Maintaining Control:  Riling Up The Kids

Most fathers understand that it’s fun to mess with the kids and rile them up, but yea verily, for everything there is a season and right before a school concert isn’t the season.

It took me awhile to realize it when the kids were much smaller and it wasn’t until my wife made the connection between their pre-bedtime wrestling and post-bedtime insomnia that I grasped the concept of riling time.  Unlike adults, most of whom can control themselves at a moment’s notice when the need arises, kids are unable to simply control themselves as readily.  Riling time is fun and since kids recognize that most fun is good, they’re unwilling – or unable – to regain control.  Control is for adults and it’s stunningly dull.  So after multiple mornings of hard-to-rouse, cranky children, I learned to pay more attention to the clock.

But tonight was an occasion in which both a mother and grandmother royally goofed.  We were attending an informal high school fund-raising concert and the two women plopped next to us with two toddlers.  As the chorale gatherered to the stage and found their respective spots, the two adult proceeded to break into raucous peals of bird-like chittering.  The toddlers kicked in and soon, most eyes were on the foursome as they created a cacophony of jungle bird noises.  The high schoolers raised themselves to attention as the director took her place and the women began to try to control the kids.  They gathered the two into their laps and gently shushed them, they placed their index fingers over the kids’ lips and spoke several times into their ears, asking and then admonishing them to be quiet.  It was an honestly weird situation since I wouldn’t expect two grown women to act in such a manner at such a time.

As the group began to sing, the kids occasionally yelped out a bird-like call and the women became increasingly insistent that the kids control themselves.  But the women were in no position to expect immediate obedience since they’d started the ruckus in the first place.  The women simply forgot – or didn’t care – that kids take their cues from the adults closely surrounding them and I doubt that it occurred to them that the kids wouldn’t be able to control themselves.  Kids also have almost no sense of time and if the parents can get away with something quickly, the kids will think that it’s still occurring and they have free rein.

So what have I had to learn?

  • That I can’t rile up the kids at certain times because of soon-to-be-occurring events, such as meals or situations in which they need to be able to sit still for a period of time.
  • That in the case of my own kids, I need to have some time after riling time for the kids to decompress.  Once they’ve been riled up, the kids won’t just be able to stop but will instead requirement an adjustment period.
  • If the kids can’t regain control and make a scene, then I have nobody but myself to blame.  I’m the adult and they’re the children.
  • If they’re a little older, I can remind them of other obligations so that they can remember – or try to, at least – and help themselves maintain control.

The kids tonight actually did a better job of reining themselves in that I anticipated when the entire incident occurred.   The toddlers finally listened and settled down and the high schoolers recovered from the hoopla of the previous song, and I can only hope that the two women understood that they were the issue instead of the kids.


Your Son Want To Take A Walk With You:  Pass Up the Quiet Time

It’s 9:15 in the evening and I’ve donned my down vest and cap to take the dog for an evening stroll.  Even better, I’ve pulled out my mp3 and earbuds so that I can enjoy some of my own music as we saunter around the block.

Hey Dad, I just got out of the shower but can I walk the dog with you?

No, Son, your hair’s still wet so I’ll just go.

Really, Dad, I’ll only be a minute. 

My wife cuts me a glance and I already know what she’s going to say and I nod my head.  Sure enough, she says it:  Your son wants to take a walk with you.  And she’s right, my son wants to take a walk with me. 

In that brief fifteen minute excursion, I catch further glimpses of life amongst the teen tribe.  How Scream-o isn’t the same as Punk and it really – supposedly – takes considerable talent to master the Death Metal growl.  How kids in middle school really don’t listen when you tell them to stop the bean-dips – reaching up and grabbing another’s nipples – and you just have to punch them in the face to make them quit.  How I was apparently right in that even our town isn’t as safe as he previously thought, and that truly grabbed my attention.  He and some friends were walking home from the high school football game when they were challenged from behind by some older teens and if he’s not exaggerating, had to bluff their way out of the situation.  And with each of these snippets, I asked further questions or in the case of the bean-dips and football game incident, offered some suggestions such as not walking home at night in an alley.

As a father, my life really isn’t my own anymore and it’s been that way for years.  I miss quiet moments and the latitude to do what I want, when I want to do it.  And God knows I miss my favorite musical pieces.  But the reality is that I have to take advantage of every opportunity to spend time with them even if I’m not in the mood.  It’s their attempt to maintain the lines of communication and as they age, those lines can fray or become brittle with age so it’s my responsibility and obligation to put away the mp3 and honor the attempt.  I’m actually counting myself fortunate that my young teen still wants to walk the dog with me and share those insights and moments because I hear plenty from people who feel as though they’ve been completely shut out.

Perhaps however, they really haven’t been shut out but simply haven’t realized that they’ve been approached.  The time spent together doesn’t have to be earth-shattering and when teens come, it’s frequently when it suits them instead of on the parents’ schedule.  Dad might be tired, sore or just craving some privacy and quiet but it’s still the first rule of fatherhood in effect, that a father’s life is no longer his own.  So pay attention when the teen comes up and says something to you.  It isn’t the dog or the other stuff, it’s you that he or she wants.

Better yet, pretend that my wife is looking at you and then put away whatever it is that you’re doing.

Logistics:  Managing the Hand-Me-Downs

If you’re fortunate, you’ll tie in with a network of folks who are able to pass along outgrown clothing, thus helping to keep those costs under control.  That also means that there’s going to be clothing that’s stored away and has to be periodically sorted both by size and seasonality and that task is something that I do twice each year when the weather starts turning cold or warm.  It does raise the occasional question of whether there’s actually too much clothing to keep in the house.

We’re fortunate in that we have two boys and are physically/emotionally close to another family with two boys and there’s been a flow of clothing through the years.  They also have a daughter, but she and our daughter are similar enough in size and age that we really haven’t been able to process hand-me-downs for the girl.  So what’s the logistical process for sorting and  handling the flow of clothing?

  1. Start with the youngest child and cull through the clothing, either throwing out or passing along what he or she can clearly no longer wear.  It took me a while to finally visualize a pipeline between one kid and the next one and realizing that if there wasn’t room for the clothing being passed down, I’d wind up with a stack – or pile – of clothes with no room for storage.
  2. You can visually size up what’s obviously too small and move that to a separate pile for later processing.  What’s obviously wearable for the colder or warmer weather is separated and yet another stack is composed of what the child actually has to try on.  My experience has been that it’s best to just pull the child for one stack of try-ons instead of constantly asking him or her to come away from the activity and creating resentment.
  3. Pay attention to the condition of the clothing.  I’ve kept and patched jeans that are ripped but I then have to be careful that those are the pants that are worn for Saturday play instead of making it to school. 
  4. Since kids don’t grow at a constant rate, expect that not everything is going to be the exactly right length.  Pants might be a bit short or long and depending on how much and what is available, might have to be worn until they are either unacceptably short or are finally the right length.  The same goes for shirts. 
  5. In dealing with shirts, this process gives you the opportunity to cull what’s acceptable in terms of language.  Many ‘tweeners and teens today wear shirts with messages and there are many parents who simply say nothing about the message.  Our stance has been that shirts with messages are fine for play but not school and even then, the message can contain no offensive language.  A case in point is the farting dog shirt that simply wound up in the trash.
  6. You might have to decide how much is too much.  A year ago, our eldest boy had eight pairs of jeans that fit simultaneously, but does a boy need eight pair of jeans?  In our case, I held several pair back for the younger boy.
  7. The offsetting question is whether the child has any other clothing besides jeans and play clothing?  I don’t know of any families where the girls don’t have some dresses or more formal clothing, but boys can be so rough and tumble that it’s easy to forget that they do need to have more formal clothing, even if it’s simply khakis and one or two dress shirts.  In our case, each of the boys has one or two pair of dress pants and a pair of khakis, along with some ties and decent sweaters.
  8. The final question is where you want the old clothing to go.  Is there another family that can use the clothing?  Do you have a favorite charity?  In our case, there’s a bag of kids and adult clothing that will go to the school district, which is organizing a free clothing give-away within the next several days.



Helping or Taking Over the Schoolwork?

Almost every parent wants their kid to do well – I say almost since I’ve met a few who honestly couldn’t give a tinker’s dam about their kid – and that leeches over to the schoolwork.  How far do you go in helping before taking over the process in its entirety?  When is it too much?

I’m facing that question now as Eldest is involved in an A(dvanced)P(lacement) US History course.  Part of her assignment for the year is to write an original paper on some topic of interest.  She came home last week with three tomes on US Economic History from the school library and when I inquired as to why she’d have a 400+ page history of American economic development, she told me that her topic was the history and development of the dollar and the controversy between a fiat dollar and a gold-backed dollar.  I was honestly stunned as she stood near me in the kitchen; it’s a topic of which few are aware but one that I find of exceptional pertinence in this day.  This PracticalDad econogeek has shared concerns over the economic future of the country since it’s her generation that stands on the precipice of an economic cliff and while I talked about it, I was never entirely sure that she or her brother was listening.

Yes, she was listening – even with one earbud dangling from her left ear.

Further discussion revealed that she needed at least a half-dozen primary and more secondary sources and as I also looked at the AP Physics textbook on the kitchen counter, I actually pitied the kid for the amount of work that she’s taken upon herself.  It also dawned on me that she’d decided upon the topic because she understood that dear ol’ PracticalDad had a clue of the subject, even if he’s not an expert.  Further, It was a means by which I could maintain a common bond with a teen who’s a social butterfly and actively in the college decision process.  So it behooves each of us to work together.  

But how far do I take it?  Both her mother and I have stressed the academics – everything flows from the schoolwork – but we have actively demurred from doing the homework as some other parents do.  I’ve even gone so far as to create mock tests for her and Middle and have assisted on isolated questions but have refused to do more than two or three homework problems.  Why not?  Because I’m not always going to be there, that’s why.  Now use what we’ve done as a model.  There is no plan to write it for her and I can’t explain everything since she can’t use me as either a primary or secondary source, but I can at least whittle down the amount of reading that she has to do.  The result is that I’ve taken the liberty of pointing out what chapters in the three tomes are pertinent to her topic so that she doesn’t waste time reading about American Agricultural Economics in the mid-19th century.  Likewise, I’ve pointed her to multiple other sources that provide what she’ll need to gain an understanding of the topic.  The final part of my task will be to help develop a basic reading list so that she can read on the topic chronologically and thus keep some sense of order.  After that, she’s on her own and I’ll limit any further involvement to explaining what I can.

It’s easy for parents to think that the kids don’t care about being around them anymore.  There are friends and activities and they never seem to have enough time in the day for what they want to do, and the parents wonder what happened to that little kid who wanted to spend so much time around them.  But there are still moments when the kids will come to you and you have to put things aside and grab the opportunity when it presents itself because it’s often as much the teen wanting to stay connected as it is the question or issue itself.  The venue or activity will change as they age, but the desire to stay connected is still there. 

I had no intention of spending considerable time perusing economics and historical texts for information on the gold standard and the several decade change to the fiat currency.  But it is something that I can do to help the kid as she prepares for the AP paper.  And I’ll stay available to discuss the questions that she has as the year progresses, because that time is not long for this stage of our lives together.


Preparing the Kids:  Going Counterculture

Abraham Lincoln remarked that you can fool some of the people all of the time and all of the people some of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time. Some time ago, I read that a strong majority of American adults now believe that the opportunities for our offspring will be less than the opportunities that we had when we became adults and this group falls into the third category of Lincoln’s comment.  If we truly are in trouble, what must I do to help prepare my kids for such a future?

PracticalDad, Hippie

The first lesson of preparing the kids for the new economic world is to be purposefully countercultural.

When economists and the bobbleheads on CNBC talk about deflation, they’re not necessarily talking about a decrease in prices, they’re actually talking about a drop in the amount of liquidity and credit available in the financial system.  One of the notable items since the bailouts of late 2008 is that large banks are given huge amounts of credit but the credit for consumers contracted and only recently began to increase again.  We’re still being pushed to spend but with flat or declining incomes and food inflation, more and more of us are finally being pushed to the wall and most will only change when there is neither time nor option.  When you’ve been raised and taught a certain way, the trauma to the perceptions and psyche can be exquisitely painful.

Our forebears taught their kids that one of the crucial financial skills was to practice savings.  The future was uncertain and you had to take responsibility for your financial health.  On an aggregate basis, that meant that there was also sufficient capital available for investing in projects and products that actually helped to create national wealth.  Today, that’s turned around as the corporate culture punishes those who save and rewards those who learn to consume, especially on credit.  Sitting on the kitchen island as I write this is a mailer from American Express for their prepaid AmEx card for teens, touting that it’s neither debit nor credit but with all kinds of online tools to help them track their spending and manage their budgeting.  Next to the mailer is Eldest’s savings account statement, showing an annualized interest rate yield of .1%.

Why save when we can help you learn how to spend in the adult world?

There are no magic answers or pop-psychology techniques to confronting the prevailing culture.  If you don’t want to go Amish and completely ban all external electronic tethers to your kids, the you have to be prepared to monitor and control them.  It’s both time-consuming and frustrating to have to keep tabs on what and how long they’ve been immersed in the electronic culture but it’s necessary.  The entire electronic culture is saturated with spending messages and cross-marketing techniques and the first line of defense is simply to control it as much as possible.  How pervasive is it?  One dark night several months ago, Youngest was taking cans to the recycling bin when he sang out Red Robin! and a stranger walking his dog down the block called back YUMMMMM!

Along with limiting electronics, you have to have a sense of what’s out there.

  • Keep the screen electronics – computers and televisions – in a public area so that you can keep an eye on what’s being seen.  I understand that there’s no way that I’ll see everything but I view it as a parental quality control device, a visual random sampling.
  • Use the parental control tools available onthe family computer to limit the time spent or the hours that it can be viewed so that if you’re not around, it can’t be used.
  • Review the browser history and visit some of the sites that the kids are at to see what they’re viewing.
  • Take some time to visit MTV and view some of their offering.  I’ve also spent time viewing Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim.

When moving beyond the household walls, be purposeful in how  you spend your own money.  I’ve ratcheted down my own spending significantly and have cut my personal expenses for the coffee and muffins, choosing instead to brew my own and work through a pot in about two days.  When you’re shopping with the kids, audibly ask yourself whether you actually need that item that you’ve been eyeing or whether it’sactually only something that you want.  discuss it aloud when you’re with the kids and opt to keep the wallet in the pocket instead; while you might not think so, they really are listening and taking in what you say.  If you have to go to the mall for something, take the kids along but tell them in advance that the purchases made will be only for the needed items.  Show them that it’s possible to walk out with having spent unnecessarily.

Talking is crucial, especially when the kids are saturated in a media world that specializes in promoting consumption by blurring the lines between need and want.  Why do you buy a car – to get from one place to another or to make a statement about your tastes and values?  Is the need to have a new car worth the amount of money that’s going to be lost to depreciation in the car’s first three years of ownership?

Pay attention to where and when you shop.  While my wife is in a position in which she has to dress well, I’m not and I frankly buy the everyday wear at Goodwill.  We’ve passed this along to the kids and now the older two prefer to shop there in lieu of going to chain stores that provide cheaper clothing made in China and the Pacific Rim.  My comments have been frank in that I’d rather provide business to an entity that employs the locally disabled than an entity that’s paying a pittance to some poor foreign ‘tweener and pocketing the rest.  Likewise, instead of shopping at the major supermarket that’s owned by a Dutch conglomerate, we now do most of our food purchases at the locally owned grocery as well as at local farmers markets.

Buying food locally and eschewing the culture might sound like a hippie thing, but it is important.  Our children will have to think outside the current economic model’s box and seeing money flowing to those who don’t fit the model will be instructive.

Sexist PracticalDad:  Different Safety Rules for Different Genders?

I was taken aback the other day when Eldest complained that I was a sexist.  HUH?  You’re complaining to a guy who’s bent gender issues in all manner of shapes and angles.  Her comment was prompted by a safety situation that occurred the previous evening in which she believed that she’d been wronged.

We live in a small suburban community in an agricultural area and there’s no crime the likes of which you read about in the larger communities.  I was preoccupied when she said that she’d be taking a jog and didn’t notice that it was already dark in the early evening.  She’s an athletic, strong teen who likes to jog on non-sport practice days to keep in shape.  Within ten minutes, Middle asked if he could also take a jog and I permitted it, again not noticing that it was dark outside – bad on me.  Middle is a few years younger but already taller than his elder sibling and immeasurably stronger due to consistent exercise through the years; this is a kid who announced in the kitchen at the age of six that he wanted a six-pack and had one by the age of eleven. 

He returned a few minutes after his sister and caught us in the midst of discussion because I’d since realized that it was actually dark outside.  My stance was that while I appreciated that she wanted to stay in shape, I no longer would permit her to run after dark unless she ran with another person; otherwise, she’d only be running alone when there was still daylight.  We disagreed but she respected my reasoning that running alone after dark was simply inviting problems.  While she was still in the room, Middle asked whether the same rule applied to him and after looking at the kid, I stated that yes, he could continue to run alone after dark, but only in the early evening.  My thinking was that he was strong enough and fast enough to avoid any problems.  

It was at lunch the next day that the previous evening’s conversation came up and Eldest asked why the rule applied only to her instead of him.  Again, she’s female and the reality is that it’s likelier that lone females are prey to attackers than lone males.  Predatory males are cueing on lone females instead of lone males and such predators are typically armed in some manner.  Additionally, her younger brother was still younger and stronger than she was.  It was  here that she called me a sexist and truly pulled me up short. 

I stewed on the comment through the remainder of lunch and afterwards pulled both elder kids aside.  Here’s the deal then.  You might consider this rule sexist, but you’ll still only run at night with a buddy.  However, bad things can also happen to a lone male so that your brother will be bound by the same rule; he’s not a full-grown adult and the prospect for problems exists as well.  If you want to run at night, then you’ll have to run together.  I believe that I’m correct in not permitting Eldest to run alone after dark.  But I was wrong to think that Middle’s gender would be fool-proof protection against attack or mugging.  Congratulations, you’re right.  And you’re also wrong.

Kids often live in a world that’s devoid of external dangers, at least that’s for kids living in low-crime or rural areas.  Safety consciousness is a learned skill and it will take much continued talk and effort to get the kids to think about the threats of the outside.  Threats that are larger than a father that you find quaintly overprotective.


God save us from teenagers.

When the children are very young, they are self-absorbed and generally clueless but one holds out hope that they’ll grow out of it when they hit their teens.  But once they hit their teens, you understand that the self-absorption is still there and the nature of the cluelessness changes.  They can handle multiple electronics simultaneously and perform academic/intellectual functions that are actually quite impressive.  But they still can’t remember to give you the details on where they want to go with their friends.  They are convinced of their invincibility – as I was when I was that age – and are generally unaware of the dangers that can surround them, unless they’re forced to adapt due to living in a dangerous neighborhood.  When you try to talk to them, the response is akin to the dog in the Far Side cartoon:   Blah blah blah blah Fido blah blah blah.

If I had to find a television father who most temperamentally resembled my own father, it would have to be Red Forman of That ’70s Show.  For all of his wonderful qualities, he was cranky and generally intolerant of teenage boneheadedness; being called a dumbass was a familiar experience.  I promised myself with Eldest’s birth that I wouldn’t continue that experience with them and for the very large part I’ve been successful but it has really gotten much harder as the years pass.  My father, and other men that I’ve met through the years with teenagers, have commonly used the term "half-assed" as an adjective.  It’s one that I’ve tried to avoid but there are now moments when I quietly offer it up as I consider something that’s been said or done.   Like many other fathers through the course of generations.

I wonder if scientists have finally figured out what most fathers know.  The last step in the maturation of the teen body into adulthood is that the kid finally develops a second buttock, qualifying him or her as no longer being half-assed.

And until then, I just have to hang on.


My Kids and the Coming Economy

A large part of my paternal job is to keep tabs on the world and how it affects my family.  What’s happening and what must I do to adapt?  More importantly, how do I help prepare my children for the world in which they’re going to live?

Parental roles are slowly blending and blurring as fathers take on childcare and mothers expand into the workforce.  But each still has a certain impact upon the kids and for dads, it’s how the child perceives and interacts with the outside world.  Research has shown that it’s a father’s input that helps spur vocabulary and language skills in small children.  When fathers were actively involved, the language skills of a three year-old were higher at a statistically significant level.  More recent research finds that a dad’s horseplay and interaction with the kids encourages exploration and self-confidence; this helps them meet and cope with the larger outside world.  It’s simply part of our job to prepare our children to survive and be productive in the world.

But our times are significantly different than our own parents’ and the economic challenges facing our children will make ours pale in comparison.  If we’re going to prepare them, we have to first get a handle on what they’ll be facing in the future.

Through A Glass, Darkly

Stroll through the internet’s economics offerings and you’ll find the full gamut of opinions on what’s going to happen and unless you live in Chile or Norway, little of it is good.  Views are offered by economists, investment strategists and advisers, pundits and even the odd economic astrologer.  This opinion spectrum ranges from stagflation and economic depression to Japan-style deflation and hyperinflation; to paraphrase one economics blogger, we really have no idea what will happen.

The short-term future is fuzzy at best but statistics and anecdotal evidence make the long-term outcome pretty certain.

  • The quoted unemployment rate (U-3) is stuck persistently at 9.5%+ but the more realistic rate of U-6 is closer to 17%.
  • The gap between the wealthiest Americans – the top 1% of wage-earners – and the rest of the country has widened to a level not seen since the days just prior to the Great Depression.
  • We remain an oil-based economy with an oil-based infrastructure, reliant upon foreign suppliers who often don’t like us and only tolerate us for our military and our currency; unfortunately, you can’t field a military without a viable currency.
  • Precious metals prices – an indicator of fear and instability – are at global 30 year highs as individuals and institutions purchase them to counter the continuing devaluation of the dollar and other fiat currencies.
  • Within the past several weeks, 25 nations have piled into what the Brazilian Finance Minister openly calls a "currency war".  Even Peru bought $12M in order to drive up the dollar versus whatever they call their currency.
  • The US Federal Reserve System will again engage in further quantitative easing, effectively flooding the economy with even more cash and liquidity.
  • The financial markets are largely broken.  The pervasive use of High Frequency Trading has led to a market-wide "flash crash" with multiple smaller flash crashes amongst individual stocks, most notably Apple Computer.
  • Through unfettered lobbying and campaign contributions, the financial system has corrupted the legal/political system to a degree unmatched in our nation’s history.  In 2009, Senator Richard Durbin (IL) told an interviewer that on Capitol Hill, banks "own the place".  The attitude of lenders has become so cavalier regarding such bedrock legal principles of title and property-ownership that in 23 states, large mortgage lenders have suspended foreclosure proceedings when the courts found that cases brought didn’t adhere to basic principles and in some cases, the bank had no actual financial interest in the property.  Additionally, mortgage servicers hired by lenders have been caught presenting counterfeit court summons attesting that foreclosure notices were delivered when they really were not.  Most disturbingly, Reuters news recently reported that advance notes of the Federal Reserve Open Markets Committee meetings are being provided to paying clients by a former Federal Reserve System governor in advance of their release to the general public.
  • Our elected representatives are failing in their most basic duties as they leave for a pre-election recess without having yet passed an actual budget.

Viewing even only this partial statistical and anecdotal evidence, our nation really does sit on the cusp of huge structural challenges that haven’t been faced in generations.

The Long-Term Upshot

Whether it happens hard or easy in the near-term, the long-term outcome for our children is difficult.  There is real risk that the American Middle Class will be largely eliminated as the political and financial elites sacrifice the common good for their own personal power and benefit.  Our children will be marginalized to an underclass forced to subsist in lower-wage jobs with little hope of real prosperity, their earnings spent meeting the debt payments on a societal-wide model based upon the company town model of the 19th/20th century coal fields.  Their freedoms will be likewise jeopardized as those in positions of power continue to consolidate and maintain their grasp on the levers of government, twisting the screws even further as they bleed the future underclass.

So what can any typical father do?  There are no magic tricks to suddenly undo what’s been in the making for decades and it’s doubtful that there will be any call for great acts of heroism or civil disobedience.  The great changes will have to be made at the family level and it’s our job as fathers to expose them to the wider world as we do with our words, language and horseplay.


Yelling At Other People’s Kids

When the San Jose cop "arrested" his stepdaughter’s boyfriend for sleeping with her, the story raised all manner of questions.  Most pertain to whether the officer was appropriate in using his station to scare the boy and others pertain to whether the daughter should have been busted instead of the son.  A more basic question is how much latitude a parent has in dealing with Opie (Other Peoples kid).  Just how far can and should you go?

Let’s put the immediate question of the San Jose stepfather/cop to bed – I doubt that there’d be any issue at all if he’s simply punched the teen while out of uniform.  But utilizing an official process to "scare" a kid, especially in the boy’s home, was simply unacceptable.  Now let’s move on.

There are multiple factors coming into play with Opies

  • Are the other parents even around to help supervise or are you the sole adult in charge?  It’s likely that if you’ve got a toddler playdate at a neighbor’s house that you’ll have to take much action apart from monitoring your own.  The other parent is there to keep tabs on their own child and at the younger ages, simple redirection is often the only thing necessary to keep things in check.  That said, it’s not uncommon to "talk shop", which for parents often relates to common disciplinary measures so that you get a measure of the other parent’s views and preferences.  And if things do spiral out of control, then you should immediately let the other parent contend with the kid.
  • Are you a parent or are you fulfilling another role, such as leader at an event in which you have some legal responsibility?  I’ve found – and others have confirmed – that if you’re in charge, then the other parents are generally happy to let you handle the discipline short of corporal punishment.  On multiple occasions in scouting, I’ve noted that some parents’ attitude is akin to he’s your issue, have at it and good luck as Junior runs amok in the room.  Fortunately, there have been few issues when I’ve assigned time-outs or even pulled a boy aside for a chat. 
  • What’s the child’s age?  You might think that you have to be more "in the face" with smaller children who are out of control, but the younger more routinely only require quiet correction of some kind; it’s the teens who’ve been caught up in the cycle of group thoughtlessness who require a stronger hand.  Teens will tend to get caught up in the moment and group dynamics as they feed off of one another; there are also other issues such as saving face amongst the peers when confronted with an adult who’s trying to maintain or regain control.  Honestly, my moments of truly yelling have been with groups of ‘tweeners and teens who’ve gone totally around the bend.  Younger kids can still be intimidated and awed by the size of the upset adult and are more likely to be physically scared (which might or might not be a good thing) while the larger teens might feel the need to prove something.
  • What’s the severity of the incident?  If I find teens – for whom I’m responsible – driving around with other teens on the hood of the car, then I have no qualms about going ballistic on them; the chance of injury or death justifies yelling so that the shock breaks through their event barrier and grabs their undivided attention.  Yelling because the television is too loud in the basement is overkill.
  • Do I want to embarrass my own child?  Actually, if my own kid is there and I feel obliged to yell or become unpleasant, then embarrassment is the least of his or her problems.

It’s actually rare to have to become unpleasant with opies and many will take listen once you have their attention.  Only once have I had to actually get physical with teens and that was to protect my own kids, then toddlers.  The regional park to which I took  my own kids had an elevated playground in a copse of trees – seriously cool – and unsupervised teens were running through it repeatedly with the risk of a small child being knocked off.  One parent said something to no effect and when one group ran past, I shoulder-blocked the leading boy and knocked him askew.  Gee, sorry about that.  Guess you’d better watch where you’re going.  My point was taken and the group moved on. 

But if I ever find a boy with my daughter…