Yes, I Yelled At Your Kid(s).

There are two types of parents in this world: those who believe that no one should ever discipline their children except for them (not me), and those who believe that if their kid is being a butthead, other parents have the right to step in tell them so (me.) I was reminded of this the other day when I yelled at a child who was not mine. Let me back up a little...

It was the most exquisite beach day and we headed down to our favorite beach spot for a couple of hours of playing in the sand. When we first arrived, I spotted this little boy, a couple of years older than my daughter, and I knew he was going to be trouble from the moment I laid eyes on him because the second I saw him, he was holding his boogie board above his head, ready to clobber mine over hers.

Since he relented, I said nothing. I also said nothing when just moments later, I saw him splashing and splashing my daughter and repeating the phrase "You will die!" in an effort to eradicate her from the area by the rocks where he was also playing. She got the message, and eventually left. In situations like that, I try not to intervene if I can help it because, you know, kids have to learn how to handle things for themselves.

But my nerves became frazzled past the point of reason when, just several minutes later, I observed the same kid, this time in tandem with his older brother, trying to muscle my daughter off of her Beater Board in the ocean. I marched over there, and yelled a little louder than intended "HEY! I saw you splashing her, and now you two are trying to push her off her board! That's hers! Beat it!" And the boys, sort of shocked, I assumed, by this tiny woman in her floral bathing suit and not-even-matching-a-bit striped sun hat, aborted their mission and backed off. The older boy carried on in the water. The younger boy, went and told his mom.

Back up on the beach, I overheard the boy telling his mom, "a lady yelled at me." I raised my index  finger in the air and copped to what I had done, explaining what had happened. She made him sit in the beach chair, and I heard threats of his iPad being taken away. I figured it was over...until...I heard another member of her party in the ocean, yelling at my husband. She even threatened to get her very large husband to "take care of this situation." Oy vey. Thankfully, the husband's solution to "taking care of the situation" was to placate his wife, and he calmed her down. After all, it was not even her child I had reprimanded.

In those moments, though, I felt bad for the larger issue this stirred up. I could feel the adrenaline in my system, and I took some deep breaths to calm myself. I knew I had stepped in a parenting landmine...Probably I shouldn't have been so harsh with those boys. This isn't New York City, it's a sleepy beach town, and I should have used my sleepy beach town voice when telling the boys that they couldn't pick on someone half their size. Later I apologized to the other mom, (when her agro friend left the beach) and she was pretty cool about it, even admitting, "it was probably well-deserved."

Now, I'm fully aware that some people will say that I was just flat out wrong, and I get that. Others will argue that I was justified as the day is long. As I noted in the beginning, there are two camps here, and they are pretty clear. But rather than pitching my tent on either of those sides, after giving this serious thought, I would like make my camp right on the line, and maybe you will join me because I can't stop thinking about the moral dilemma of it all.

You see, I trust other parents in the broad sense of the word. If my child had gotten yelled at by another parent on the beach, I would have marched her over, had her make an apology and thanked the parent for stepping in, and gotten the rest of the story later. Because why else would a parent step in like that? Sometimes kids are straight up jerks, and as adults we have to rely on one another. We are the world, as they say.

The other thing is that this other mom, or rather, the people she was with, undermined adult authority in a sweeping way, and the kids were watching. Whether they meant to or not, they sent those children the message that if an adult you don't know tells you to knock it off because you're being a jerk, then you can get your posse and they'll bully those people. Or, they basically said, "You don't have to listen to the village." I feel that this attitude contributes to an imbalance in our society where kids think they are running the joint, and it worries me.

When we talk about how unruly today's children are, or how they don't respect authority, we have to take some responsibility for that. As adults, we should have faith that others are, overwhelmingly, doing the right thing. I do think I (mostly) did the right thing because both of those boys--who had been running roughshod over the beachgoers--finally calmed down enough to play nicely with everyone else on the beach. And the day was really awesome! I think the other mom also did the right thing in asking me what happened because, of course she should. But everything that happened after that was complete and utter bullshit, and I have to speak truth to that.

Yes, I yelled at her kids. Next time, I would be nicer about it. I would use my "teacher voice" and not my "mama bear" voice. Lesson learned all the way. However, if you fall into the category of "no one should ever tell it to my kids except for me" you may want to consider about the greater consequences of undermining the overall concept of adult authority. Sometimes adults will be wrong, but we have to also weigh the messages we unconsciously send children when we don't let strangers (in public places) tell our kids when they have stepped over a line, even if they do it differently than we might have as parents.

1 comment:

  1. From Jersey I can tell you that I would do the same. I wouldn't apologize because it wasn't about something small like a beach toy, the situation could be dangerous. A police officer wouldn't apologize for telling me to quit driving up the wrong side of the road. Kids need to know that the world is watching, that we are all responsible for each other and that some stuff just doesn't fly. I applaud you.