Disciplining strangers' kids
March 29, 2008 4:47 PM   Subscribe

What is an appropriate way to discipline strangers' kids?

We live in a nice apartment complex, but recently the neighbors' kids have gotten out of control. Now that the snow is melting and they can play outside, they have turned a communal yard are into a junk-pile of bicycle parts, broken yard tools, and other assorted garbage. I was reluctant to do or say anything about this because I thought "at least they are playing outside and learning to fix bicycles."

Then this morning I was on the phone with a client when I saw one of the kids run out into the yard with a briefcase, swing around in circles 1984-Mac-commercial style, and throw the briefcase into the stream. I felt somewhat relieved that I didn't have to do anything at the moment because I was on a phone call, but now I don't know what to do to correct this behavior.

I have never had kids, I don't have siblings, I don't know how to deal with kids. Furthermore, I've seen parents flip out at strangers when strangers have tried to discipline their children.

What is appropriate for me, as a stranger, to fix this problem with the neighbor children while also preventing any sort of retaliation or un-neighborliness?
posted by crazy finger to Society & Culture (34 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
There is no way. It's best to stay out of it.
posted by stubby phillips at 4:52 PM on March 29, 2008 [2 favorites]


Can you call your municipality and have them simply clean up the site?
posted by Burhanistan at 4:53 PM on March 29, 2008


Have you considered speaking to their parents?
posted by Flunkie at 4:53 PM on March 29, 2008


Document the behaviour (date, time, who is doing what, and what they are doing), and tell the superintendent, landlord or strata council. Basically, let a neutral third party deal with it. It's really difficult to modify the behaviour of kids unless you have a relationship (eg, parent, teacher, social worker) with them.

You should also manage your own expectations as to how much a parent, building superindent or landlord is going to be able to control those kids; you might consider moving.
posted by KokuRyu at 4:54 PM on March 29, 2008


Call your landlord or property manager.
posted by oaf at 4:54 PM on March 29, 2008


Talk to the parents first. Yeah they might flip out, but it is far more likely they will be reasonable and it is chicken shit to go to a third party without trying the parents first.
posted by LarryC at 4:56 PM on March 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


In any case be very careful about approaching any of the children directly as (having been a hooligan myself in a past life) if they know where you live they might flaming-dog-poop-bag your doorway or similar such mischief.
posted by Burhanistan at 5:00 PM on March 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


It depends on the culture of the neighborhood. I can give the kids a "stern mom" look in my neighborhood, or yell out the window, but i live in South Philly, where most people tend to be quite, uh, outgoing.

Call your landlord and see what they'll do. If they get enough complaints, they'll likely talk to the tenants. Be ready to describe these kids -- it would help to know where they live.
posted by desuetude at 5:05 PM on March 29, 2008


Granted that they sound like rotten kids who desperately need better parenting and supervision, it's not yours to give.

If they don't impact you directly (e.g., it wasn't your briefcase they swung), ignore them. Lie low. Stay off the radar. As Burhanistan mentioned, you really don't want to attract their attention -- you'll become their target.
posted by exphysicist345 at 5:14 PM on March 29, 2008


What some call "chickenshit," others might call "calm, strategic, non-confrontational and results-oriented."
posted by KokuRyu at 5:17 PM on March 29, 2008 [3 favorites]


Seems to me that calm, direct, polite, assertive and results-oriented is worth a try, before falling back to calm, strategic, non-confrontational and results-oriented.
posted by flabdablet at 5:23 PM on March 29, 2008 [7 favorites]


They are not your kids. Do not discipline them or try to correct them. Only deal with them when they directly affect your life. If you are hit by a flying toy, etc. If your issue is them learning to clean up after themselves, then attck it from the point of telling the mangement that there is crap in the yard.

You will not win in any sense of the wrod if you try to discipline someone else's children.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 5:34 PM on March 29, 2008


They're not being noisy or dangerous. The communal area thing seems kind of nit-picky. How does it really affect you? Their method of destroying briefcases is careless, but maybe the parents aren't aware what their kids are up to? I'd try:

"Sorry to bother you, but I was on the phone yesterday when I saw little Billy throwing a briefcase into the stream. I just thought you should know, in case there was something important in the briefcase."
posted by theiconoclast31 at 5:41 PM on March 29, 2008 [6 favorites]


I'm a little surprised me that you're asking how to discipline these kids rather than asking why it's your role to discipline other people's kids in the first place. They have parents - talk to them. If they won't fix the 'problem', and if they're actually breaking the law or violating the rules of your apartment complex, get the apartment managers, the city or or the police involved.

Anyway, it sounds like a social capital project waiting to happen to me. Get the parents together, build a shed, ask for donations of workshop tools and buy them all a subscription to Make. You'll be riding a steam-punk coffee-making recumbent with an iPod dock before you know it.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 5:42 PM on March 29, 2008 [2 favorites]


Having been there in as a unit owner and having problems with a rented unit in the complex, I can say that sometimes... you just know the parents are going to be useless. It's no so much chickenshit as it's just trying to keep things less confrontational and leaning more towards getting something accomplished.

Do you rent or own?

Rent: Complain to property manager.
Own: Talk to Homeowners Association.

In either case: If it's bugging you, discuss littering of the stream with whomever would govern that in your municipality.
posted by jerseygirl at 6:04 PM on March 29, 2008


"It takes a village" is a bit cliche, and the kind of expression I generally avoid, but it does nicely summarize a certain way of regarding your situation. Every parent knows that children learn from myriad sources and most parents I know actually appreciate discipline, judiciously administered, from others. You may have no altruistic interest in helping these parents raise their children, but you're sharing a world with them and your going to share a world with the adults they and other children become.

You will not win in any way if you try too discipline someone else's children? To the contrary: some bad could come out of it, yes, but you might also have less of their behavior to deal with in the future. As long as it's not your briefcase stay out of it? The guy the briefcase belonged to might disagree, and next time it may be yours.
And as far as not doing anything for fear of retaliation, I think it good to remember who are the children and who is the adult.

Certainly not everyone would agree, but I would take desuetude's "stern mom" look a couple steps further and ask the kids what the fuck they think they're doing. The advantage of not being their parent is that you can use the F-word if you want
posted by farmdoggie at 6:33 PM on March 29, 2008 [5 favorites]


This is one of those situations that has me torn in all sorts of ways. My parents grew up in a close community of (rented) terraced homes, and the presumption was that any grown-up had the authority to clip an offending little bugger around the lughole. That was, of course, fifty years ago.

Even when I was a kid, though, there was a mostly tacit pooled authority in communal spaces -- though you'd get the 'how dare you shout at my children' parents, usually those who let their kids run totally wild, and I dare say that it's even more prevalent today. When there's the fear of being harassed and worse for asserting a little authority over those shared spaces, everyone retreats inside, and that's a bad thing.

In apartment complexes, there's generally a limited sense of personal investment in communal space, with people moving in and out. Property managers are a poor substitute for having a shared sense of personal investment in the spaces outside your door. It can also be a bit unusual having kids playing outside, and your concern may come out of a fairly low personal baseline for what constitutes 'kids being kids'. (I don't want to play pop-psych, but you've said as much yourself.)

This is a real issue in Britain, although the problems are much more serious: 'out of control' is stolen cars being raced up your street, and teenage drug dealers setting your house on fire, not a pile of oily bike chains. And although the source is tabloid, I quite like this checklist from the Mirror, which is all about developing the social capital that obiwanwasabi talks about.
posted by holgate at 6:58 PM on March 29, 2008


Talk to the parents, be polite, tactful and non-accusatory. Don't blame the parents or say the kids are ill-disciplined, messy, etc, focus on talking about the behaviours you object to. E.g. "your kids are really messy and inconsiderate" vs "I would really appreciate it if you got your kids not to leave their things all over the shared yard".
posted by Xianny at 7:33 PM on March 29, 2008


Kids are kids, and will sometimes do things that adults don't approve of.

This seems like the right track for me.

They're not being noisy or dangerous. The communal area thing seems kind of nit-picky. How does it really affect you? Their method of destroying briefcases is careless, but maybe the parents aren't aware what their kids are up to? I'd try:

"Sorry to bother you, but I was on the phone yesterday when I saw little Billy throwing a briefcase into the stream. I just thought you should know, in case there was something important in the briefcase."


The last thing you want to do is be seen as some sort of ogre. Kids are kids.
posted by mattoxic at 7:47 PM on March 29, 2008


My impression is that the parents don't give a shit, and trying to talk to them rationally (or any other way, for that matter) may get your car key'd one drunken early Saturday morning. Complaining to management may make you an enemy as well (someone is complaining about our kids ergo this someone does not have kids; crazy finger has no kids ergo crazy finger complained to management).

If your property is not being damaged, then you should just ignore it. Putting up with varying degrees of grief from neighbors is practically the definition of communal living in my book.
posted by Brocktoon at 7:55 PM on March 29, 2008


It totally depends on the culture of the neighborhood. Like many previous posters, I also grew up in an area where any adult in the vicinity could correct obvious bad behavior. And should, or else risk condoning it by inaction. And if you EVER refused to listen, and someone had to talk to your parents...

The neighborhood I'm in now is friendly, but correcting someone else's kid is one of those things that is just not done. Personally, I think this situation just leads to a bunch of resentment, gossiping, and behind-the-scenes drama. But of course I think that; I grew up the other way. People around here feel the other way is meddlesome and nosy. In this neighborhood, you have a problem? Take it up with the parents.

Even in the first kind of neighborhood, though, it had to be objectively wrong. No fighting. Get off my car. Clean up this pigsty. It could be, "I know your mom just said not to eat that candy bar," but not, "I don't think you should eat that candy bar before dinner."

I guess I'm saying you have to decide which kind of neighborhood you want yours to be, and act accordingly.
posted by ctmf at 8:12 PM on March 29, 2008


If you were up for it, you could try befriending the kids -- casually. This would be a long-term strategy, though. After you have the kind of relationship with them where they can talk to you and you can talk to them, you might be able to get them to think of the common area as a place that could be really cool, if it was kept clean and clear. Or you might get them to think about the idea that people could get hurt if they tripped over stuff, or that their stuff is too valuable to leave laying around like that.

But be subtle and give them a chance to draw their own conclusions. You must be very, very patient.

This depends on the ages of the kids and whether you could actually like them; believe me, they'll probably know if you don't. On the other hand, if you do spend time talking with them - at first, about things unrelated to your/their values, just asking them how they are -- you might find that you do like them more than you'd expect.

Just don't expect them to behave as you'd want *your* kids to behave; they're individuals who probably have had substantially different experiences of life than you did.
posted by amtho at 8:40 PM on March 29, 2008


crazyfinger, I think the important thing is to do 'something', and you have. You asked for some suggestions and you got a lot of constructive responses. If one or another suits you, then try it. The worst thing to do is nothing. I have been dealing with the same kind of thing in a housing development for years now. I started off ignoring (year one), then I started a campaign of reasoning with the kids (year two), just recently, I had the "priviledge" of finally seeing an adult in charge of said children who was clueless as to why I might be concerned that a two to three year old in her charge should be running around my fenced in back yard while she had no clue where he was. Next time I will call the police. If Burhanistan is right though, I might also need to call the fire department. So be it.
posted by LiveLurker at 9:04 PM on March 29, 2008


And as far as not doing anything for fear of retaliation, I think it good to remember who are the children and who is the adult.

Retaliation from unsupervised, destructive children is to be feared a thousand times more than retaliation from adults. Especially if those children know where you live.
posted by bingo at 9:08 PM on March 29, 2008


I would contact the parent, not in an accusatory way, but of concern for their child's safety.

crazy finger: they have turned a communal yard are into a junk-pile of bicycle parts, broken yard tools, and other assorted garbage.

Something like, "Wow, they have quite a collection going, some of the items (name them) look to be dangerous, a friend of mine had a daughter that cut, tripped on (name item in yard). She wound up in the hospital with that antibiotic resistant infection."


crazy finger: one of the kids run out into the yard with a briefcase, swing around in circles 1984-Mac-commercial style, and throw the briefcase into the stream.

"Little Johnny was throwing some stuff in the stream, does he know how to swim? I'm worried he may slip in and can't get out."

This method is not an attack on the parenting skills of the delinquents, but expressing concern for their little darlings.
posted by JujuB at 9:44 PM on March 29, 2008


If you can beat their Father in a fist fight and their Mom in an argument then raise hell with their kids. Otherwise butt out.
posted by brautigan at 10:20 PM on March 29, 2008


JujuB: "Little Johnny was throwing some stuff in the stream, does he know how to swim? I'm worried he may slip in and can't get out."

This method is not an attack on the parenting skills of the delinquents, but expressing concern for their little darlings.


You could also talk to the landlord/property manager/municipality and express your concern for potential accidents and lawsuits from the children/their parents: "If you live in Alaska, Arizona, California, Florida, Hawaii, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, and Washington your child is more likely to drown than any other cause of death. A large proportion of these deaths could have been prevented if only adequate supervision and safety precautions had been in place. Children 1-4 make up the largest group of young people most likely to drown."
posted by iviken at 5:30 AM on March 30, 2008


I think the mess in the shared courtyard is your ticket in. To me, whoever has the authority over that shared space is the person who needs to speak to the parents in no uncertain terms that the mess is unacceptable. Which means that you have to let that person (property manager, super, whoever) know that you find it utterly unacceptable.

Don't misinterpret that as attacking the super or property manager. You want them on your side. And they're going to get defensive because they haven't done anything about it yet themselves. So be a little understanding when they shrug their shoulders... And then let them know it's a breach of your rental contract or homeowners covenants. I would imagine that you're within your rights to withhold payment over a garbage dump in your shared space. Be firm, be specific, give a timeframe.

Noise and hooliganism? I don't have a suggestion for that, other than shouting out the window at them. It's shared living. Thin walls, shitty windows, screeching kids and loud sex are all small reasons the 'burbs have sprawled so.
posted by thomsplace at 7:33 AM on March 30, 2008


Retaliation from unsupervised, destructive children is to be feared a thousand times more than retaliation from adults. Especially if those children know where you live.

I do think that you do have to pick your battles. But I also think that inaction based on this sort of fear is part of the problem. Kids turn into completely self-centered entitled little monsters because basic politeness isn't reinforced by the community. Before you know it, someone's getting attacked outside your front window and everyone's putting down their shades for fear of "getting involved."
posted by desuetude at 9:15 AM on March 30, 2008


Dude, where do you think little kids get multiple bikes and random briefcases? Go see if any of the bike frames have licenses and call the cops on the little bastards.

I can't stand families like that and feel it is my civic duty to make their lives miserable until they control their kids. I wish more people would do the same, quite honestly.
posted by fshgrl at 10:40 AM on March 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


It depends on the severity of the offense and your definition of "discipline".

"You kids knock that off!" or "Hey! Quit running in the hallways!" is quite acceptable. Adult or child, if someone is doing something offensive or disruptive, you have the right to tell them.

Agree that it's chickenshit to go to "the authorities" first. Always start with calmly talking to the persons you have the problem with. That shows that you respect them as a person, and that you aren't an enemy. Nobody respects the peeking out the blinds calling the cops person.
posted by gjc at 7:20 PM on March 30, 2008


Get a BB gun.



I'm joking. How old are these kids? Maybe just having a conversation with them letting them know that they shouldn't be acting like this would change their mind-you aren't a parent, so they wouldn't see you as one. It's way easier to rebel against a parent than a normal guy. For sure talk to the parents though. Every parent I know would like to know if their kid is screwing off.
posted by whiskey point at 8:02 PM on March 30, 2008


"Little Johnny was throwing some stuff in the stream, does he know how to swim? I'm worried he may slip in and can't get out."

Why is "Johnny" always the bad example?
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:56 PM on March 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


I think that thinking of it as "disciplining" is a recipe for frustration, too. Maybe it's just me, but that word carries more serious behavioral connotations then saying "hey, that's not cool -- quit junkin' up the yard!"
posted by desuetude at 9:41 PM on March 30, 2008


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