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Rewiring neighborhoods
Scripps Howard News Service


June 30, 2005

I recently had a friend mention to me a problem she'd had with one of my kids. Two of my daughters were playing at her home, and when one was told to give a turn on a swing to another child she obstinately refused. Worse, she kept at her refusal until the mother was able to lure her away with a cold treat.

Ouch. (I mean, I've just written this book on parenting, right?)

The mom didn't present it as a big issue at all. Just something I needed to know about in the course of kid life. My kid's life. I did need to know - and I am so glad she felt like she could alert me so I could then close the loop, so to speak, with that daughter. You could almost hear my little one thinking as I spoke to her about it: "You mean moms talk about this stuff? That's not fair!"

Fair or not, that's how it should be. Only, I fear too often it's not anymore.

When I was a kid, my friends and I just assumed our entire neighborhood was fully wired for sound and video. And if we misbehaved, Mrs. Cooper or Mrs. Clancy or Mrs. Thomas was sure to go to another mother and pretty soon we kids were doomed. NASA had nothing on speed when it came to how fast our moms could communicate. I mean, disrespect another parent? Disobey another mom's or dad's instruction? Did I not want to live to see my 10th birthday? It just didn't happen.

Now break a window, climb a tree we weren't supposed to - that kind of thing did occur. But then you would inevitably walk in the door and hear from your mom, "Would you like to tell me about something that happened this afternoon?" Uh-oh. The mom information network had struck.

There have been other times when parents have gently called my kids to account, or just made observations - "so-and-so seems a little quiet lately," or an "I saw so-and-so crossing the street by herself. I wanted to make sure you approved" kind of thing. I'm always happy for that kind of information, and I'm glad I live in a neighborhood and have a family that provides it. Especially now as a single parent - the more eyes and ears, the better.

But I also think that in our society those kinds of eyes and ears are increasingly rare.

I, for one, am intimidated when it might come to telling other parents when their kids have crossed the line. Now for the record, I know pretty nice kids. And I'm perfectly willing to say to the little one, "In my house you have to respect my rules," or, "In my house you have to address me by name," and so on.

But I sure don't like the idea of alerting the mom or dad to a behavior problem on the few occasions it's been warranted. I suppose it's ironic that I'm intimidated in this regard, given that I write about parenting issues all the time. But I think it's that I instinctively fear that if I bring up these issues one-on-one, I might be the one who gets the censure - not the child.

I had just this conversation this weekend with a mother of four boys. She said she's typically happy on those rare occasions she gets information about her children she can use to parent them better (shouldn't our kids think their neighborhood is wired for sound and video?). But she also said that almost inevitably she's shut down on those infrequent occasions she tries to talk to other parents about a behavior issue with their kids - and it ends up that she, not the offending child, gets the brunt of the parent's anger.

There's the rub.

(By the way, I'm not talking here about critiquing other parenting styles that aren't like mine. That's a parent's prerogative. Nor about looking the other way when a child is doing something truly dangerous, which I have reported.)

Apparently being intimidated by parents isn't entirely unfounded. News reports are full of stories of everyone from teachers to coaches to Sunday-school leaders who don't dare approach a mom or dad regarding behavior or some other problem about little Johnny because the adult knows that HE could be the only one who gets in trouble.

We idolize our kids way too much. We just can't be intimidated by them, or other parents, but apparently we are. That's too bad. Our kids would be way better off if we rewired our neighborhoods for sound and video.


Betsy Hart is the author of the forthcoming "It Takes a Parent: How the Culture of Pushover Parenting is Hurting Our Kids - and What to Do About It."
E-mail her at letterstohart(at)


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