Practical Dad

Controlling Your Kids

One of a parent's responsibilities is to control their child and nothing is more frustrating than a parent who can't or won't control their child in public.  When should you step in and provide control if the other parent won't?

This question arose recently at a scouting event in which boys - fourth and fifth grade levels - were gathered at a science museum to earn an Engineering badge.  This was a four and a half hour workshop run by a museum staffer, for which admission was charged.  Parents were present and while I'm a scout leader that arranged for the boys in my group to attend, I wasn't present because of another obligation.  According to other parents to whom I spoke, there was a particular boy from another group who simply ran wild and disrupted things; even the other boys from my group were appalled at his behavior.  He ruined experiments and talked back to the staffer and in one experiment involving electricity, actually injured one of the boys from my scout pack, who showed several of us the mark on his stomach at a scout meeting four days later.  A father who was present backed up the accounts and the event involving the electricity.

On one level, the museum bears responsibility because the staffer didn't act to control the child when he was found to be openly disruptive.  But the reality is that this is a staffer who's paid to present a program and not discipline children who are there with responsible adults, either parents or scout leaders.  The boy's father was present and at no time stepped in, but simply sat back and watched his child misbehave and openly create problems.  No other adult stepped in either, apparently for fear of appearing to overstep boundaries and upsetting the father and the result was that when I met with the boys several nights later and asked about the event, what I heard was a story about a trainwreck instead of electrical circuits and bridgebuilding.  This was confirmed by the parents who were present with our boys.

It's an unpleasant and uncomfortable situation, fraught with the prospect of further conflict if the other parent is an ass who won't like seeing Junior chastised.  But when should you step in?

  • When you believe that the other parent will simply not intercede AND there's real prospect of injury should something go wrong, like children throwing rocks at kids who are coming down the sliding board.
  • When it's an event for which you've paid money and a lack of control threatens to ruin it for your child and other children.
  • When it's not only misbehavior, but open bullying of your child and the other parent will not intercede.

 In the last instance, it might take a little time to see how your own child handles things.  Years ago, when Youngest was not quite three, we were at a mall play area when he encountered a child who by size and appearance was several years older.  This child would purposefully run into Youngest and knock him down, then return to his mother, who was also clearly watching events.  Youngest was knocked down twice and purposefully shoved down once and in the middle of this, she and I exchanged looks as things unfolded.  When the last shove occurred, I moved to intercede but stopped as Youngest got up, walked over and punched the bigger kid in the face.  To his credit, Youngest proceeded to play while the other boy then left with his mother. 

Each of us has a responsibility to monitor and control our children.  It can be embarrassing to have to do so in public, but that's one of the prices paid for having kids in the first place.  Each of us likewise has an obligation to step up when we see a child's misbehavior being willfully ignored by the idiot parent, and I say that because if you don't, that's how you look to the rest of us.

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