June 12, 2009

DTQ: What Do You Say To Street Smacking?

So the other day, I was walking along the street, and I cut across a little triangular park, all cobblestone, with a few chairs in it. And there's a dad standing there. His kid--18 mos, maybe more, but not 2--is sitting in a green cafe chair, crying and crying.

I'm about six feet away when the dad, frustrated, goes "Shut. Up!" and just smacks the kid on the side of the head. Obviously, the kid did not shut up, but instead kicked the wailing up a couple of notches.

If I was gonna say something, it would have to be that instant, but of course, nothing came to mind that didn't involve the possibility of getting my own ass kicked, or at least sounding like a meddling, judgmental dick, and would that ever actually be of use to this guy or his kid?

So instead, I didn't say anything, but just kept on walking like a New Yorker, or an iPod user, pretending I was in my own world.

I've thought about this a lot since, and I still can't figure anything that someone who wasn't Mister Rogers, Matlock, or Obama could say. The closest I could get was, "Wow, how do you get that to work? Mine just screams louder when I smack him."

Any thoughts?

17 Comments

Always a tough one. I would have done the same thing, then spent the next few hours dreaming up heroic ways of doing the right thing. Great post.

"I hear that is what put Hitler on the wrong path." Probably confusing enough that you would be far enough away from the smacker before he decided you needed a smack as well.

That is a lose-lose situation.

You say something and an angry and embarrassed parent rips you for butting in and if you don't say anything, you wonder for the next week about what happens behind closed doors if this is what happens out on the street.

I think you're not meddling, judgemental, or a dick if you've just seen the guy hit his child (in the head, no less, in public, no less). If it was a real blow, the dad crossed a clear line by anyone's definition of proper behavior.

I would TRY to say something in that situation -- though I can't admit I always CAN -- because it's just completely not cool. No matter what kind of response you get, Child Beater shouldn't just get away with it.

Greg, I see this every week at stores. Ever go to Target around rush hour before dinner? Except it's moms slapping their tots, not dads. I mean SLAP.

I personally would not think you were meddling, judgmental, a dick, whatever. That kind of public display of physical punishment seems barbaric. I think you would right to call him out, but such a barbaric man would likely curse you loudly and threaten you with physical violence because that's what he knows!

I've always wanted to start a bad parenting blog for this reason. Things I've captured on video or photographed in public places.

I asked a social-worker friend once what would be the best thing to do in a situation like this. She said, honestly, nothing, because calling the parent on it would just embarrass him/her and he/she would probably just hit the kid more for being the "cause" of the problem. And that it would take someone more involved to make any really positive change in the situation.
But I do have a hard time ignoring stuff like that and feeling like my silence implies that it's somehow okay. Tough call.

That behaviour borders on the illegal in the Netherlands, and is illegal in both Germany and Sweden. Not calling the man on this atrocious behaviour would have been much, much more stupid than getting your ass kicked because of it.

I totally agree with Arthur. In cases like this, one should always intervene and say something. Even if it is hard to do so.

Of course,there is no good answer...

Part of the challenge in responding is to distinguish between what makes someone who witnesses an instance of abuse feel better, and what will make circumstances for the child better.

I believe the conventional wisdom is that circumstances don't change for the better when someone who witnesses an act of abuse simply "calls" the caregiver on it.

It's statistically unlikely, but this could be an instance where the caregiver simply ran out of resources to cope with frustration and anger, or lacked an appropriate response to this child on this particular day.

It's more likely that this caregiver has his own experience with abuse as a child management tool.

In either case, just "calling" him on the behavior is not likely to improve the immediate circumstances.

In the latter case, I can imagine the long-term circumstances won't improve.

One thought about defusing the immediate circumstance is to put aside your judgment on the cause, and emphasize empathy with the caregiver. It's an opportunity to vent about "kids pushing buttons". It helps if it's otherwise someone you can relate to...

However, it's NYC: it goes against the very grain of urban life to get involved. And it means in a world where there's no time, you've just acquired personal responsibility for defusing a crisis between two people you don't know.

So, the other option is to call police and let them sort it out. CPS is an unsatisfactory tool for responding to the event you describe, particularly if it's an anomaly, but like they say about democracy as a form of government, it's less worse that the other alternatives.

While it won't solve the problem behavior you saw, the far better course for all concened would be to also work way upstream and support home visiting for all new parents, and parenting education in schools for all students.

For example, Senate bill 244 would provide federal support for parenting education.
http://www.opencongress.org/bill/111-s244/text

If we provide that opportunity, when that two year old finishes high school and goes on to have kids of his own (or become a caregiver for someone else's kids), he may have more appropriate responses to deploy.

This is such an important issue, I've faced it at the Zoo, on the street and in the park. It's easy to suggest to others that they take a tough stand, but you never know you you're dealing with, and further, if you shame that dad he will probably take it out harder on the kid later. The fact that we're talking about this is a good first step, and I agree with the comment about support for parent education.

An interesting exercise is to consider what you would say if you were Obama, or Mr. Rogers, or Spiderman... After all, it's obvious that the dad is feeling out of control. Instead of further reprimanding him (keep in mind that with shame, a person feels that they aren't engaging in bad behavior, but that they simply are an inadequate and thus "bad" person/parent).

Somehow we need a culture that supports parents, because while most of us, hopefully, don't lose it on our kids, most of us can understand how it could happen. We need limits as well as love, and this behavior is illegal in the US just as it is in many other countries, but if it takes a village to raise a child, that dad needs to know that he's part of the village and we need to find compassion, empathy and support for him. This is the best way to help his child.

Namaste, Bruce Dolin
www.privilegeofparenting.com

When I see this it drives me insane. I like to say "Oh boy, hitting kids in public. Is this a free activity or do I have to pay to slap your kid?" or "Perhaps you should hit harder. S/he isn't spitting up blood and curled into the fetal position yet."

Supernanny told an abusive father that he was teaching his daughters that it was normal to get hit by men and setting them up for abusive relationships. (Actually, because she is Supernanny, she had a former abuse victim tell him.) And then, after the show wrapped up, she called the cops.

A therapist on my fellow yuppie parent email list suggested talking to the parent empathetically: "parenting is hard, isn't it? you must have had a hard day," etc. I don't really buy that, though, because it suggests that beating your kid is acceptable. I'd rather just butt in and ask Daddy if I could trouble him for the time.

I'm going with, just stand nearby and ostentateously and loudly call the cops on your cellular telephone to report a man beating a child. Social Services may already have his name--and if not, they will now. And damn well should.

Sadly, it's not so great to kick the shit out of him in front of his kids, either, but having the cops show up will get them the message that he's doing something wrong.

Yes, nothing like a good, ol' fashioned shit-kicking to teach that violence isn't the answer.

I've lost some respect for you because you did nothing.

no sweat, take a number.

My Dad had a novel way that didn't involove smacking-but i still finished with an extremely sore bottom!, he would put me over his knee and with a small piece of sandpaper rubbed my bottom hard with it for about 20-30 seconds, it wasn't too bad at first but after a few minutes my bum felt like it was on fire!!. In the corner i said "sorry Daddy" with my poor sore red little bottom!!. He then applied cream (which embarrassed me but i often just poked my bum out and let him-anything to curb the stinging)!! besides he often saw my bare bum! absolutely nothing wrong with it. It learnt me and i obeyed him after that!. My bottom was sore for a few days after though-OUCH!

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