A few weeks ago, my kids were home from school for a snow day and joined some others on the hill behind our house to sled. About noon, my phone rang. The woman on the other end proceeded to tell me how my son had been using terrible language that morning; saying things that an 11 year old shouldnt—horrifying things that her 9-year-old daughter had never heard before.
This mother had little trouble repeating outright the exact swear words that were allegedly said (one was a line from a movie my son had just seen); and then added, he asked my daughter if she knew what a virgin was! She continued to attack my son—and demanded to know what I was going to do about it.
At this point, my blood pressure was rising fast. But I remained calm and told her, I will take care of it.
I hung up and went searching for my son. I was noticeably upset, near tears. Several thoughts swirled through my mind as I thought about how we don’t say things like that in our house; how were so careful about what they are exposed to; and how I am the author of a parenting book coming out in a few months—how can this be happening?
My son had a friend with him who I immediately sent home. Then I went to my room to ponder what to do next. I was disappointed, hurt and embarrassed—my ego was getting the best of me. I recalled some of my parent coach studies which shed light on how we care too much about what other people think, how we take their opinion to heart when they reference our method of parenting, and how we immediately believe adults over our own children. This gave me some strength to have a conversation and I calmly returned to my son.
By now he was in tears and eager to tell me what happened. At first I wasn’t convinced he was being truthful, because I knew he repeated the line from the movie, but when he told me the whole story I intuitively knew he wasnt lying.
He explained how his friend who had been with him said most of the words in question, including the virgin inquiry. My son admitted he did repeat the line from the movie, but in the context of the movie not in an inappropriate manner and not to the other kids. He went on to tell me that the stuff coming out of this woman’s daughter’s mouth was far worse than anything they said—which was later confirmed by my younger son.
My son was especially upset that he had been accused of saying things he didn’t say so this is where I tried to turn the situation into a learning experience:
This is where guilt by association gets you into trouble, I explained.
But it’s not fair, he pleaded. I didn’t say those things.
I understand, but they know who you are and you’re the name they know.
Well that’s stupid. That’s judging a book by its cover.
And I have to agree.
In my mind there are two approaches you can take with your kids. You can teach them to be accountable for their actions and talk with them openly and honestly about whatever the situation is. Or you can point the finger without having all of the facts. Unfortunately, a lot of parents choose the latter.
Whether we want to admit it or not, our children will do and say things we dont approve of when theyre with their friends. Whether they are trying to sound cool, reciting a provocative line from a movie, or trying to impress older kids to fit in, they are prone to acting differently than the way weve taught them to behave.
I have been a witness to many instances where kids have said and done things their parents would never have believed their child would do.Dont be fooled into thinking your child isnt one of those kids, because as the old saying goes—kids will be kids.