Raising the village

The Boy and I walked down to the park a few days ago, which is about 3 blocks away.  It was evening, and there was a multitude of baseball games being played on the diamonds.  We were headed for the playground, because team sports aren’t really our thing.

Often, at this park, parents are attending their children’s games, and will send their younger children to the playground area to have something to do while their big brother plays baseball.  Not usually a problem, but not much adult supervision in the playground as a result.

Tonight, I noticed there were some older kids hanging out on the periphery of the playground — a small group of boys on one bench, a slightly larger group of girls on the swings nearby, and another group of boys sitting in the slide, preventing the kids from using it, throwing things, and being a general nuisance.  I watched this group for a bit, giving them my best, meanest, evilest teacher eye, which had absolutely no effect.  A dad of one of these boys came over, spoke to one of the boys, and this group gave up their perch and moved behind the other two groups of kids.  Now, as this was happening, I could overhear the first group of boys swearing, but I didn’t say anything because it was in their private conversation, and I didn’t think any of the nearby kids could hear it.

As soon as Group Of Boys 2 moved behind these other two groups, the whole mating ritual began with the trash talk between the groups, and the swearing, getting louder.

My son, bless his heart, watched an episode of Spongebob a month or two ago, and has been fascinated with the concept of “bad words” ever since.  As you may or may not know, kids with autism will often have these little obsessions over weeks, months, and even years (God, I hope this one doesn’t last that long!).

I believe The Boy heard one of the girls swearing, and went up to her and told her she shouldn’t be using words like that (because that’s how he rolls).  She proceeded to swear directly at him (or so I gather), because he laughed and ran to me saying that she owed him a quarter.  Yes, this is a recent addition to our conversations, when the adults in his life let one slip.

As the swearing continued at a higher volume level, my inner teacher/assistant principal came out of nowhere and yelled across to them, “Hey!  Do you think you could stop swearing?  I mean you ARE at a playground.  There’s little kids around!”

And do you think they said “Yes, Ma’am.  Sorry, Ma’am”?  No, I am sad to say, they did not.  They got even louder, sprinkled their speech with even more foul language, and started yelling about their First Amendment Rights.  I told them that it is indeed against the law to swear in front of children in our state, and that they should look that up.

Luckily, The Boy’s timer was about to go off, and when it did, we left.  But not before I looked up the Police Department’s non-emergency number.  Dialed it as we were leaving and informed them of the group of swearing belligerent youth in the playground.  If they won’t respect a random adult, maybe they’d respect one in uniform.

Kids of any age, shape, color or size need to be called out on their bad behavior in public.  And I say that thinking of the old biddy on our train who shook her head and made loud disapproving noises when The Boy and I were riding to Chicago when he was a toddler, obviously aimed at his rambunctious (little-did-we-know-it-then-autistic) behavior.  So to qualify, in the absence of a parent or other adult figure, when children are trying to get away with poor behavior, we citizens of society need to stand in the place of those parents and guardians who would no doubt disapprove, and call them out.

I know we hesitate because it feels like we’re meddling in someone else’s business, or judging someone else’s parenting.  It’s NOT that.  It’s creating an immediate consequence for a negative behavior.  That’s how they learn to be human beings.

What say you?  Would you stand up and call out a kid that’s not yours?  Have you done this?  Share your story below.


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