It’s probably true that we’ve all been in a situation where someone else’s child is out of line, and they’re either not there or simply not doing anything about it. In fact, it tends to happen a lot around the holidays when we start visiting with family and friends who we don’t see everyday. When faced with this situation, we’re often tempted to scold the child in loco parentis – or, hey, maybe even discipline the negligent parents themselves. After all, we’d never let our kids behave like that. Which is exactly why an article in Newsweek caught my eye recently. In it, Kathleen Deveny lamented just this situation – and claims she still regrets not having taken it upon herself to say something to someone else’s child in a situation or two, rather than buying into what she calls one of society’s “parenting taboos.”
I beg to differ. In my opinion, the only time we should be disciplining another person’s child is when it’s necessary to prevent dangerous and destructive behavior. Otherwise, it’s up to the parents to set their own limits and decide what will be punished and how. Although Deveny points to a time in the mid-20th century where parents felt free to enact community discipline and yell at any and all neighborhood kid behaving inappropriately, families today have wildly different standards. Who’s to say it’s not right for a child to jump in puddles or run through the grocery store? Well, if it’s not your child, then not you.
Parents need to be consistent with their discipline without worrying how other children’s parents are treating their child, and they should feel free to set their own boundaries in their own way. The way they choose to discipline their child is, after all, no one else’s business. No matter how annoying that really loud 4-year-old in your favorite restaurant is.
Deveny also claims that too many parents today are unwilling to discipline their child – and maybe she’s got something there. In this age of spoiling our kids, trying to be their friend, and not teaching them the word ‘no,’ this is a whole different issue. Yet even if it’s the case that we are more lax with our kids than our parents were with us, it still doesn’t give someone else the right to decide what’s appropriate for our child.
And while we’ve all been in that situation where we have to bite our tongue instead of saying whatever it is we’d like to say to the offending child, many of us have also been nearby when another adult reprimanded our kid – and we probably had a few choice words in mind then, too.