Parenting. It can be such a joy - and a pain in the behind. The scolding part for instance. Don't enjoy it, but it has to be done when the need arises. But what do you do when you see other people's children misbehaving?
I've come to the conclusion it's a balancing act, but I wish more adults would speak up when they witness bad behaviour or hear foul language in the public domain. Though I'm loath to use the "kids today" excuse, children seem less concerned now about using bad language or behaving badly when their parents aren't around. It's as if the other grown-ups in the vicinity are invisible.
Sometimes, the problems are easy to solve. For example a few years back, when some older kids (they were all of 10 or 11 years old) were swearing as if they were in a Quentin Tarantino movie at a playground, I asked them to tone it down in a toned-down voice. "Hi there. Can you guys stop swearing? There are lots of little kids here and I don't want my children to hear these words and start repeating them." (What I really wanted to say was, "Look you little #@&%. Can you stop with the vulgar potty mouth." Didn't think that would be very smart, though. Not really leading by example.)
They were momentarily stunned that I deigned to speak to them, but they acquiesced. Some even looked embarrassed, but they were probably the ones not swearing. Mentioning the effect their language had on the younger kids seemed to carry more weight than if it upset me or any of the other parents. In this case, it was mostly grandmothers who spoke little if any English. Perhaps that's why they thought they could curse an unfettered blue streak.
More recently, friends were over for dinner with their two children, who are the same age as my two kids. Early on in the evening, my charming but sometimes too smart alecky-for-his-own-good son blurted to his kiddie classmate, "You're such a loser."
You're mortified, aren't you? I certainly was.
Without missing a beat, the boy's dad turned to my son and in a stern voice said: "Hey, that wasn't nice. You don't say things like that."
After getting over the shock of hearing my son speak these unkind words and wondering where he'd heard them, I applauded Bob for immediately speaking up and giving my son what for. In fact, I've given my friends the liberty to rein my son in anytime he steps out of line. It's good for him to hear it from other non-family grown-ups.
My son was crestfallen to hear Bob speak so strictly to him. He wasn't off the hook yet, though. I took my little charmer aside to ask why he would say such a mean thing to his friend and told him to apologize immediately. I'm not quite sure he understood the weight of the word loser, but he wasn't getting off.
Later, when I asked where he'd even heard those words, my daughter, who is almost three years older, piped up and said a cartoon.
I let my kids watch Saturday morning cartoons, the same ones I watched as a kid (Bugs Bunny, Scooby-Doo, Batman, Spiderman, The Flintstones), the Knowledge Network or occasionally YTV. I'd better pay closer attention, especially with YTV and what my son hears. He's too much of a mimic and will often repeat verbatim what he hears on the radio or TV. While some of what he repeats is funny (he nails the Fortis BC ad about gas smells), he obviously hears things that get a reaction and feels a need to try them out for himself. Mimicking strikes me as more prevalent among boys. My daughter just seems to know not to say mean things - except to her brother.
Recently, after an indoor soccer practice, the team was told not to climb onto the gym equipment. My son did and I grabbed him right off and said, "Didn't you just hear what the coach said?" (I have a low tolerance for outright disobedience.) To a teammate, who is prone to scrapping with the other boys, and was also not listening, I said: "Sweetie, you're not supposed to do that." He replied, with a surprising amount of venom, "You're not my mother."
"No," I replied, "I am not. But I am a grown-up and if I see you doing naughty things, I'm going to tell you to stop."
I was worried I had crossed the line. But his mother backed me up.
As adults, shouldn't we be less fearful about speaking up when a child is out of line? Every situation is different and battles and words should be chosen carefully but when cruel words are spoken or pushing and shoving unfold on the playground, damn straight I'm going to say something if the other parent isn't nearby.