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…