Dear Carolyn: What should a parent say when the other parent knows they have a mean kid? My 7-year-old son has recently decided to take a break from a friend he’s known for five years because the former friend is mean – calls him an idiot, degrades him, etc. The other parent is asking to set up a play date, and I don’t know if I should continue ducking or say that my son has given up for now. She has recognized her son’s mean streak with respect to other kids, but I’ve never seen a consequence implemented.
– Mean Kids
Please don’t duck this. “Recent play dates haven’t gone well and my son has asked for a break. I’m sorry.”
Unless they’re told when their kids display serious and persistent bad behaviors, parents can’t do their most pressing job: to teach their kids to function appropriately in society.
You’re not off that hook just because this other parent has so far — to your knowledge — failed to use the information properly. Keep providing it when appropriate. Don’t make denial an easy option for her.
And don’t lose sight of the fact, when you’re delivering this bad news, that you could just as easily be receiving it. Meanness in kids is too often oversimplified into bad kids vs. good kids. There are certainly some extremes, but the middle is wide and gray and includes kids who have both taken abuse and dished it out. Power dynamics among peers can shift frequently and even “good” kids try out power trips on their friends, because trying things out is what kids do. Support your son and be honest with this mom, but keep your eyes open, too.
I am a stepparent to a teenage girl, who has recently moved in with us while her mom works in another city. So last week I got buttonholed by another kid’s parent for one of those “You’re not a real parent, so I just wanted to let you know … “ talks. This other parent’s son had asked the Kid out to a school dance, Kid said, “Thanks, but no,” and asked out her crush. (He said yes, my door hinges thank him.)
According to the other parent, if she didn’t want to go with first boy who asked her, then she can’t go at all and should stay at home knitting her nun’s habit or something.
Is this a thing? I am not going to go along with it, but this is something I’m going to have to tell a lot of other parents is outdated claptrap? Or is this other parent just being a tool because her son got his feelings hurt?
– Dance With the One That Brought You?
No, it’s not a thing, she can dance if she wants to.
Also not a thing: “those ‘You’re not a real parent, so I just wanted to let you know … ‘ talks.” Even if they are a thing, please treat them as if they are not, because the surest way to alienate your fellow parents as you negotiate this newish role is to approach them as if you are the eye-rolling rebel to their monolithic sense of superiority. They’re doing your thing, you’re doing yours, take each exchange as a conversation unto itself.
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