A parent’s most natural instinct is to protect a child from harm. That means that when you see your child hurt or hurting, you’ll want to do something about it. It’s a need.
The question is: whose need is it? Yours or your child’s? It’s not always a good thing for a parent to get involved.
Most of the time, the only thing a parent should do is watch things play out, as hard as that is to bear. Children won’t always handle things as they should, but they learn something from each interaction, even as they make mistakes. If it helps you to grin and bear it, think of their mishaps as life lessons best learned through experience—and then sit on your hands. You’ve got to let them learn by doing. Otherwise you run the risk of turning them into dysfunctional adults with no understanding of how to read social cues or cope with grownup relationship issues.
Now that we’ve covered the general rule regarding parental involvement—stay out of things—let’s talk about exceptions to the rule:
1) You Can Talk to the Parents—Whether the issue is big or small, it makes a tremendous difference if you know you can talk to a child’s parents without them going all defensive on you. If your relationship is such that you can talk to the parents of the kid who’s messing with your kid in one way or another, by all means, go right ahead. In this case, it doesn’t much matter what the issue is because with parents like this, you can trust them to keep things confidential. You’re all just monitoring the situation.
For instance, if your child is learning rough language from another child and you can talk to the parents, you’re affording them an opportunity to speak about language with their child and let their thoughts be known to him. They don’t have to have an opener or betray your child’s confidence to have a discussion about appropriate language. The other child’s parents don’t need to say, “So-and-so’s parents talked to us about your filthy mouth,” to have a conversation with their child about swear words.
You can do the same thing with your own child: talk about appropriate language. It’s wonderful when parents can talk together and create strategy based on factual input. But you have to know the parents. You have to know they aren’t the kind of people to get all huffy and say, “My Larry would NEVER use such language,” and you have to be careful how you frame the discussion to avoid a defensive reaction.
You might say, for instance, “Jane has been using more curse words of late. I wonder if you’ve noticed the same thing with Larry?”
Level Playing Field
In volunteering the information about Jane, you avoid making it sound like Larry is the worst kid on earth. You’re leveling the playing field by admitting in your opening gambit that Jane uses this language. That frees Larry’s parents to talk about him with similar candor so you can have a real discussion with proper parenting end goals in mind.
2) Your Child Risks Serious Harm—If your child is small and an older, larger child is beating him up, you need to get involved. If there is a possibility that drugs or guns are part of the equation of what’s eating your kid, you need to get involved. Always, a parent must weigh the risks.
In the case of the bully, it’s your duty as a parent to speak to the faculty or administration of your child’s school if the problem takes place at school. If the problem is a neighborhood problem, you can try to speak to the parents and if that doesn’t work, go to the police. When you attempt to speak to the parents, warn them your next step is the police, if you think that might help them curb their child’s bullying activities.
If drugs are the problem, talk to your child to get a proper picture of the situation. Is there peer pressure? Can your child avoid the drug crowd? Speak to your child about the risks. Tell him about Phillip Seymour Hoffman, for instance.
Skip The Talk
If you sense guns are in the picture, skip right over the talk and the kid’s parents and go straight to the police. This is nothing to fool around with. If ever you had a role to play as a parent, here it is.
Depression and threats of suicide also warrant parental involvement. Get in touch with a mental professional immediately and let her professional judgment guide your actions in these matters. Not sure? Call that mental health professional anyway. Better safe than sorry.
It’s never easy deciding when to meddle in a child’s social affairs. The main thing is to make your involvement the exception rather than the rule. Remember: letting him find his own way is how you give him wings.