Not disciplining 7-y.o. boy for publicly battering younger girl - WTF?
November 15, 2013 4:08 PM   Subscribe

While at a small family gathering in our friends' home, my coworker's 7-year-old son suddenly grabbed a 4-year-old girl, raised her up into the air over his head, and body-slammed her onto the living room floor -- in full and complete view of 8 parents, including both of his own. His parents never did or said anything to him about it that night, and we're all horrified. How do we get to a place of acceptance when folks make vastly different parenting choices than our own, and our kids see it? Details ...

Miraculously, the little girl was not physically injured, as far as we can tell now anyway. No one will be terribly surprised if the hosts are soon asked for their homeowners' insurance info to cover the girl's medical bills for a broken arm or dislocated shoulder. Her mother quickly picked her up and left the house -- we had just met the little girl's family for the first time that night, as they had randomly stopped by to say hello while they were out on a family walk, never intending to stay.

To be perfectly clear, we are 100% positive both of his parents saw the whole thing. The boy's parents did not say anything to him, they did not approach him at any point that rest of the night (except to tell him it was time to go home hours later), and they did not mention his behavior in any way that entire night. Instead, they both carried on and enjoyed the rest of the party as if nothing at all had happened. There has not been any follow up communication with us or the hosts - his parents have never mentioned it.

I'm still processing: 1) the shock I feel that they did not discipline their son or even address his behavior in any way, as well as 2) the extremely conflicted feelings I have that I did not step up and say anything either once I realized they weren't going to address the issue with their son. My husband and I took each of our kids aside privately at the party, and talked about what happened, and how they were feeling about it, and let them decide if we should stay for the remainder of the party. We made it clear to our own kids (a 6-year-old boy and 4-year-old girl) that the boy's behavior is not something we would tolerate our kids doing, expressed our concern for the girl he hurt, and reinforced that this is something kids need to tell the adults about immediately if they ever witness. But gah - considering that we adults also saw it and did nothing, we didn't send our own kids a very consistent message either.

My husband and I, and the host couple, have had several discussion about our parts in this as bystanders and as parents. We are all at a loss to understand it. None of us feel very good about it, and are perplexed by the dynamic we all witnessed. This boy's parents are professionals from the same socio-economic background as we all are (apparently, one of the unspoken rules of our culture is that you never discipline somebody else's child when both of their parents are standing right there), and their son is neurotypical and doing fine in second grade, though he was sent home from school several times for "typical boy stuff" in his dad's words in Kindergarten and first grade. Before this all transpired, my coworker told me the parents have had some big, blow out marital screaming matches at their house, and are "tough on their son" but they generally keep their cards close and act like things are always perfect. They are not the kind of people who ever are vulnerable enough to discuss potentially-sensitive topics like that, which I completely understand, and that, along with the coworker aspect, is why I don't wish to bring this up with them.

My question: Can someone please explain where these parents might be coming from? There has got to be some charitable explanation for what is going on with their behavior. Part of me is wondering: am I missing something? The bigger part of me is saying: how is doing nothing at all when you witness your 7-year-old son publicly batter a younger girl in someone else's living room ever an ok parenting choice?

I don't want to continue to feel like they are some strange brand of neglectful, uncaring, checked-out parents, because, due to work circumstances, I'll have to make nice with them for at least the next several years, and I think they generally mean well. And I know parenting is hard. Please help me to at least better understand them. (Obviously, our kids are not going to play with their son anymore - will be doing the slow fade there. I know I cannot change other people, I can only change myself.) Please limit the scope of your advice here to explaining these parents' motivations in a way that will allow me to empathize with them and not continue to see them as per se "wrong." Or feel free to tell me if you think that's impossible.
posted by hush to Human Relations (55 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
 
Sounds to me like they felt like taking the night off from parenting
posted by thelonius at 4:14 PM on November 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


Because, if it wasn't your child it isn't your business. Sorry. Yes there are terrible parents in the world running around unlicensed and they look like normal, decent, even educated people. People have wildly different parenting styles. That's just how it is.

It is not your place to correct their methods. You could warn parents that might come in contact with the little monster but otherwise let it go.
posted by trinity8-director at 4:17 PM on November 15, 2013 [4 favorites]


I guess the most charitable I can get is that they were so completely mortified that they froze and didn't know how to handle it in front of the other guests. From the way they were described, I would certainly not assume that nothing happened after the party was over. I would personally be totally full of judgy, judgy judgment about that being the wrong way to do things, but I don't think that's quite the same as assuming they totally ignored it.
posted by Sequence at 4:20 PM on November 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


This is all kind of speculative, because none of us here are in those parents' heads, but in the event my child did something like that, I can imagine being so taken aback and mortified as to be rendered temporarily speechless. Alternatively, I can imagine that the parents are aware of an ongoing behavioral issue and are kind of in denial about it.

That being said, in our culture there is a "never discipline somebody else's child when both of their parents are standing right there" rule. However. There is also a "in my house we do not tolerate that behavior" culture, and if an adult guest made an inappropriate boozy grope at another guest, I would not hesitate to show that person the door, and I think if a child did something like that in my house, and the parents did not react, I would tell them that we don't do that kind of thing in our house or something to that effect.
posted by ambrosia at 4:21 PM on November 15, 2013 [35 favorites]


There has got to be some charitable explanation for what is going on with their behavior

No, I'm afraid there doesn't. If there is already violence in their home ("screaming matches"), they are witnessing the manifestation of it.

On the one hand I would assume that the parents were embarrassed enough that they chose to ignore the behavior in public and address the boy in private. On the other hand, it may very well be that his behavior continues to be dismissed as "boy stuff".

fwiw, I can see easily how I might have reacted the same way that you did if something like that had happened in front of me. Although, I would like to think that I would have made a big deal of the girl in front of the boy. So, not scold the boy (and therefore, not outright scold the parents), but make a big show of empathy and "are you alright? That looked like it didn't feel good" etc to the girl.

If I were the host, I think I would try to have a quiet word with the more receptive of the parents, along the lines of "I spoke to so-and-so's mother, she was fine the next day" or somesuch, to try to open a dialog. Hopefully the parent would then chime in with their point-of-view, but maybe not. Some people don't think that kids are people, and that they don't warrant much empathy.

I feel for the boy.
posted by vignettist at 4:24 PM on November 15, 2013 [8 favorites]


Please limit the scope of your advice here to explaining these parents' motivations in a way that will allow me to empathize with them and not continue to see them as per se "wrong." Or feel free to tell me if you think that's impossible.

I think that's impossible. What you describe is was wrong for the boy to do, and the parents are being seriously negligent for letting it go with appropriate consequences. It's a disservice to their son and to the children he is in contact with. If I had been there, I wouldn't have talked to the boy or his parents about it, but would have clearly and immediately told me children that it was inappropriate and that we were leaving now. (And said it not worrying about whether I was overheard.) This isn't something you need to empathize with. It's messed up parenting, and you are right to be shocked. Don't stifle that reaction.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 4:24 PM on November 15, 2013 [46 favorites]


There has got to be some charitable explanation for what is going on with their behavior.

If they had made excuses and left early, I'd buy mortified, but I am laying my wager on either a) just plain crappy parents, or b) crappy parents who only discipline and/or beat their kids at home.

I would in future be very cautious around that child but I would also be watchful for his welfare.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:26 PM on November 15, 2013 [23 favorites]


There has got to be some charitable explanation for what is going on with their behavior.

Why? this is total just world fallacy crap. There's assholes everywhere. Lizards wearing human suits who act totally normal until the moment in which they act in a way that is so outside the norms of human social interaction that in many other contexts could be classified as the behavior of a psychotic or a sociopath.

There doesn't have to be some good explanation here. Maybe they were drunk and couldn't be arsed, maybe they're actually just assholes, maybe they're so drained from fighting with eachother that they couldn't be bothered to engage(which sounds charitable, but really isn't. That's a "just following orders" level of copout or beyond if you're in charge of the well being of someone who can't be responsible for themselves whose doing harm to others).

I don't want to continue to feel like they are some strange brand of neglectful, uncaring, checked-out parents, because, due to work circumstances, I'll have to make nice with them for at least the next several years

Why? you're having these feelings for a reason. I've had several jobs, or school, or other obligations(IE: putting up with assholes to continue to get shows with my band, or to be promoted alongside other artists who are assholes, etc) where i had to put up with someone who was an asshole, manipulative, or almost seemed like a sociopath just to get shit done. You don't have to put the fact that they're apathetic lizard people out of your mind to continue to deal with them charitably, in fact i'd argue you should keep that on your mind and watch out for other weird behavior or absolute lacking of empathy or compassion for others that could harm you, a project your involved in, people you care about, etc.

Throw the "warning spill area" sign up next to them in your head and leave it that way.

feel free to tell me if you think that's impossible.

I think it's easily possible to do it, and that a lot of your friends will probably write this off. I don't think it's the correct thing to do just to make your life as easy as possible however. Never forget that these people acted this way. I would honestly place this in the same bracket on the ruler, but not directly next to if they had just abused their kid in front of you. They let their kid abuse another kid in a fucking ridiculous way and the combination of that and their reaction shocked and, in the cases of some people, probably frightened them into keeping quiet. That reaction especially sounds an awful lot like abusive shit to me.

I'm also with darlingbri in that, and while this might be uncharitable, from my current age and place in life right back to being 5 or 6 i have VERY clear memories of the kids who acted like this having parents who were at the very least seriously, violently verbally abusive and it just got worse from there. Kids don't hit kids that hard in a vacuum. There's a big difference between "neglected kid acting out" and "violent kid", even though they can present vaguely similar at a really cursory glance.

So yea, you're right to be very offput and upset by this. Don't dismiss that with rationalizing "but they're good people!" bullshit. Listen to your gut, something is wrong here. There is rot.
posted by emptythought at 4:29 PM on November 15, 2013 [49 favorites]


Possible male-on-female domestic violence in the home was played out by the child. That would be my take on it.
posted by Kerasia at 4:41 PM on November 15, 2013 [30 favorites]


due to work circumstances, I'll have to make nice with them for at least the next several years, and I think they generally mean well.

No, people who don't give a shit about the well being of people around them do not mean well. There is no excuse for their lack of reaction, intervention, and apology. In fact, even if body-slamming is how they actually discipline their child privately at home, surely a vaguely socially aware monster would pretend, in public, that it wasn't acceptable. Particularly if there's a professional relationship among the witnesses.

Don't depend on them in any capacity that will leave you holding the bag, and don't let them near any money. You may have no choice but to work with them, but don't get your own career sabotaged by the need to be nice above anything else. It's okay for people to reap what they sow, you don't need to exert yourself to protect them from themselves.
posted by Lyn Never at 4:43 PM on November 15, 2013 [20 favorites]


There doesn't have to be a charitable explaination. Lots of parents just don't give a shit what their kids do, until/ unless it hurts the parent in some way or they need an excuse to hurt the kid in some way.

Also sounds like they are "boys will be boys" type parents, as in, they might not actually see this behaviour as something needing discipline. I've heard "boys will be boys" to excuse 13-year-olds breaking into cars and stealing the contents.

This is real life. People aren't nice or good or decent or caring or insightful just because they slapped the sperm and egg together.
posted by windykites at 5:08 PM on November 15, 2013 [8 favorites]


Okay, the best possible way to look at this is: you don't know that the child was not disciplined for this at home.

I also think it's not necessary to forgive someone in order to maintain a cordial, professional relationship. Maybe give this some thought.
posted by trunk muffins at 5:08 PM on November 15, 2013 [4 favorites]


They sound vulnerable as kittens (or infant tarantulas?) -- the little boy's violent bid for attention is as messed up as their not functioning like functional adults/parents. It's so bizarre that they did nothing in the face of what would clearly be serious social penalties that I would be inclined to see it as their waving a sort of flag of fucked-up-ness. Not that that rationalises anything. The charitable take is that they are fuck-ups. Perhaps/probably with underlying personsl horrors that have led them to be that way, sure, but.

I would tell my kid we would not be socialising with them again, at a minimum. Did all the kids directly witness this? That would be nightmare fodder here. Don't "slow fade," just bail.

There's no point to continuing to be chummy with them, colleague or not. The hosts should reach out to the little girl's parents if they haven't already.
posted by kmennie at 5:11 PM on November 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


> Can someone please explain where these parents might be coming from? There has got to be some charitable explanation for what is going on with their behavior.

Nope! Running in the special-needs circles that I do, I've seen kids do stuff that would get other children in huge amounts of trouble and the parents just roll with it because there are other issues going on that aren't immediately apparent. But this, as you described it? No, there's no way to justify it, not even by my lax parenting standards.
posted by The corpse in the library at 5:12 PM on November 15, 2013 [8 favorites]


Considering that that four year old could have died from what you describe, I would keep my children away from them. These are not good parents.

I'd be tempted to call a social worker friend and describe what happened and ask advice. Because in my view that goes way beyond "letting other people parent their own children" and heads way into HOUSTON WE HAVE A PROBLEM.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 5:31 PM on November 15, 2013 [24 favorites]


These parents are doing violent things in front of their kid at home, then pretending nothing out of the ordinary has happened-- and the kid is calling their bluff.

And will probably continue to escalate until he finally breaks through their denial. Bystanders can only hope that doesn't require breaking any human beings, and doesn't come too late for the kid to be able to change his violent ways.

I think Kerasia's guess that the kid might be directly imitating his father's behavior is a deep insight.
posted by jamjam at 5:32 PM on November 15, 2013 [12 favorites]


By the way, one of my children's friends moms once slapped her daughter in MY house right in front of me and I did speak up immediately. That does NOT fly at MY house.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 5:33 PM on November 15, 2013 [13 favorites]


Well, it's because studies show (will look for a cite on request, I'm on my way out the door) that bullies are the most influential people in any social group.

And they are, aren't they? That's the explanation. They are violent in their home because it works. They allow their son to violently assault other children at a party, and there are no consequences to themselves, other than people like you worrying about how best to be empathetic towards their plight, see them as good people, and make nice with them at work.

Meanwhile, the children watch that scenario that we so often have (and had as children) in our worst nightmares: something terrible is happening, right in front of mommy and daddy, but they not only do not lift a finger to save us, they don't even notice, they just sit there smiling and nodding happily.

You also gave your children a mixed, but truthful, message: violence is wrong, and you should of course tell an adult if it happens to you - it won't help of course, because nobody will do anything meaningful and everything will carry on as before. The troublemakers whose child got body-slammed have to leave the party, but if we keep quiet and discreet we'll be allowed to stay.

What do you mean by "slow fade" with playdates with this child?

I realize that what I'm saying is very harsh, and it must sound like I'm accusing you, but I'm not. I'm trying to shout loud enough to get through the social conditioning to submit to bullies (not to be "polite" as submission and politeness are two different things, but if it were called submission it might not sound like a necessary social skill) and get you to see this incident for what it was. For the record, I would probably have frozen, too, and I would also possibly have reacted the same way you did, in the moment. It obviously was a shocking thing to have to deal with. But now you've had time to think.

These people only have as much power as the social group gives them. Yes, bullies are the most influential people in any social group - But there are also studies to show that when one person stands up against something that everyone sees is wrong (and you know they did) another stands up.

Is this guaranteed? No, and I'm not going to try to tell you there won't be consequences if you protest after the fact - by saying "no, my kids can't play with yours because your child violently assaulted another child at a party". That could make your kids targets, it could make you unpopular at work, whatever. Unfortunately you do have to carefully consider what you do next now that the moment has oassed. What I might suggest, instead of confronting the violent parents directly, is to approach the parents of the assaulted child and let them know that you are completely on their side and you won't be socializing with that family any more. Then go from there.

Also check out nononsenseselfdefense.com
posted by tel3path at 5:35 PM on November 15, 2013 [49 favorites]


I don't think there is any excuse for their behavior. Any parent I know would be completely horrified and mortified by that kind of violence and immediately respond.

There isn't anything you can do in this situation. However, rather than do the "slow fade" I would directly tell your coworker while you enjoyed their company, their son is no longer welcome in your home. And say why--not just because of what their son did, but because their lack of response makes you worried about what else their son will do without fear of censure.

Also, if you haven't already, inquire into the status of the hurt child and emphasize to her parents you've never seen this happen before and that boy will no longer be welcome. That way they'll know you don't condone that sort of behavior and your home is a safe space for their girl.

Kids rough-house and do all sorts of awful, inappropriate actions, especially when imitating what they see elsewhere. That's normal and I don't think a child deserves immediate banning solely on the basis (unless it's like, torturing squirrels or something). BUT if the parents don't enact any form of discipline then it means the natural child explorations of unacceptable behavior are going unchecked, and that child is dangerous to other children.
posted by schroedinger at 5:40 PM on November 15, 2013 [5 favorites]


And I'd just like to repeat, for emphasis, what St Alia said: THE FOUR YEAR OLD COULD HAVE DIED FROM WHAT YOU DESCRIBE.

If you're worried about how this looks socially, imagine how it will look if the boy does fatally injure a child right in front of adults and it comes out that the boy had a history of doing that and all the adults reacted by continuing to make polite cocktail-party conversation. I could imagine that making the news, if you were unlucky. That would be embarrassing too, wouldn't it?
posted by tel3path at 5:42 PM on November 15, 2013 [8 favorites]


Child abuse doesn't just happen from parents. Siblings can abuse each other as well. You are upset by your lack of action. But you are still not acting in regards to the little girl - she may need help.

Why don't you follow up on the status of the little girl? Find out if she is okay, if this is a regular thing and if it is, find a way to get her some help.
posted by zia at 6:11 PM on November 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


> Considering that that four year old could have died from what you describe

I don't understand how the girl could have died. But I also don't understand how a seven-year-old could lift a four-year-old over his head (and my kids were those ages a few years ago).
posted by The corpse in the library at 6:16 PM on November 15, 2013 [4 favorites]


My concern about ostracising the child is that he is a child. As in, he is learning this behaviour somewhere, and cutting him off from non-violent people is maybe not the best idea- I mean, I think that letting him play wirh the other children while supervised properly (I.e. not by his parents) will probably do a better job of protecting the other children AND him. It's the parents I'd be afraid of, not the little boy. There's still a chance of him not being like this his entire life- but not if he has no healthy influences.

What's likely to happen in future is that this kind of behaviour might continue if he becomes his parents' scapegoat. Don't fall for it- they are probably the issue here.
posted by windykites at 6:17 PM on November 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


This reminds me of something that happened to my oldest a few years back. Not as dramatic, but equally cruel and right in front of both me and the child's mom. She also did nothing. As her boy was horribly hurting my child, and not stopping, she did nothing. I waited because it wasn't my place right? As my child screamed, thinking of course she will step in and remove him. She didn't. I still feel bad for not stepping in after a couple seconds, and giving her the benefit of the doubt. My child never went to her house again, that mom couldn't be trusted to take care of my child.

My point is-you can't trust that child. You can't trust the parents.

The child I knew was a bully and their parents looked the other way. This child also had problems at school and the mom never would consider that her boy was the problem. I was thankful my child was not at the same school.

I know you have to interact with this family for a few years but be careful and I would talk to the kids about being careful too.
posted by 58 at 6:33 PM on November 15, 2013


As a parent myself and someone who has done a lot of volunteer work with children, I've come around to the conclusion that if I see someone else's child do something dangerous to themselves or others, I will tell that child sternly that the behavior is unacceptable to me, regardless of what that child's parent says or does. I have told children to stop breaking other people's property in my neighborhood while their parents watched idly. I have told children to stop hitting one another and I have told them to clean up messes that they've made when their parents were nowhere to be found. I have gotten children down from rooftops and away from power lines and told them to put their bike helmets on.

I am not disciplining other people's children so much as making clear to them my boundaries and my expectations, and expressing disappointment when they violate them. And doing that usually works to stop the behavior.

Sure, it pisses off some parents that I get involved, but people who are fine with their children doing stupid or violent things are not really the sort of people I want to be friends with, anyway.
posted by BlueJae at 6:36 PM on November 15, 2013 [35 favorites]


For people confused by the relationship, the boy was from one family, the girl was from an entirely different family who dropped by the social gathering. They are not siblings, and as far as I can parse, did not previously know each other.
posted by Lyn Never at 6:41 PM on November 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


(And yes, I know that you need to maintain a business relationship with these people, but really, if you see them standing by while their child hurts another child again and you say, "Stop that right now, child-- you are hurting someone and that is not okay," what are they going to SAY to you without looking like jerks in front of everyone else? You could even throw in an "I am certain your parents do not want you behaving this way." Hah.)
posted by BlueJae at 6:43 PM on November 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


Can someone please explain where these parents might be coming from?

You already did, when you wrote

they generally keep their cards close and act like things are always perfect. They are not the kind of people who ever are vulnerable enough to discuss potentially-sensitive topics like that

People have different boundaries. Theirs, as you say, are very high. Hard to imagine they didn't have a long, serious talk with their kid, but they may not have wanted to do it in front of a crowd. You took your kids aside privately to talk to them about the event, probably for the same reason. For that matter, unless you were watching the parents the entire party, how do you know they didn't do the same?

Now I'm not saying this is where they're coming from -- you asked where they might be coming from, with a special emphasis on scenarios where they aren't terrible parents.

But maybe they are terrible parents! In which case we come to the second part of the question.

I don't want to continue to feel like they are some strange brand of neglectful, uncaring, checked-out parents, because, due to work circumstances, I'll have to make nice with them for at least the next several years

There is no reason that the knowledge you may have should keep you from being able to make nice to them. Reflect on the fact that lots of your coworkers, or certainly at least some, are loust parents. And some of them are domestic abusers. Some of them are habitual drunk drivers, who maybe have run someone down and maybe haven't. You are already making nice every day to people who have done terrible things.
posted by escabeche at 6:44 PM on November 15, 2013 [4 favorites]


This reminds me of something that happened to my oldest a few years back.

Me too (okay, my only, not my oldest). She was convinced/coerced to get into a Rubbermaid tote half filled with stuffed animals by an older sibling of her playmate who then snapped the lid closed on top of her. Her mother and I searched the house for her, and then minutes later she emerged from the box. The interchange between the kid and mom made it clear that the mom knew what was up and went through the charade of searching the house.

My kid emerged from that box red-faced and gasping. I was terrified and furious, but all I really did was get the hell out of there and never let her have a "playdate" there again. The mom was a studying to be a teacher(!), and they lived across the street from us. A few months later the younger sibling (my daughter's playmate) had a broken arm, and the explanation for that was... unconvincing.

People can relate to their children in really strange ways. The older child was very premature and had a medically rough infancy. As a preteen she was emotionally immature and medically fragile. I *get* why her mother was protective/in denial of how she was actually behaving because of that. So this kid may have had some challenges in his life that lead his parents to excuse/ignore this behavior.

On the other hand, Kerasia seems really on target.
posted by jeoc at 7:24 PM on November 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


Apparently, one of the unspoken rules of our culture is that you never discipline somebody else's child when both of their parents are standing right there

There's a big difference between disciplining someone else's child and doing nothing at all in the moment. I've seen many times an adult tell a child that their behavior was out-of-line, rude, inappropriate, etc. You don't have to be unduly mean about it, but it lets the child know that broader society does not embrace the behavior in question, and it signals to the other parents that they need to step in. I've seen situations where a parent is kind of letting behavioral things slide that day -- because they would rather chat with other parents, usually! -- and the other parent verbalizing the problem to the child is a kick in the pants to the first parent to engage again.

It is possible to maintain a cordial professional relationship without the children playing together. For your kids' sake, immediately stop the playdates with that family. I doubt they will ask why.
posted by stowaway at 7:48 PM on November 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


We are all at a loss to understand it. None of us feel very good about it, and are perplexed by the dynamic we all witnessed. This boy's parents are professionals from the same socio-economic background as we all are (apparently, one of the unspoken rules of our culture is that you never discipline somebody else's child when both of their parents are standing right there), and their son is neurotypical and doing fine in second grade, though he was sent home from school several times for "typical boy stuff" in his dad's words in Kindergarten and first grade. Before this all transpired, my coworker told me the parents have had some big, blow out marital screaming matches at their house, and are "tough on their son" but they generally keep their cards close and act like things are always perfect. They are not the kind of people who ever are vulnerable enough to discuss potentially-sensitive topics like that, which I completely understand, and that, along with the coworker aspect, is why I don't wish to bring this up with them.


Something is so wrong with this picture that normal sane people can't even fathom it. I have all boys and they can be tough and yet not one of them was ever sent home at any age but esp. such a young age from school for "typical boy stuff". Listen there's nothing wrong in saying while the parents are standing there "hey little dude that's not cool - in this house or family we don't throw little kids". You are an adult and IMO you should without fail always stand up for kids who are victimized - in this case quite severely.


My question: Can someone please explain where these parents might be coming from? There has got to be some charitable explanation for what is going on with their behavior.
Yeah - they are shitty parents who haven't figured out that their marital difficulties and screaming matches have had a detrimental effect on their kid. It's only a matter of time before that kid ends up in serious trouble.

BTW I wouldn't allow my kids anywhere near that psychopath in the making. I don't care if they are coworkers or whatever, I'd come up with some reason to keep my kids away.
posted by lasamana at 8:53 PM on November 15, 2013 [9 favorites]


Because, if it wasn't your child it isn't your business. Sorry.

Nope, wrong. You are absolutely wrong about this. It's totally the business of all people present. Every person has an obligation to assert themselves when the weak are picked on by the strong, when the authorities do not do their duty, and when injury is probable.

I allow others to correct my child in front of me, and I correct their children in front of them. That's how real parenting -- and a high-order civilization -- works.
posted by Mo Nickels at 9:00 PM on November 15, 2013 [60 favorites]


I don't understand where the girl's parents were in this scene. Is it possible that the boy's parents figured that if the girl's parents didn't say anything, then it wasn't a big deal?

(He sounds like a budding sociopath and I hope you are not letting your kids have anything to do with that family. It only takes a moment to seriously injure a child and those parents are obviously not going to stop harm from happening.)
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:02 PM on November 15, 2013


Because, if it wasn't your child it isn't your business. Sorry.

Wrong, wrong, it is everyone's business to protect a helpless child from victimization when it is happening right in front of them, and when their silence amounts to tacit approval. There might be social repercussions, because some parents think their offspring are beyond reproach, but that's life. Sometimes doing the right thing gets people mad. It is absolutely a right-thinking adult's moral responsibility to protect a child that is being assaulted by another human being, even if that human being is someone else's six year old.
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:06 PM on November 15, 2013 [26 favorites]


When I was in kindergarden, a girl in my class used to physically attack me in front of the teacher, who never did anything about it. It was usually just scratching. But when she finally pushed me down and started slamming my head against the floor one day, the teacher still didn't do anything - the teaching assistant was the one who stepped in.

I mean, it's possible the parents of that boy didn't notice or just froze and told their son off about it after the party, but sometimes there just isn't a charitable explanation.
posted by topoisomerase at 10:02 PM on November 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


As an elementary school principal, I've never sent a child home for "typical boy stuff", so I would think that maybe their barometer is somewhat out of whack on what constitutes acceptable behavior and what is way out of line. I have sent someone home for say, deliberately throwing a football to hit another child in the face.

Our society is quick to judge schools these days for not stepping in to stop bullying and here we have a story where a room full of adults basically did nothing to stop a bully. My point is that you wouldn't have been out of line to have said or done something in this situation any more than you would have been if you had seen a stranger assaulting somebody on the street. We are working so hard to teach kids to stand up for themselves and their peers. The social awkwardness that you experienced is exactly why kids don't stand up for themselves or their peers either.

I'm sure it happened so fast and it was so shocking that the parents did nothing, but if you are ever in this type of situation again, just step in and say, "This is not acceptable behavior. You could hurt her. I won't allow it."
posted by tamitang at 10:54 PM on November 15, 2013 [16 favorites]


Meanwhile, the children watch that scenario that we so often have (and had as children) in our worst nightmares: something terrible is happening, right in front of mommy and daddy, but they not only do not lift a finger to save us, they don't even notice, they just sit there smiling and nodding happily.

When I was in kindergarden, a girl in my class used to physically attack me in front of the teacher, who never did anything about it. It was usually just scratching. But when she finally pushed me down and started slamming my head against the floor one day, the teacher still didn't do anything - the teaching assistant was the one who stepped in.

I was a bit !!! and really putting the pedal to the medal because my thoughts on this were coming out at 200mph, but this is a very good point.

I went to a shitty catholic school from ages 5 to 7 or so. Part of the reason my parents pulled me out was crap like this.

There are memories absolutely seared into my brain from that age of things like this i watched happen, that are in fact more vivid than the memories i myself have of being beaten and bullied.

The immediate reactions i had to similar situations(often to lash out at the bully violently) followed me well into my teens and caused all kinds of problems for me.

This is the kind of thing that you don't really get to make value judgments on. There are correct responses, and incorrect responses. Examples of the latter are zero tolerance bullshit type of "Well what did you do to instigate the situation/both people have a role in negative situations!" kind of crap, and doing nothing.

Really, because something is the socially awkward thing to do or you might get yelled at doesn't mean it's the "wrong" thing to do or you can't. There are people who power through awkward situations like this to do the right thing, and people who cower from them and make excuses. Don't be the latter. And don't listen to any of the people going "etiquette demands you keep to yourself and they'll be totally in the right to read you out for stepping on their toes". Yea, it would be better if it was the kid who their kid attacked whose parents were saying something... but yea, someones gotta do it.

Everyone is basically pulling a noes goes here. Seems like there were more children in the room than many may have thought. This is not a dangerous situation like intervening in an altercation on the street, these are people being pricks about taking care of children.

I'll also add that confronting them about this in a civil way does not somehow disqualify you from having a normal relationship with them unless they choose to stay saddlesore about it afterwards and be unprofessional in a work environment. And honestly, then, that just makes them look even more like shit. And everyone else who saw this will know. Anyone who sides with them, well you know what to think.
posted by emptythought at 11:17 PM on November 15, 2013 [8 favorites]


What was the 4 year old's reaction? Did she cry? Was she hurt? The 7 year old's parents response may be in relation to the smaller child's reaction. Kids can rough play - it's been known.
posted by Mario Speedwagon at 11:35 PM on November 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


As it's been mentioned, there are shitty people all around you. Sometimes it takes situations like this for it to come out. Either this is going on at home and is learned behaviour that the parent's cannot call out without the child turning around and blowing the parent's cover (but YOU...etc...) or the child has had some bad encounters with siblings, relatives, or friends that they are seriously trying to ignore out of shame.

Don't feel so bad about not acting; just try to act in the future.
posted by heyjude at 1:30 AM on November 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


You were worried enough to be thinking about this and ask on metafilter that you probably know from a hundred other subtle indicators that this wasn't an isolated unfortunate accident of a kid rough-housing and shocked parents.

I haven't done it enough, but I have never regretted speaking up for a hurt kid, and in this case as you've rightly seen, there are two hurt kids, the four year old and the seven year old. The four year old is straightforward to offer sympathy and help if their family need it. The seven year old is much harder to reach.

If you can, ask the parent you feel closest to or most approachable out for coffee. Then say to them as gently as you can that you are worried about their child and would be happy to listen in confidence if they want to talk because parenting is so stressful, and sometimes you feel isolated too and need a friendly ear. Don't say anything judgemental or specific about their parenting or their child, just offer to listen.

If they are assholes, which sometimes happens, they will likely deny everything, attack you verbally and walk off, and then you can go ahead if you have concerns about the child's welfare to contact his school or relatives if you know them. There's not much more you can do as an outsider unless you have a legal/emotional involvement with the child.

If they are overwhelmed and struggling, they may open up to you and you should just listen and offer resources. I try not to offer parenting advice explicitly but talk about what worked with my kids as an anecdote. Straight out advice feels like lecturing and judging what is a raw failure moment, and it is really hard. I have needed good advice as a parent and the people who got through to me all talked about their kids or talked in clinical abstract ways about resources and strategies - telling me directly just made me shut down. And was usually useless advice too.

If you can't do this, but you do see the kid again socially, by all means closely supervise your kids with him or keep them politely involved elsewhere. But take the time, please please take the time, to talk to this boy about ordinary things and say something specific and kind to him about his character.

I was a vicious acting out child because of an abusive home life, and I cherished every kind comment an adult gave me, and desperately longed for someone to notice me, not my grades or appearance or actions, but me. The mom and older brother of my best friend in grade school took care of me a lot for two years when I was at that school, and to this day, I tear up thinking about their kindness towards a truly unpleasant child.
posted by viggorlijah at 1:38 AM on November 16, 2013 [4 favorites]


I don't want to continue to feel like they are some strange brand of neglectful, uncaring, checked-out parents, because, due to work circumstances, I'll have to make nice with them for at least the next several years

You may need to maintain a professional relationship with the parents but you do not have to socialise with them outside a professional setting or have your children socialise with their son. There is no need for slow fading anything. Your children are no longer available for play dates as of now.

If you haven't done so already you may also consider calling the girl's mother and ask how the girl is. After the initial shock and focus on getting her daughter home she may well be as perturbed by the complete lack of reaction from all the other adults present as you are. The girl's family might feel reassured to know that even though you were all shellshocked at the time you do care bout her wellbeing. And knowing you are perturbed as well might help them process the incident.
posted by koahiatamadl at 1:59 AM on November 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


Sorry, but there is no excuse whatsoever for either the boy's assault on the little girl or the parents' nonaction after that attack. It sounds like he's learning both violence and non-accountability at home: violence from his parents' constant fighting and non-accountability from never being called to account for his behavior. (Plus who knows how the parents treat the boy out of sight of other people?)

The average child does not repeatedly get sent home from kindergarten or first-grade for behavior problems; my guess is that this body-slamming episode is FAR from his first act of violence. It is certainly NOT merely boyish high spirits --- it sounds more like the kid is already an experienced bully, and his parents condone it (if not actively encourage it!).

The best you can do is remain nothing more than work-friends with this couple, and never socialize with them outside of work. Even more importantly, never EVER leave your own kids with this boy.
posted by easily confused at 3:07 AM on November 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


[Comment deleted; folks, you need to answer the question. If you want to try to help the OP process the event, etc., fine, but do not just drop in to scold.]
posted by taz (staff) at 4:53 AM on November 16, 2013


Sadly there are many adults who dismiss any horrible thing one kid does to another kid as "just kids being kids" and insist that it's the victim's responsibility to just "toughen up."
posted by Jacqueline at 5:38 AM on November 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


Please limit the scope of your advice here to explaining these parents' motivations in a way that will allow me to empathize with them and not continue to see them as per se "wrong."

As a lot of people have said above - you can do both of these. Empathize with them (they are human souls, if flawed) while recognizing what they did was wrong.

It can be tremendously hard to acknowledge that your kid may have serious behavioral issues, especially if you, as an adult, are in denial about problems in your own life and relationships (as it sounds like these folks might be). The "official" culture doesn't always make it any easier - a disciplinary problem in school or a mental health diagnosis on your medical records can follow you for the rest of your life and may wind up being more punitive and stigmatizing than helpful.

BUT, all that being said, this kid is clearly a danger to himself and others, and you do not have to put up with that nonsense. I, as a parent, have stopped other parents' kids from doing dangerous and destructive things in front of me even if the parents were around. I've also had another mom stop my two children from trying to tear each other's hair out when my back was turned for a few minutes in park. I thanked that lady - and meant it. We don't need to be "disciplining" each others' kids, but deciding what is acceptable behavior in our presence is totally within our rights, IMO. If I were the host of that party, I would have felt it my job to confront that kid attacking the little girl. I'm kind of shocked no one else did (maybe it's more of an upper-class thing -- I come from a pretty blue-collar background.)
posted by pantarei70 at 6:10 AM on November 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


I wanted to add that viggorlijah's comment really resonates here. While I still wouldn't allow my kids near this kid, I would, in your work environment, casually ask about how 7 yr old boy was doing and maybe offer (in a nonjudgmental type of way) some suggestions as to help this kid out. You know the stuff boys like, time alone doing stuff with a parent (sans the screaming) or maybe laying off with the "tough love" bullshit. FWIW I've always found the kids who had the "tough love" kind of parents to be the most reactive just from watching my own kids' friends.
posted by lasamana at 7:23 AM on November 16, 2013


Having been a nanny for years, well--a lot of parents in the (relatively) well-off professional class who is having babies now in their late 30's and early 40's were:

--Not raised around many younger kids, and didn't spend time with them.
--They were not expected to babysit or do any kind of childcare-related task around the house. --They were often treated very coldly or harshly, or spanked

These lead them to being wildly indulgent and inappropriately permissive about their children's behavior out of a complete ignorance of age-appropriate expectations and a desire to not damage their children. Attachment theory is widely misused to encourage this sort of approach to parenting.

Sorry you had to witness this.
posted by the young rope-rider at 9:45 AM on November 16, 2013 [9 favorites]


One possible response is to say something compassionate or understanding Maybe Boy is tired and needs some rest or Oh dear, it's awfully difficult to deal with aggressive behavior on kids, isn't it? These sound kind of passive-aggressive, there's probably better phrasing. Or just an honest reaction of Holy Mackerel!

In my home, we watched a child behave with appalling manners (dips chip, licks off dip, dips chip, repeat, spills blob of dip on new sofa, goes around apt. testing switches, doors, etc., fuse blows) as the mother seemed to not notice, and finally adults began addressing the child Let's get you a plate and your own chips and dip, it will spill less that way. Maybe Boy, that really scared me, OtherChild could have been hurt. Please be more gentle.

Poor kid, growing up not understanding how to behave in the world.
posted by theora55 at 9:51 AM on November 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


I saw something very similar at school today. It was family day and I was helping out with the bouncy house. The parents didn't do anything and their kid wouldn't stop so I grabbed him and told the 3 of them and the victim that we were all going to the office to talk about the event.

I've tons of experience with field trips and chaperones who freeze when their own kid does something awful. You just have to intervene without making any judgmental remarks. Most of the time it's that they just can't process that their special snowflake just did what they saw.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 4:31 PM on November 16, 2013 [4 favorites]


I see a lot of kids being jerks on playgrounds around here. Mostly it's because the parents are too busy looking at their phones to pay attention to their kids.

When one kid is messing with another kid in a way that can cause bodily harm I will step in. "Hey, stop that! That is not nice!" is usually enough. Just knowing somebody is paying attention seems to be enough to get most kids to play nice. Once or twice I have actually gotten a parent's attention and said, "Is that your kid? He's beating up on that other kid." If they don't do something I will continue to yell at that kid until the parents leave.

So far I haven't had anyone tell me not to yell at their kids. If any one did I'd tell them that I'll stop telling their kid what to do when they start.

I'm a really blunt person, and I won't stand by and watch somebody hurt somebody else.

(I had a friend who's daughter did some pretty violent things. Whenever we were in a playgroup the other moms would have to tell her what the boundaries are. Constantly. Her mom wouldn't disipline her at all. She was proud that her daughter could, "take care of herself." Even against kids much smaller than her.)
posted by TooFewShoes at 5:03 PM on November 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


Three things strike me as important for you to consider. First, this 7 year old is behaving like he has learned. Was it tv wrestling or his father harming his mother? Hard to say but he needs to be told by any adult that the behavior is not appropriate. I understand waiting for a parent but not any longer than you would wait if it were one adult with another adult. Second, what are these parents doing to each other and this child. You make statements that indicate your worry about the family. A simple question to each parent while alone 'is everything going okay'? would at least indicate your empathy and bring attention to the adults that there family is not doing as well as they are trying to fake. Third, what about the family with the 4 year old. Has someone reached out and asked how they are doing with the incident? If it had been my kid, I would think all of you did not care about me and from your questions, it does not seem that way.
Don't be hard on yourself for not knowing what to do the first time this happened. A lot of the answers you have here are from those of us who have been unfortunate to have it happen more than once. So good for you for learning from it.
posted by OhSusannah at 9:30 PM on November 16, 2013


You can be friendly to that couple without actually being friends, at least not good friends. For your children's safety, never invite them over again.
Want to feel compassion so you can accomplish such friendliness? Be thankful you are not in their shoes and imagine how much it would suck if you were.
posted by Neekee at 10:41 PM on November 16, 2013


OP here, following-up on your many sagacious comments (thank you):

*"bullies are the most influential people in any social group...They allow their son to violently assault other children at a party, and there are no consequences to themselves" -

While I have no doubt that's true in the aggregate, quite the opposite has happened to the boy's parents' position in our social circle since the incident. Another set of our friends have dis-invited the boy's family from Thanksgiving dinner. None of our children will be attending the boy's upcoming birthday party. We host an annual holiday event to which we will never again invite the boy's family. Even the father's boss heard about this incident through the local grapevine and has been gossiping about it, wondering what on earth is wrong in their home. They are being socially and professionally ostracized as a result of their behavior, whether they know it or not.

* "Obviously, our kids are not going to play with their son anymore - will be doing the slow fade there."

Meaning: my children are never allowed to be in the same room with the boy, and my husband and I will Be Perpetually Busy whenever the parents reach out about the adults getting together in the future, because we've dumped them as friendly work acquaintances.

* "I'd be tempted to call a social worker friend and describe what happened and ask advice."

Done. My Dr. Social Worker Friend echoed many of the commenters here - she told us to get these people out of our family's life, and to continue to focus on our own kids' emotional well-being and boundary work.

* "But I also don't understand how a seven-year-old could lift a four-year-old over his head (and my kids were those ages a few years ago)."

That's precisely what happened. He is big for his age and is being groomed to be an athlete, like both of his parents. It was extremely shocking.

* "What was the 4 year old's reaction? Did she cry? Was she hurt?"

The hostess called the girl's mother and expressed our families' collective concern for the 4-year-old's well-being. Thankfully, she was not physically injured, and the girl's mother replied to the hostess that it was no big deal (which in her shoes, I probably also would have said while thinking to myself: No, This Actually Is A Very Big Deal but it would be impolite and pointless to burden this thoughtful person I don't know very well who has called to check on my child.) Yes, the girl cried after being body-slammed - she had the wind knocked out of her when she hit the ground (open mouth, no sound coming out), then after a moment she started crying loudly, and her mom picked her up and they left immediately.

* "Attachment theory is widely misused to encourage this sort of approach to parenting."

The reverse is true in this case: the boy's parents were 28 and 29 when he was born, and are extremely vocal about being anti-Attachment Parenting in their approach. They are "tough love" people. I'm sure they spank privately and are harsh - again, they are emphatically not Attachment Parents. At all. They brag about what a great sleeper their son always has been because they've allowed him to cry himself to sleep from infancy, he has never been allowed to enter their bedroom, and none of us have ever seen them being physically affectionate towards their son in any way. Further, none of the parents here were being distracted by their cell phones or adult conversations when we all saw the boy batter the girl. Thanks again, all.
posted by hush at 10:15 AM on November 18, 2013


Thanks for the update OP. It's funny you mention that the girl's mom responded that it was "no big deal" because that is what happened once when I intervened in a situation that had just turned scary and looked as if it was going to get violent -- the girl's mom muttered that it was "no big deal" as she hustled her child out of there -- but she called me later and told me her girl had been truly frightened, and thanked me for intervening. I'm sure the girl's mom did appreciate the call and I'm glad you're protecting your kids from this strange family.
posted by fingersandtoes at 4:34 PM on November 18, 2013


Thanks for keeping us informed. This proves that such bullies only have as much power as the group gives them.

It is really too bad for this boy, because nothing that has happened so far is his fault. Will your social worker friend be in a position to pass this on to the appropriate authorities, or did they encourage you to do so?
posted by tel3path at 4:40 AM on November 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


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