Sharleen and I came upon a group of children. One had said something. Another had taken it as an insult and wanted to take it out of the first one's hide. Others were keeping the insulted one back from his target. We looked. We weren't happy with what they were doing. I suggested we stay out of this. Sharleen chose to engage.
Speaking to them, the tension did abate, but both kids remained upset, with the speaker crying, and the insulted one walking off upset. The father of the insulted one then appeared on the scene. I don't know who asked what happened, but he answered "parents between kids," suggesting that Sharleen was meddling and kids are better left to sort these things out on their own.
This is why I didn't want to engage. I pulled a kid back from another in retreat on another occasion. I took him back to his mother. She gave me an earful about how I should not get between children when they are sorting these things out.
And there is a wisdom to this viewpoint. We do all need to learn how to get along in society. But sometimes we also need guidance.
So I was pissed. I tend toward a zero tolerance policy when it comes to violence, but so does the law. Between adults, we call this assault. When I engage, I am rebuked by parents. When I do not, I fail to raise a child and miss an opportunity to shape the community my child will grow up in. I feel like I am being spit on for giving a shit.
So tonight I was on a call with Seth Ellsworth. I don't know how it was connected, but when I got off that call I realized something.
I am right.
I thought about my neighbor with the brain damaged child, the one who walked off while unsupervised and fell into a pool. For a moment I thought "There but for the grace of G-d go I," but then I realized this is bullshit. The truth is I don't go there by my own grace, by the fact that I was and am an involved parent who would not have let his two year old alone to walk off and fall in a pool.
A child absolutely needs his freedom and to be able to explore his boundaries, but there is nothing wrong with setting some limits along the way. And expecting a child to keep from beating up on another is an entirely reasonable place to draw the line. It's just like me not clobbering this dad for blaming my wife. I'd prefer parents teach their kids respect so they don't form a fist in the first place, but teaching them to keep their hands off is at least a decent start.