I'd like to preface this by saying that I think I'm so annoyed by this because as a teacher, I'm used to seeing parents defend indefensible behavior in their kids. Too many parents really don't believe discipline is ever warranted, and even after this particular confrontation was resolved, it left me feeling like no one learned anything valuable. The entitlement is just. so. frustrating.
Tuesday, I went to the park for speed work. When I parked, I noticed a boy of 9 or 10 standing near the water. He was pulling bark off a tree and tossing it at the ducklings that have been in the lake lately. His mom was standing nearby, watching him.
At the end of the first lap, I noticed the boy had moved to follow the ducks and was once again tossing bark and twigs at them. I motioned to his parents (his dad had joined them) to see if I could speak to them, but they ignored me. Or didn't see me. Or something.
So I put on my best nice-teacher-face and approached them.
Me: Hey buddy, you know, we shouldn't throw things at animals.
Boy: I'm not. I'm throwing it like...like this. [Tosses the bark near but not AT the ducks.] They think it's food.
Me: Oh I see. Well, you know, they're very little. What if you accidentally hit one?
Dad: Is there a problem?
Mom: [comforting son, who looks confused/contrite but not really upset] It's okay honey. [To me] They think it's food.
Me: [Speaking to all three, still in my nice-teacher-voice] I was just telling him that he might accidentally hit one of the ducklings and he shouldn't throw things at them.
Now, the dad immediately got defensive, and I get that. Some out-of-breath stranger came jogging over and is admonishing his kid, however kindly, while he's right there. But that's the point, isn't it? I wouldn't have had to say anything if he'd been doing his job as a parent.
(I also got the impression, based on how Mom spoke to me and comforted her son, that she seemed quite nice and if it had just been her, this confrontation might have gone differently.)
I'm going to be honest - I can't recall all of this conversation exactly because I got my hackles up, but basically Dad told me to mind my business. I told him, "I was being nice about it, but he shouldn't throw things at animals."
He told me, snidely, to call someone if I didn't like it (like a park ranger or something?), and I told him that wasn't necessary. Then he told me I should just ignore it.
Me: "I don't ignore cruelty."
Now, his kid wasn't being cruel, but I think the current political climate has shortened my fuse when it comes to things like this. I started off trying to sugarcoat things and be gentle about it, but the bottom line is that I saw a kid throwing things at baby animals and I saw parents letting him do it, so I stepped in.
I won't stand by and let things go if they look harmful; I wouldn't want other adults (or kids, for that matter) to let things go either. And I certainly wouldn't have to have started this conversation if the parents had been parenting in the first place.
Finally, in response to this, he goes, "Enjoy your time at the park."
I said, kindly, but clearly annoyed, "You too."
"We're leaving." They began to walk away.
Me: "Well, I hope you enjoyed your time."
Then he turns back and goes, "We're going to buy bread, is that okay?"
As if because I didn't want his child to throw shit at ducklings I was trying to be some high-and-mighty park authority figure.
I just said, "Sure," even though bread is actually terrible for ducks.
That was it.
I passed the family a few times during my repeats, and I have to admit that I got them done faster but my heart just wasn't in the workout. I know I did the right thing - I maybe could have handled it better in some way - but encountering such an entitled jerk with his young, impressionable kid was pretty deflating. Kids will be kids, but I expect better from adults.
Sometimes when I get myself into these situations, I wonder what I'd do if people just completely told me off or ignored me. That basically happened Tuesday, but I guess in a way I still got the outcome I wanted (the kid stopped throwing things) but nothing makes you feel quite as a powerless as confrontation.
How could I have handled this better?
Have you ever had to butt into someone's business to do the right thing?
O man, I hate that the dad was rude to you when his son was clearly in the wrong. First of all, a 9 or 10 year old boy should know better (unless of course perhaps he has developmental delays), but even if he thinks the ducks think his bark is food, why would he want the ducks to eat park? And why would the parents let that happen? Oh so many questions. Ya know, I was just thinking about this issue today on my run about how I am very protective about the park I run in. You are protective of the little duckies and I think that is great!ReplyDelete
Exactly! I'm not sure how their reasoning excuses the behavior, and if anything it made the behavior worse because he was trying to trick them into eating something they shouldn't AND throwing things at them.Delete
That "park" should be "bark".ReplyDelete
I think you handled it very well. I would have been less nice to the parents...although secretly I'm scared someone will take a knife out and stab me. That's just my paranoia setting in. Good for you for standing up for those little duckies!!!ReplyDelete
Yeah, sometimes I get into confrontations and afterward realize I'm not really as big and strong as I think I am...But I guess I assume people won't get violent even though that seems to be the way of the world!Delete
I sort of understand why the kid thought it was okay to throw bark at the ducks because his parents clearly think it's okay. However, I cannot understand why the parents think it's okay? Why would the ducks thinking the bark was food make this an okay situation? Unfortunately animals think a lot of things are food when they aren't. Cecil once ate a twist tie because he thought it was food. It resulted in a vet visit. Many wild animals, including birds, die because they eat trash that they can't digest and then they starve to death because they feel full even though they haven't eaten anything nutritious. The argument from the parents is just very frustrating and definitely stems from lack of education.ReplyDelete
I'm really glad there are teachers like you out there who have a chance to share important advice with their kids. I'm sorry this encounter resulted in a frustrating experience for you.
YES. I couldn't put it into words at the time, but the fact that it's NOT FOOD made it all the more irritating to me. "Fake feeding" the ducks is not at all an excuse because that in itself is harmful. But I also felt like pointing that out may make me seem like a crazy soapbox person and I wanted to focus on "don't throw things at animals" as my main point.Delete
You are a strong person. I either have to hold my tongue or I am at great risk of annoyingly climbing up my soapbox!Delete
Parents get so defensive about their kids. My only thought is that despite the fact they clearly didn't want to hear you or deal with you, it would have been better to approach the adults, not the kid.ReplyDelete
I didn't know bread was bad for ducks, but I don't feed them anyway.
And my guess is that the mom was tired, and was just happy her child was occupying himself (even if it wasn't in an appropriate way).
Agreed; I wanted to approach them first but felt like it might be worse to say, "Hey, tell your child to stop doing that" than to just engage with the kid in a friendly way. (I guess as a teacher, that's always my preferred method haha.) But yes, next time something like this arises, I think I'll try talking to the parents first.Delete
I want to say you handled it just fine because I don't know what else you could have done? You were friendly and polite. And when the parents approached you to know what you were saying to their child, you were absolutely polite and they could have easily said to their son, "You know that is a good point Billy, you might be scaring those ducklings." Oh my goodness. What the heck was the problem???? Why did they get all defensive? I guess because you talked to their child??ReplyDelete
I think more people need to say something if they see something.
As George Costanza would say, "We are living... in a SOCIETY!!!!" :)
Okay, I hoped I made you laugh at that one.
That did make me laugh, thank you! I think the defensiveness is because I disciplined their kid right under their noses. Parents don't often like that!Delete
Also, rather than get in an argument with you, if those parents really did disagree with your advice, they could have just had a friendly conversation with you and modeled for their son how people TALK TO EACH OTHER AND WORK OUT PROBLEMS.ReplyDelete
I can't tell you HOW many times at school I tell a student to "problem solve" or "use your words". They come up and tattle on someone and I say, "Okay, well Suzy you don't like it when she calls you mean." I don't need to solve all the problems. I want the kids to figure it out for themselves. And that they can express their feelings- that is TOTALLY allowed, but they have to say it politely.
Maybe I am a little off topic but I blame the dirty martini.
Yep. Life lessons here...don't react. Be calm and courteous even in confrontations.Delete
I think the mom would have been VERY open to that, but the dad was immediately rude.
Probably because you are a strong, confident woman. :)Delete
As to the point about approaching the kid vs. the parents: when I worked at Target years ago, they told us during training that if we were ever to see a child causing problems and a parent not doing anything we actually should talk to the child, not the parent, even though that was likely to make the parent hella mad. I wish I could remember the reasoning behind it, but that's what I instantly thought of when you approached the child in this situation.ReplyDelete
I'm really not surprised the dad acted that way. Honestly I think his defensiveness is a dead giveaway of a guilty conscience in this situation, so maybe take comfort in that - if he didn't know what he was doing wrong he would have just been more confused and taken aback than instantly angry. I think it's important to keep our cool when dealing with rude people even though they make it impossibly hard. No, sadly, they probably didn't learn anything but nothing else you could have said would change that. Letting the dad drag you down to his level just would have made it worse.
And whether they think it's food or he meant to hurt the ducks doesn't matter, letting your child throw things at animals is just a bad idea for so many reasons. What if he hit the duck, or another animal in the pond, and it freaked out and attacked him or someone else? Plus it's just obnoxious.
I feel like there are pros to talking directly to the kid - if their parents don't care about their behavior, then asking them to discipline the child isn't going to help. They're not going to do anything about it. At least by speaking to the child, they hear that what they're doing isn't right. Still, I do understand why parents wouldn't want another adult approaching their kid at all. I guess there's just no easy way to go about it!Delete
Oh I'm terrible at confrontation. I probably would have said nothing at all and just been mad the whole time (not the right thing to do). I think you handled it as best you could. The dad sounds like he didn't handle things well. I completely agree, throwing things at ducklings is not something a kid should be doing and parents shouldn't encourage that kind of behavior. You were probably the best person to deal with that since you are a teacher. I just don't think that dad really allowed himself to understand the problem. I feel bad for that kid's teachers... that dad sounds like a total pain.ReplyDelete
I'm going to give him the benefit of the doubt and say that maybe if I were his kid's teacher, he'd be familiar enough with me not to be defensive! I almost can't blame him for his reaction but...Yeah, he could've handled it better.Delete
I was thinking that because I was a teacher, I was equipped to handle it, but clearly they don't know I'm a teacher, so to them I'm just some random lady talking to their kiddo!
I applaud that you took the time and courage to approach the situation! The parents were ignoring their kid, and when they were called out on a mistake, of course they acted defensive.ReplyDelete
I think there is this strange trend in parenting, in which making our kids feel bad about themselves is bad... but that is how we all learned things growing up. This person at work was telling me the other day that her kid wanted to be up at midnight watching tv, and she let the kid do that.. when I asked her why, she said "Because I didn't want her to get upset" and I had to fight the urge to say "You are the parent, it is your job to teach your kid it's ok to be upset, and that even if the are upset, they still have to follow the rules! and a very basic rule is to be sleeping at midnight, especially when one is 4 years old!"
It's definitely strange to see how many parents have no spine at all when it comes to discipline. They don't take away privileges, phones, TV time, etc. I get that parenting is exhausting, but that's the job, you know? I get tired of disciplining my students but I still do it because that's how they learn they've done something wrong!Delete
I approach kids and parents when I see things like this. I usually do an introductory thing first with the kids usually depending on age, but I will straight up ask them their name and tell them mine. Ask them what they are doing and why. Let them know my opinion of what they are doing. When the parents get involved I do the same thing. I say Hi, I'm Staci and I was just talking to 'Jimmy' about xxx...they either are ok with it or not. But at least I know I tried.ReplyDelete
I did find a small kid hanging out by the road one time pretending to throw things at cars. I talked to him, got yelled at by his dad and got called some pretty nasty names. But I tried. A lot of parents these days have kids but don't actually parent. They expect the kids to figure out right from wrong on their own and don't give correct guidance. As a parent I really hope that this changes.
I do like the idea of introducing myself first and being friendly, but I also don't want to come across as like...stranger danger! I don't want it to seem like I'm trying to befriend the child. But I can see how introducing myself and asking their name might help lower some defenses for the parents, too.Delete
How can kids learn what's wrong by themselves if we never give them guidance or correct them? I just don't understand why some people think that way. We figure out right from wrong on our own when there are consequences!
Also, for some reason I missed the part where you estimate his age, and I was picturing a 5 year old...but the fact that he is (probably) older just makes this seem worse. I feel like kids that age should know better than to throw things at animals and that bark and twigs are not food, which really just speaks even louder to the quality of the parenting.ReplyDelete
He was a rather big kid but with a young face. I'd say he was big enough to be 12 or 13 but his face looked closer to 9 or 10. Either way, DEFINITELY old enough to know better. I did consider that he may have a developmental disability, in which case his mom should have really been more alert and put a stop to his actions.Delete
I applaud you for saying something. It was definitely the right thing to do. I get really irritated when people even feed bread to ducks and geese. You're right that it's terrible for ducks and geese, but most people don't know that. But what you saw is worse for all the reasons you mentioned. I've said things to people on my runs about having their dogs off leash. I had the same attitude--I was friendly and nice about it and said, "You probably didn't realize this, but it's actually against the law to have your dog off leash in the city." Every single time the people got really defensive and angry about it and told me to mind my business, and then I had to finish my run all worked up. I totally know that feeling, and it's not good! But I think that saying something when you see something that's not right is always the best decision.ReplyDelete
I think it's great that you said something and I think you handled it well... I would hope more people would have the courage to speak up when someone does something wrong.ReplyDelete