Where did this come from? (Parents wading in to fight their kids' petty squabbles)

This is one of those sorts of things that old codgers complain about as they get older. It never happened back when I was a kid.

Except in my case, this is true.

My house faces a small green where children (including my own) play. Kids being kids, this play sometimes leads to petty conflicts and squabbles, sometimes this leads to a scuffle in which blows may be exchanged - more often, it’s just silly angry words.

But with depressing regularity, I find myself confronted by an angry parent, outraged because one of my kids called their little angel a bad word (BTW: these are kids aged between 8 and 12, so they’re not innocent little toddlers), or told their little darling to go forth and multiply, as it were.

In such situations, I normally just nod, acknowledge what they’re saying, call my kids indoors (mainly to remove them from the developing situation) and have a little chat with them (in which it usually turns out they have their own version of the event, in which they are not the initiator of the commotion - and in some cases, I suppose this is even true).
I don’t apologise because a)it’s not me that did anything wrong, b)I don’t have full possession of the facts at that point and c)it turns out they’re not usually interested in, deflected or appeased by an apology - so I just don’t waste my breath.

But I find myself more and more, wanting to say to these parents: “Look, the only reason you think your kid is a precious little innocent angel is that I never come to your door with shrill complaints about some pissingly trivial conflict your kid started, but both of our children are too dumb or stubborn to just walk away from”

This never happened when I were a lad.
Never did my parents have to face down an angry rant from the aggrieved parent of a child who was called a rude name, or got her hair pulled in a scuffle.
Never would I even have dreamed of asking my parents to run off and confront some other parent over the behaviour of their obnoxious brat.

With the exception of very serious incidents involving broken limbs, stolen property or the presence of the police, the appropriate response to such conflicts (and the advice dished out by parents) was:
-If that kid is mean to you, just stay away from him in future.

So where did it come from, this idea that parents must micromanage every stupid little problem their children face? Has it always been there? (and I just missed it through some privilege of class or geography), or is it really not like it used to be?

When I was a younger angelic being than I am now, we were always left to fight our own battles. Parents didn’t get involved unless there was blood and/or broken bones.

My parents believed it would do us good to settle differences ourselves, it would teach us lessons for later life about having to stand up for ourselves, back down when necessary, negotiate settlements etc. I think they were right - if your parents are constantly there doing it all for you, how do you learn to do that for yourself?

Hmmm, I guess for me it would depend on how bad the names/words are. At that age I would have been wolloped for using swear words and I think if I had come home when I was eight years old and told my parents that little Johnny called me the c word (we Americans just can’t bring ourselves to say it!) or told me to fuck off, Mom and Dad would definitely be having a discussion with little Johnny’s parents. And if there was blood spilled - that was definitely a no-no.

I’m not sure where it came from, but the behavior has grown in recent years. The term is Helicopter Parenting - parents hovering over their kids, and micromanaging every facet of their sweet lil’ Snookum’s life.

The only time I can recall ever interfering in anything one of my kids did was when my son got into a scuffle on the schoolyard and got an elbow in the eye. My complaint wasn’t with the other student, however – it was with the idiot in the office who refused my son ice for his swelling eye because he’d been playing tag, which was prohibited (!!).

Helicopter parents are apparently hovering so closely now that some companies are having to include the parents when hiring the little darlings straight out of college. Yes, that’s right, Mommy & Daddy have to be consulted about the job Little Johnny or Susie gets hired for.


It was sure going on when I was a kid (born in '74). Deanna’s mom was constantly yelling at us for being mean and/or exculding Deanna from our play. Which, oddly enough, didn’t really make us more inclined to be nice to Deanna. :rolleyes:

This is just another example of helicopter parenting, but with a twist: parents and teachers have decided that kids can’t learn to work things out for themselves. They have to be taught Mediation and Conflict Resolution and Anger Management. So instead of letting the kids work out their own battles, well meaning adults must intervene and model Proper Behavior so that the kids learn The Process of Resolving Disputes Peacefully.

So since the kid didn’t figure out how to share a toy at age 3, because Mom was there with a timer telling them when to take turns so everything would be Fair, the kid has no idea how to resolve conflict when there’s no adult around.

Let me be clear: *some *modeling is appropriate. And every time you and your wife squabble about who left the cap off the toothpaste again, that’s when you’re modeling conflict and resolution. You don’t need to seize your kids’ conflicts for teaching opportunities. Kids really need help for maybe 1 out of 5 conflicts, IME.

I’m 37 and I remember that any kid who went to his parents was called a baby. “What’re you gonna do? Get your Mommy to fix it for you? Run home little baby, run home!”

I can only speculate on the origin of helicopter parents, but I think it’s the common perception now that anyone who doesn’t act that way is a negligent dick.

“What? don’t you care that your child is CRYING? My God, what a cold, unfeeling asshole!”

I think I’d rather teach my kid how to fight better and not have to worry about him getting beaten up.

You have to realize, Mangetout, Little Timmy is special. You’re just some guy who the world doesn’t revolve around. You and your kids are worse than Hitler.

When I was a kid, I would have given anything for my parents to A. be aware that I was being bullied and B. call those bullies on their crap, preferably in front of the bullies’ parents. I hope to teach my kids how to handle these things on their own, especially in minor kerfuffles, but I want them to know they have adult backup if they need it.

Yep, I’m almost 10 years older and same here - any kid who’d go to his parents over something minor was likely to be treated worse later rather than better so there was a lot of incentive not to. And parents were very unlikely to do anything about a small squabble anyway.

Though I am sure if I had been between the ages of 8 and 12 and had told someone to fucko off, I’d have had the snot slapped out of me if my parents found out about it.

You know, I think this is a big part of it - the anti-bullying effort. When I was a kid, you didn’t go to your parents unless the bleeding didn’t stop with direct pressure. If you did, you were a pansy, a wuss, or a crybaby. For standard kid relations, this was probably a good thing, since it taught kids how to get along without calling in the authorities. If you were a target of bullies though, who routinely got hassled, beat up, tormented etc, it was a bad thing. All the old platitudes about bullies - if you ignore them, they’ll stop, try to make friends with the bully, stand up for yourself, etc, just don’t work. Sometimes you need adult intervention to prevent bullying. The problem is that so many parents are so worried that their child will wind up being a target, they see every conflict where their kid loses as a potential bullying situation, and act accordingly.

There’s a difference. Bullying does not equal normal scuffles/name calling that occur in childhood. In defense of parents, it is not always easy to tell when you are dealing with a pervasive bully, and when you’re dealing with a scuffle that started when the kids are arguing “you were out! - no, I was safe!”. As Mangetout implied, you can’t exactly rely on your own little angel to give the unbiased truth.

Well, are we talking actual fighting, with cut lips and black eyes and all that, or just squabbling? When I was a kid I played with the girl across the street, who was a perfect example of that kid who’s always being persecuted in some way: “Quit it! No fair! It’s MY turn! I’m TELLing! MOM!


She was exhausting to “play” with. And of course her older brother (who was not a bad guy, and always treated me okay) and his pals just lived for the moments when they could provoke Little Sister to instant histrionics. Over…and over…and over…

There has got to be a way to teach kids what we’re calling “conflict resolution,” or How to Solve Your Problems Without Yelling for Mom 76 Times a Day.

A few years back, my wife stormed out of our house and confronted a kid who was calling my (then) 10 year old daughter a little bitch, and screaming at her to get out of the playground. This kid was the same age.

My daughter, to meek to defend herself and not really used to kids that yell obscenities and such, was sadly leaving when my wife jumped in, asked this kid what apartment he lived in (shocked, he told her… in retrospect, probably soemthing he regrets). She then told him that it’s a public playground, that she has just as much right to be there as he did, and that if she heard him yelling swear words again, or bullying the other kids again, she would go to his parents.

He begged her not to do so, stating that he would get in big trouble.

From that point on, he was always very polite to us, and ended up getting long fairly well with my two older kids.

On occasion it works out, it would appear.

Perhaps not in these words, but you need to do this. Or at least a gentle, “Y’know, I think these things are best left for the kids to work out for themselves. It’s just better parenting.”

I guess I have a serious lack of social skills in these instances. I had a parent come to my door complaining about my kid only once. My son broke something. I refused to even talk about compensation. I just said I’d make sure our children never played together again. And they never did.

(Bolding added) Which is exactly when I look at the other parent and, as Mangetout so elaquintly put it, tell them to go forth and multiply (although I assure you I am not so elaquint, hell I can’t even spell it let alone be it)

I certainly understand the issue though. Parents are expected to micromanage every detail of their kid’s life. Take little Jimmy to baseball practice, run little Susan off to soccer practice, drop Kevin off at the HS pool, pick little Jimmy up from baseball so he can get to guitar class, rush little Suzie from soccer to her dance class and try to get back to the HS before Kevin is done swimming. Stop by McD’s because lord knows there’s no time to cook even a simple meal, then home by 9:00 so they can start their homework (two more hours that require parental assistance). Tomorrow, pick them up at school, lather, rinse, repeat.

Fortunately my wife and I have been blessed with lazy kids. God love 'em, they don’t want to do any of that stuff. They ride bikes, jump on the trampoline, sometimes go to the HS for some swimming, that’s about it.

And if they do get in a fight, the only time we hear about it is when they need a band-aid or a cold compress.

Our precious angels.

This is an upcoming part of my son’s life I dread. I wasn’t aware it was so prevalent, though. Do people do that so very often? That’s ridiculous.

I agree - in my day (jeez, I’m only 32!), if I got called a swear word, I simply racked my brain for a worse insult, preferably with a more offensive and creative swear word, and knew well enough to keep the whole incident to myself. Hell, even on those very rare occasions I told my mom about name calling on the playground, she was more likely to punish me for even being involved in the first place no matter who started it.

There is: let them observe how you handle your own conflicts. Do you name-call, or scream or fight dirty, or just call the cops instead of calmly talking to your neighbor when he does something you don’t like? That’s what your kids are going to learn to do. Calling the police (or the condo association or the homeowner’s alliance or security) is precisely like calling Mom. It should be a tool in the kit, sure, for extreme cases, but it shouldn’t be the *first *tool of conflict resolution.

For most conflicts, it’s just a matter of encouraging them to articulate what they really need, and what they’re willing to give in order to get that. If you’re active in the process, encourage them to speak without interrupting, assuring the second child that they’ll get their say, too. DON’T let them talk to YOU, though. Don’t put yourself in position of judge. Sophie should be talking to Olivia, not to Mom. Olivia and Sophie are the ones working this out, not Mom. If it’s not immediately clear what needs to happen next after everyone’s articulated their needs, have each one make a suggestion on how to handle it, and let them decide what works best for them. Often, it’s something Mom would never have thought of anyway that actually works best.

Bullies are another matter, but still something that most kids can learn to deal with. Besides all that they learn from observation, I actively teach my kids the following steps for resolving a bully-type conflict. They’re not universally accepted, but they work for us. Each step must be followed in order for you to have covered your ass if things escalate.

Step One: Say what you need, clearly and calmly. “Don’t call me names, please.”

Step Two: Repeat your request.

Step Three: Remove yourself, physically and energetically, from the situation. Even if you can only move 5 feet away, that’s what needs to happen. If you can leave entirely, even better.

Step Four: Invoke authority. Get a grownup, in other words.

Step Five: Final request, and a warning…of physical retaliation. “Stop calling me names. If you don’t stop that, I’m going to punch you.” Yes, I teach my kids how to hit. But if they EVER do it before step 6, or without a warning, they will be in Deep Shit. Hasn’t happened yet.

Step Six: A solid sock to the solar plexus. Hasn’t ever happened in reality, but they know *how *to do it and how to make it count if they have to.

This thread reminded me of an incident from my distant past…

I was at home, and the doorbell rang. My dad went to the door, to be met by a rather large father and a large 12 year old. “Your kid beat up my kid, and now there’s going to be trouble!” shouted the father.
“Oh dear”. Said my dad. Euphonious*, would you please come here? When I went to the door, and the other father beheld my 8 year old, short, scrawny frame, he grabbed his kid by the ear, said “never mind”, and hauled him out of there, yelling “Don’t you ever lie to me again!!”

  • yes I lived in Greece, why do you ask?

Where it comes from, Mangetout, is the modern-day belief that children are the most important beings on the planet, rather than necessary annoyances that will hopefully one day run useful errands for you in your retirement.

I blame the meedja.
PS, just to make this edit worthwhile, only twice in my childhood did other parents come to my door to complain about my actions. Both were probably justified. (Sorry about the air-rifle pellet, Leon.)