How to Discipline Other People's Kids?
Last Sunday, I sat with a group of parents watching our nine-year-old daughters play the first basketball game of the season.
Next to us, a young boy, maybe five years old, sat playing on an iPod. No headphones. It was very loud. It was very annoying.
His mom sat on his other side, oblivious, cheering for her daughter.
One of the dads leaned over to the young boy. He asked -- nicely, with a smile -- if the boy had headphones or could turn down the volume.
Before the boy could answer, his mom intervened.
“Next time, you can ask ME instead,” she said angrily. She huffed and made a big deal of moving her son a few feet away from the dangerous parents. She did not ask her son to use headphones or turn down the volume. The noise was still really annoying.
I was flabbergasted. What was wrong with asking the boy to be considerate of others nearby? Clearly, in the mom’s mind, it was unacceptable for someone else to approach her child no matter how innocuous the criticism.
I spent the next hour wondering why it’s offensive to talk directly to a young child about unpleasant behavior, instead of going through his or her parents.
A few days later, my nine-year-old daughter came to me in tears after school. My daughter has her first “boyfriend,” who is really just a boy who is a friend. It’s not as if they go out to clubs until midnight; I think they held hands after school once. We’ve known him since first grade; his parents and we agree this is an innocent, delightful, age-appropriate development.
What brought on my daughter’s tears was that a teacher told her it was inappropriate to have a boyfriend at her age. That she couldn’t sit next to him during assemblies or at lunch. That she wasn’t supposed to talk to him at recess. The teacher made her feel so ashamed that she broke up with the boy that day.
This is my daughter’s version of events. It may not be entirely accurate. But since the teacher didn’t come directly to me, I have no idea what was said.
I found myself in the awkward position of being angry that the teacher went to my child with feedback about her behavior, instead of coming to me.
Just like the touchy mom in the basketball gym.
Maybe there is a difference between the two situations, I’ve since been asking myself. Is there some kind of invisible guideline delineating when you should approach a child directly, and when it’s appropriate to talk to the parent instead?
There are two debates at play, in my view.
The first: “it takes a village to raise a child” vs. the alternative “it’s none of anyone’s business how others raise their children.”