parents’ problem.I don’t have to sympathize with these parents as long as I don’t want to.

  • Bev

    June 8, 2014 at 8:03 pm

    I agree with helping kids remember manners when their parents are not present. It runs along the lines of protecting any child within reach should they be in danger. Yes, bad manners and ill behavior ARE a danger to children.

    It is a comfort for children to know they are safe when their parent is not around.