What is the point of "I don't care who started it"?

I’m always vaguely bothered by the statement “I don’t care who started it!” because I always imagine something like this:

Child A does something horrible to child B. Hitting, spitting, groping, setting hair on fire, verbal abuse, sabotage of schoolwork, pissing on electronics, whatever.

Child B screams, tries to defend themselves, calls for parent or guardian.

Parent: “What’s going on here!”

Child B: “Child A did horrible thing X, help me”.

Parent: "Well, I don’t care who started it, stop screaming and go to your room/back to the salt mines/fuck off. "

So, to me, “I don’t care who started it” = “The person who starts is free to do whatever they want, and the victim will be blamed equally if they make a fuss, so just take it like a good little doormat and leave me alone”.

Is it just an excuse for bad parenting? What am I missing? It’s presented as some sort of parenting mantra, something all parents identify with, and I don’t get it at all.

I kinda of agree with you - and am a non-parent.

I expect it means “I just want quiet” - justice, fairness, all of that doesn’t matter. Parent just wants peace and figures it’s small, petty, doesn’t matter and whatever kid didn’t start it this time probably started it last time. Parent’s desire for peace trumps all those lofty goals. It means “behave” with no consideration (or no caring) that one party just might be legitimately wronged.

I am a parent. This is used generally when one child responds in a disproportionate way or something that is malum in se. For example A is teasing B or pushes B in some way, and B responds by punching A in face or throwing A down the stairs. At that point it really doesn’t matter what the initial offense is. “I don’t care, that is never okay.” is usually how it comes out.

As a manager at work, sometimes it’s just to stop a fight. Who said or did what, who responded in what way, what an “innocent” bystander saw and may or may not have done…ya know what, I don’t care, just stop.

As a catchall for a parent of multiple siblings or a teacher, it’s probably bad if overused. But once in a while, it’s fine when you don’t want to go back and attempt to figure out who started it and who retaliated and if the retaliation was warranted…again, whatever, just stop and everyone go back to what you’re supposed to be doing.

ETA, also what Bone said, when it doesn’t matter what the initial offense was, everything is so out of hand. There’s a couple of times where things (at work) started out as very, very small spats but go so overboard I looked at all the included people and said “I’ll just fire everyone if you don’t knock it off”.

When one kid is on top pounding the crap out of the other one, the other one is usually the one that started it. But questioning the kids to determine who started it is a waste of time, it started years ago and involves a lot of things you know nothing about.

Quoted for truth.

The real reason for the big fight was my great aunt broke my grandmother’s dolly in 1928. No one cared anymore. It was 1994. 25 year old me had to tell them to play nice at their other sister’s funeral.

That’s the problem right there. No, it’s usually used for things which are very petty and inconsequential, like someone took the red cereal bowl instead of the pink cereal bowl, or for things which are very complex and untangleable, like who broke the doll 66 years ago. It’s not usually used for things that are dangerous or horrible. Dangerous or horrible, I really do want to know how it started, so we can make sure it doesn’t start again.

I also use it when I don’t feel like this is my problem to fix, unless they are telling me with their behavior that they want me to fix it. And if the problem is the inconsequential kind, I’m going to make my fix unpleasant for both of them, so that next time they’re more likely to work it out among themselves, rather than cause a ruckus that gets my attention.

If the problem is a very complex one, I’m totally willing to help them hash it out in good faith. But that works much better when they can say, “we need help with this,” than if they just shriek and hit one another. So, even if it is a big thing I want to help with, shrieking and hitting still isn’t okay.

I usually see it for petty, but actually wrong things. Not getting to a cereal bowl first or beating the crap out of someone. And not something that kids go to parents about. Kids are in backseat. One pokes the other. Other pokes back. Matter escalates and gets loud. Parent yells “shut and stop it” one kid (honestly or dishonestly) says “s/he started it” and parent says “I don’t care who started it.” Parent wants quiet. Kids are not given opportunity to work it out among themselves (well or badly) and both kids get equal ire from parent, no matter who did the wrong first (that time).

Without being snarky…are you a parent? I grew up with 3 siblings (so 4 kids). Those stupid fights happened like every 15 minutes. It’s not that mom and dad’s desire for peace and quiet trumps justice for one of the kids, it’s just that they know they can work out who the guilty party is, discipline them fairly, make everyone promise to get along and an hour later someone is playing the ‘I’m not actually touching you’ game again. Sometimes it’s easier and faster to say “Everyone knock it off” or as I heard in some TV show ‘whoever was right last time, the other one is right this time’.
Watch a couple of episodes of Rosanne to get a feel for it.

Again, I don’t know if you’re a parent of not, but being one really changes your perception of these kinds of things. You have a lot more sympathy/empathy for what other people might feel aren’t fair. Those times when a kid is screaming their head off in the grocery store and all you can think is ‘OMG, do something about that’, but as a parent you know that the kid probably just cries a lot and the parent still has to buy food, it’s life. In this case, kids fight, parents don’t have the time or energy to play judge for every single, mostly non-important fight. I don’t care if he put his finger in your cereal and you gave him a wet willy. Both of you stop it, finish eating and maybe we can get to school before the bell rings.

ETA, to relate this to your exact example since this is something that you saw play out “Kids are in backseat. One pokes the other. Other pokes back. Matter escalates and gets loud. Parent yells “shut and stop it” one kid (honestly or dishonestly) says “s/he started it” and parent says “I don’t care who started it.”” So imagine mom tells disciplines the one who started it, the one who ‘threw the first poke’ so to speak. Does it really matter when a similar argument/fight is going to break out at least one more time today at a few more times this week, each time started by one or the other. At some point it just becomes ‘I don’t care who started it, I’m stopping it’.
Don’t get me wrong, if one child is always the aggressor, that’s different, but that’s often not the case.

No, I am not, as I stated in my first response in this thread.

To the child, it very well might. It’s being told (several times a day, since that’s how often these happen) that fairness and justice don’t matter as much as parents having their peace. That your peace of mind doesn’t matter as much as your parents. That your concerns or worries or arguments aren’t as valid as theirs. And, you know what, they are usually petty things that don’t matter. But so is mom and dad’s argument of “I’m waiting on you. No, I’m waiting on you.” and kids have to listen to that.

Sometimes I think parents forget how it feels to be kids and to have their feelings and thoughts about small, every day matters pretty much dismissed a dozen times a day by every adult they interact with. Not just told they can’t get what they want, but that what they feel think doesn’t matter/isn’t cared about.

It is also a way to teach children that:

A) life is not fair, and

B) you’ll have to deal civilly with assholes some times.

Not being a parent, I LOVE it when parents play the “I don’t care who started it” card. If their annoying kids are fighting (and they are annoying, and fighting) I want that shit stopped NOW! I barely can make myself go out in public without being irritated by adults, but adults who can’t keep their hellspawn in check are the WORST.


As others have said, “I don’t care who started it” can just be a parental recognition that sometimes both kids were bored and engaged in mutual rounds of escalating provocations until somebody snapped and the hitting started.

Am I a parent? No. But I do have a brother and a sister and I know we did stuff like that when we were kids.

I don’t think it had any negative impact on me. Maybe it teaches kids not to get into pick on their siblings and/or retaliate since it’s not going to get them anywhere. Remember, no one is getting majorly injured, no one is being damaged for life, this is about someone putting their finger in someone else’s cereal, this is just siblings picking on each other, it’s kinda what they do. It’s kinda what most people do when they live in close quarters. Maybe you could say it teaches kids what hills are worth dying on. Maybe it teaches kids that when your brother smacks you across the face for no good reason you need to go and tell mom and not smack him back. Maybe it teaches kids that if you argue with your brother all day, regardless of who’s right, mom and dad will get sick of your crap sooner or later.

This is all sort of an extension of ‘no one likes a tattle tale’ ie ‘work it out yourself’.

I actually had to teach my cousin that not too long ago. There’s a kid in her (high school) class who had taken a great deal of time off of school. It start as something legitimate but she ended up milking it for months. She managed to convince the teachers to let her take exams at home and from what I understand was taking them with the books right there in front of her.
Other students were getting fed up with this and they, as well as other parents had discussed it with school administrators but nothing was getting done.
I mentioned to her that eventually it’ll catch up with her, she’ll start getting bad grades, she’ll get into a college that’s too good and she won’t do well etc. My cousin said that so far, she’s been getting along just fine. Eventually it ended with ‘well, some people just skate through life, they lie, they cheat, they get by on their looks, whatever, but it never comes back to haunt them. It’s life, it’s not fair, you just have to deal with it and make sure they don’t push you down as they climb up.’

I have a good friend that has, to say it nicely, been gliding through life on her looks and showing no signs of stopping.

I’m a parent and the deal I have is that you can’t tell who started it. Its an escalation of “she did x,” “but only because he did y” - “but she did z”

There is no root cause with youngish siblings because there are a litany of complaints against each other.

Its never as simple as she took his cereal bowl so he hit her. She took his favorite cereal bowl because it was clean and he was late to breakfast, he started yelling at her, she called him a name, I smooth it over, then he puts his dish in the sink and yells at her for not putting hers in the sink and then there is a fight over who gets to feed the dog and then one of them hits the other and I can’t tell you who “started it.” And I don’t care. None of the injustices were worth escalation AT ALL and each person had injustices to complain about.

There may be better parents who can get to the root cause of all their children’s issues with their siblings. My experience was the root cause was “they are siblings.”

I’m a retired teacher and have used the phrase on one or two occasions.
It was when two pupils were arguing and when I tried to calm them down, both made numerous claims about the other’s bad behaviour.

It’s not.

Training for adulthood, where every day this happens. Might as well get them used to it.

Life is not fair, people are annoying, and we’re not going to have a snack and sing kumbaya.

A great life skill is learning to get over yourself. Good parents teach you that.

fisha, mother of five well functioning kids.

It seems like a wholly accurate statement to me.

With parents for instance, its likely that they genuinely don’t care who started it, because whatever it is is not important all. You are worrying about your mortage, your work, you’re fighting with your spouse, you have a hundred things to do and a headache to boot, do you really give a shit who started the spat between Jimmy and Timmy or whether Jimmy will be upset about the unfairness of it all? Of course not. Its petty shit in every sense, caring about who started would be a colossal waste of energy.

Palestinians and Israelis…though I think we know how that got started. Problem is, you can’t send them to their room, 'cuz that’s what the fight is about.

You speak of fairness and justice in a conflict between children as if it something obtainable. Kids are by rule immature. They can be cruel without even realizing it. They think that their state of mind is not an opinion but is the reality of the world.

So trying to figure out who “started” it or who was wrong would probably tie up most of your day.
It was started when child A “thought” that child B did something unfair.
scenario #2 - Child A knows that there is no proof that he was the perpetrator and flat out lies to deflect the verdict away from him.

In either case it would be futile to interrogate children and get “justice”. In fact, having the kids retell their side of the story just means that the conflict continues with you as the new moderator. Not very productive because regardless of your “verdict” the loser will still feel that they are treated unfairly.