We’ve all witnessed a child acting out in public. If mom or dad isn’t stepping up to correct the behavior, should you? Short answer: no. Long answer: hell, no.
It’s abundantly clear that not everyone agrees. After Sally Jones, a broadcaster and mother of two, talked about her various experiences disciplining other people’s kids on the Australian show This Morning, a debate popped up online. Jones admitted to feeling the need to discipline other people’s children on occasion. In one example, She was in a theatre when a child would not stop kicking her seat. She turned around a few times and gave the kid one of those “please stop” looks. That didn’t work, so she resorted to speaking to mom. She said, “Do you mind controlling him? This is getting annoying.” Mom’s response? “Oh, he gets bored in the theatre.”
The host of This Morning weighed in with her own experiences. Ruth Langsford admitted she’d corrected children in the past, when their parents didn’t do it first. She recounted a story of telling a child who was knocking shoes off a rack in the store, “I wouldn’t do that if I was you, the ladies will have to put them all back and will be cross.” His mother overheard, and Langsford claims she said, “How dare you talk to my child?”
Admittedly these responses are both annoying, but you never know what’s going on with a child. Stepping up to discipline a child in front of his parents is sending a very clear message: you aren’t doing your job, so I have to. Maybe you’re right. Maybe they aren’t. But what if you’re wrong? What if there are behavioral issues you don’t know about? What if that mom or dad is already at the end of their rope and you’re swooping in all smug, acting like nobody knows a kid knocking shoes off the rack in the store isn’t proper behavior?
As parents, we really need to give each other the benefit of the doubt a little more. Yes, there are terribly clueless parents out there who don’t give a rat’s ass when their kids misbehave. But immediately rushing to correct a child when they are “out of line” in some way assumes that those parents are the majority. You’re betting on the fact that you’re witnessing a terrible parent who simply isn’t doing their job, when in fact it may be a situation that couldn’t be further from the truth.
You’re taking a gamble when you discipline someone else’s child. There’s a chance they’ll be grateful: maybe they really needed the help. But how often have you personally looked to a stranger to discipline your child? I’d venture to guess not too often. You can’t be surprised if someone gets seriously annoyed if you lend your parenting skills when they haven’t been requested.