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Monday, April 12, 2010

I've Had an Unfortunate Misunderstanding Too

There is a story on VIN News stating that a former story detailing an attempted abduction wasn't really really an attempted abduction but rather an "unfortunate misunderstanding." According to official reports, the Hispanic suspect, who stepped out of his car and grabbed a 10 year old boy by the arm, wasn't attempting to abduct him, as onlookers suspected. Rather, the man was reacting to the boy darting in front of his Jeep. His reaction was to step out of his Jeep and yell at the boy while grabbing him by the arm. Commentors seem to agree that touching the kid is completely unacceptable. Personally, when a kid steps in front of my car, I get really hot under the collar. It is very scary to nearly hit someone.

This story reminds me of something which happened to me when I was single and in which I learned the 11th commandment: NEVER (especially with any physicality) are you to discipline another parent's child. This rule was reinforced to me again when I became a parent and, while our two toddlers were in my line of vision, I told my friend's son to stop immediately as he went in to bite my son (again). I was quickly told by my friend that discipline best comes from a parent and that she would appreciate it if I didn't attempt to discipline her son. Being that the kicking and biting was all too regular and I didn't feel the time-outs were working, I decided to put a hold on future play dates because it seemed to me ,that without being on the same page with the other parent in light of this issue, we were better off seeking other friends.

When I was single, I was at a Friday Night Shabbat Community Dinner attended by around 80 individuals. Somehow, I ended up seated at a table with one other single (male) and a group of boys who probably averaged 10 years old. The boys were nothing but rude, speaking loudly and rudely whenever they pleased, and the Rabbi couldn't seem to get a word in edgewise. From the looks on the faces of the adults who were our parents' ages and older, it was obvious that they were quite embarrassed and very annoyed (I confirmed this to be true at the conclusion of the evening).

So we two single adults and all adults who were in the grandparent age range were watching the table where the parents of these boys were sitting. Everyone seemed to be waiting for one of the parents to walk over to the table and escort the misbehaved boys out of the room. One mother kept giving her boys the cut it out hand motion, but wasn't approaching the table, so it wasn't really helping. The adults of grandparent age kept shooting looks at both the boys and the parents, but this too wasn't getting the job done.

Finally I turned to the other single at the table (we were most annoyed since we kept getting kicked in the cross fire under the table and I was frankly tired of telling the boys to be quiet and being rude to the speaker) and said, "I think I am going to have to get this job done." So I grabbed the worst of the culprits by the arm (lucky this was an MO community or I might have found myself in hot water for tzniut issues) and attempted to take him escort him from the room. As soon as I tried to move him, he started kicking and thrashing and the other single stepped in to help me transport him.

The next morning I was pulled aside by the parents who were sitting on their sidelines as the boys interrupted the speaker, and I was informed that what we did was completely inappropriate and that discipline should be left to the parents. I just nodded. The consensus was clear. (Later I had another incident where some of the boys were eating the kiddush food I was trying to set out, when approached, the step-father of one boy told me that this kid wasn't his responsibility. . . perhaps you shouldn't take him to shul with you then?)

At this point in my life, I really don't bother to try and step in. Recently there was another incident involving a group of girl bullies to which I was witness when leaving the park with my own kid that I related to a friend over lunch. My friend told me that she would have grabbed the a bully or two by the hands and walked them over to their parents so they could take care of the issue.

I agreed with her that this should have taken place and encouraged her to not loose her instinct. Years ago, I might have done the same thing. But today, I find myself more weak in such matters. I most certainly want other parents to call my kids out if/when they are behaving badly, but I don't feel as though I can call out other children without some type of repercussion; the worst repercussion being accused of something criminal by a parent that militantly believes you must NEVER touch a kid who isn't your own, which is sometimes the only way to gain compliance. So I mostly don't even bother to even try. It seems pointless to approach other parents who aren't on the same page about issues of behavior, especially where they are more socially respectable (which they usually are). But ultimately it just isn't just.

Also see Perfume Shops vs. Garbage Dumps. I guess child rearing is on my mind again.


Dave said...

Many years ago, among most of my friends, it was explicitly made clear to the children, that not only could any adult in the group discipline them if necessary, but that every adult was allowed to spank them if necessary.

((Side note: This was of a very practical nature when you're doing Renaissance Festivals and Historical Recreation, there are a fair number of cases where the answer to "Stop!" has to be *stop*))

Anonymous said...

Interesting post. I'd like to look into the halachic angle, i.e. whether we are enjoined to chastise other people's children or not. Maybe falls under the category of the mitzva of hochei'ach tochia'ach (rebuke). Or perhaps that mitzva only applies to gedolim. Just wondering what it's doing on a blog "dedicated to examining the economic and auxilary issues in the Orthodox community".

Another little point - I noticed a number of misspelled words. Now that's okay, we all make mistakes sometimes. It just stands out more to me on a blog that strongly pushes for higher education and a professionally written resume and the like.

LeahGG said...

I will speak to a child who isn't mine, but I will not yell at them or touch them unless they are doing something dangerous or that causes damage.

With older kids (over 10), I often find that I have to call the police to get them to stop doing dangerous things (eg throwing rocks at each other)

Lion of Zion said...


have you really called the police for misbehaving kids?


what does a ren festival have to do with letting friends spank your kids?

LeahGG said...

LoZ: absolutely - when they were climbing around a construction site throwing rocks at each other! I would rather call the police now than call an ambulance later.

LeahGG said...

On spanking - I think it's completely unacceptable to spank someone else's child. It's acceptable to move them away or even push them away from somewhere they shouldn't be. It's acceptable to take something away from them if there is a good reason they shouldn't have it. It is certainly acceptable with a very young child to move their hands away from something dangerous, but spanking is completely inappropriate.

slapping the hand *might* be acceptable in very very extreme circumstances.

Dave said...

LoZ: The environment. It included things like a cannon, horses, a lot of live (i.e. "sharp") steel, and other things that are heavy and/or dangerous. When an adult said "stop", the correct response desired from a child was to freeze.

The plus side was that the kids had an incredible environment -- they could go to all the shows, and wander around safely -- all the Rennies kept an eye on the kids. It was a nice combination of reasonably well mannered children and having the freedom to be a kid.

LeahGG: Really? Even with permission from the parents? I don't recall ever having to spank a child, but the children certainly knew that the adults could.

Anonymous said...

I'm quite a bit older than the rest of you and was a child in the 1950's. At that time any adult in shul could discipline any child. But discipline meant speaking sharply and telling us to stop doing what we were doing. The word "stop" was not used; it was void for vagueness. We were told "either in or out" (when we kept exiting and entering) or "be quiet", specifically addressing the behavior. It never got to the point of hitting someone else's child, only correcting verbally. I don't know why you seem to need to physically restrain children. They must be very out of control. Do you try verbal correction first?

LeahGG said...

really - a parent's friend once spanked me as a kid and..I don't know how to explain it, but it was such an intrusion and such a violation that I could never look at her again. My parents are still in touch with that person and I still dislike her intensely.

I don't know how to explain the feeling better than that, but it was deeply wrong. If she'd slapped me on the hand, it would have been forgivable.

nava said...

I absolutely reprimand/correct other people's children, and I've made it clear that they can reprimand mine. As I explained to a friend, not everyone's rules are the same, so if he is breaking their rules they need to let him know. Otherwise we get kids growing up who only behave for their parents (if that) and have no respect for other authority. How then do we expect to wind up with adults who obey the laws or respect other people? I've been given a few withering looks, but frankly I don't care. I've also received quite a few more grateful looks from other parents who weren't sure what to do about the kid raising hell on the playground and were glad that SOMEONE finally stepped in.
However, I am from and was raised in a very Hispanic community, so I know that not all communities (WASP or Ashkenazic, to name a couple) are ok with hands-on 'community' parenting. Not that that stops me when I'm in those communities. I just don't expect to become super close friends with the kids I have to correct. ;)
Another note: I don't spank. I will touch another person's child only if it is to prevent physical harm, but not as an actual reprimand.

Lion of Zion said...


i'd would not feel comfortable hitting another person's child (i.e., i wouldn't do it) and i'd wouldn't want someone else spanking my kids. we're not spankers, but even if we were i wouldn't want someone else doing it. let them bring the problem to my attention and i'll take care of it.

in an environment like the one you describe, if a spanking is required to keep my kid out of danger, i probably wouldn't bring him.

LeahGG said...

Older Anon - physical restraint usually applies to much smaller children. For example, my sister and I have each pulled breakable or dangerous things out of each other's kids' hands. We've both grabbed hands of the other's kid when they were trying to hit our kid. That kind of thing - when someone could get hurt or something could get broken, we are pretty open to whoever is closest taking action.

Lion of Zion said...


"don't feel as though I can call out other children without some type of repercussions; the worst repercussion being accused of something criminal by a parent that militantly that you NEVER touch a kid who isn't your own"

i personally wouldn't touch another kids unless the kid was in danger or endangering someone else.
but can't you still rebuke the kids or mention the behavior to parents?

incidentally, i just posted about some bad behavior that my son has picked up in school, and i was basically told that it is my responsiblity to contact the parents of the kid he learned it from.

gavra@work said...

I had to yell at a child who was doing something dangerous (nothing too serious, just being wild) to my own. I then went to his mother and explained why I got involved, and the child on why it was wrong. It did help that the child was related so I did have some say.

In your case, I may have asked the Rabbi to wait / annouce the parents should remove or control the child and force the parent's hand. If the children really run the house then you know why they act in they way they were.

dvorak613 said...

The guy definitely should not have touched the boy, especially since the danger was already averted at that point. My husband once almost hit a kid who ran out into the street and all he did was roll down the window and yell at him. Certainly in this age of perverts and molesters, we really should be careful not to touch other people's kids without permission (or if the kid is going to fly off a cliff or something without your physical intervention).

What I don't get is not being able to tell someone's kid off. If your kid is misbehaving in a way that is disruptive or disturbing to others and you do nothing, then the other people have every right to step in and do something. If you don't want them to, well, you should have thought of that and controlled your brat!

Orthonomics said...

LOZ-I have figured out that some parents really don't want to hear about certain things. As for rebuking the child directly, I mentioned that this isn't always greeted kindly. In other words, it is tough to know what to do because parents generally aren't on the same page. Like nava, I didn't grow up in a area that was particularly "progressive" in terms of parenting.

Orthonomics said...

"Just wondering what it's doing on a blog "dedicated to examining the economic and auxilary issues in the Orthodox community".

Parenting is most certainly an auxilary issue and one directly related to many of the personal finance issues. Attitudes of entitlement are related to messages children get. I find the parenting issues to be highly related. That is why I post things I find interesting.

Orthonomics said...

In your case, I may have asked the Rabbi to wait / annouce the parents should remove or control the child and force the parent's hand.

I believe that the speaker Rabbi came as part of a Shabbaton designed for Rabbinic candidates. I don't think he would want to step in while testing the waters. The Rav was away I believe.

In other words, no Rabbinic leader was present, just a number of parents unwilling to take action, a number of grandparents who were highly embarrased, and a couple singles getting kicked in the shins.

I don't know if I did the correct thing, or the optimal thing. The parents didn't appreciate it. The grandparents did. I was glad that after I took the boys out, I was able to hear the talk.

Orthonomics said...

The guy definitely should not have touched the boy, especially since the danger was already averted at that point.

I've had kids step out in front of my car and I have yelled at them. I've also had some close calls in the cars like the time I was sure I was going to be sideswiped or the time we got hit from the rear. In each case, I have become extremely shaky and nervous and have had to stop the car to regain my senses. I could imagine that if the driver perceived the call as extremely close that he might have still been in the moment.

megapixel said...

some kids were throwing a ball to each other over cars as they pass by. my window was open and their luck, the ball flew into my car onto my lap. they started yelling give the ball back!in a very chutzpadik way. they may have even called me a goniff- i forget.
i asked their names; they wouldnt answer. so I drove off-- with their ball still in my car.

nuqotw said...

This may be because I have no kids of my own... but I think there is nothing wrong with another adult telling kids to straighten up if the parent(s) are not immediately available to do so. (I wouldn't physically discipline someone else's child though. I think that's over the line.) The 12th commandment should be "Take responsibility for your children so other adults in the vicinity aren't left with the awkward choice of putting up with bad behavior or disciplining your child."

rachel q said...

When I lived in the US I had a similar mentality to what you describe here, with similar results: I would get annoyed that kids misbehave and parents either wouldn't or couldn't do anything.

Where I live now in Israel the attitude is completely different. You are allowed and expected to say something when a child misbehaves. Children will generally listen to other adults as much as they listen (or don't) to their own parents. So, when I'm at the park and other kids start throwing rocks I can yell at them to stop and they usually stop. I've seen parents do that even when the parent of the misbehaving child is also sitting there.
If telling the kid doesn't make him stop then an adult will usually call the parent's phone and the parent will come and do something.

When we see children misbehaving in the street we call the homes of the parents. Sometimes the parents care and sometimes they don't, but at least we did our part and don't feel useless.

We live in an Yishuv where everyone knows each other. so that changes the rules.

Regarding phisical touch. Israelies are less paranoic about someone touching your child in the arm or shoulder. (I'm talking about normal touching not spanking)

rachel q said...

SL: Imagine for a moment being the abused girl in the last case. How did she feel when every adult who passed by didn't do anything to help her? How would you feel if you were in a situation of danger and every person who could help simply ignored you? And to what extend to you draw the line of never interfering? So for the bully you didn't stop, how about for stronger phisical abuse? would you intervene? the line between the two is very small. If people keep moving in the direction that you describe two things will happen

parents will start calling the police everytime anyone touches their child thinking it's a case of pedophilia and
many more cases like Kitty Genovese

Orthonomics said...

rachel q-I pointed out to a friend of a little kid who had been pushed around who was doing the pushing should she want to get involved. There were little boys being picked on by girls about 4-5 years older. The bullying was inappropriate, but it wasn't a recurring type of bullying, so I just pointed it out and left the park. I don't think my friend said anything.

I've stuck my nose in many places (bochurim smoking in a public areas I take my kids to play, public drinking and obnoxiousness of teenagers, kids who are demonstrating very risky behaviors, truancy, and other behavior issues which border on the uncivilized side, but not always immediately dangerous side), and mostly you aren't greeted with much of a response, although it is possible an impression is made. I can see that adults are not on the same page and sometimes it is easier to just avoid certain areas when they will be crowded and problems seem to crop up.

On the flip side, I've discovered another issue in modern day parenting. I can be in the process of disciplining one (or more) of my own kids and a stranger comes over and basically pulls the rug out from underneath me. A recent example, I was in Target with my little one was protesting our short trip out to pick up a few things. She had a soft toy with her that she chose to bring along and in protest kept throwing it on the floor. I picked it up and handed it back to her with a stern warning (witnessed by the lady nearest us) that if she were to throw it again, she would lose the toy. She throws the toy and this lady picks it up, looks directly at me, and hands the toy to my protesting kid with a "here you go honey." Damned if you do, damned if you don't. Parenting isn't easy today.

conservative scifi said...

Getting physically involved could have all sorts of bad repercussions, from social to legal.

I also think it may be harder for women than men. My personal experience is that little ortho boys are terrors. I was visiting my parents at Yom Kippur one year (fairly recently), and ten-twelve year old boys were throwing rocks at each other. I simply yelled at them to stop and move on, which they did, but I am a full grown adult male (perhaps slightly overgrown) and probably have more presence than sephardimom.

If I see horrific behavior (ie fighting), I will yell at the kids to break it up but that is usually only at the orthodox synagogues. Since I belong to a conservative synagogue, my more common problem is telling kids to shut off their cell phones or stop texting on shabbat. While that is entirely inappropriate behavior, it is different in kind than fighting.

ASF said...

Once I was driving behind a van when a 4-yar-old came shooting into the street on his trike. Thank God the van driver cut exactly where she needed to and the boy wasn't squashed flat. I got out of the car and marched him to his house, where I explained to the mom what he had done. Which is in some form what I'd suggest to anyone in this case: deliver the child to the parent, if possible, and tell them what was going on. In the case of the wild kid during the rabbi's speech, I might have pulled out his chair, said "get up," and walked him to his parents. Embarrass them into doing something.