Thursday, July 10, 2008

Does it take a village?

I love babies and young children (something, by the way, that I didn't know about myself until I became a father), but I also recognize and respect that not all adults share that love. Even so, Camille's post, "Mr. MacGregor's Gardening Legacy," describes an incident that compels me not to respect the behavior of the man that she describes. Have a visit over there (it's a brief, well-written post) and come on back.

Here's my question to you: what is your general principle when interacting with children not your own in a public space?

Here's mine, for what it's worth: I haven't read Hillary Clinton's book, It Takes a Village, so I can't affirm or argue with any of its particulars. But I'm a firm believer in the attitude the title embodies: that in the abstract, parents should be the ultimate authority figures in their children's lives, but it's entirely right and proper--I'd go so far as to say vital--that we all be more (gingerly, politely) proactive, at the individual and the societal (read: policy-making) level in both affirming and "re-directing" children and their behavior if their parents or other adults seem not to be around.

"Pro-active," I should say here, doesn't mean "pre-emptive": Camille's post struck such a chord with me because she makes it clear that the kids weren't harming a thing; you'd think from the man's behavior, though, that they were plotting to set up a BMX course in the garden. Also, all parents can think of an instance or two of other adults' unwarranted or unwelcome busybodiness regarding interactions with our children--I'm not talking about that sort of thing here, either. When my daughters were younger, I of course felt some embarrassment when I would hear of their misdeeds from other adults, but I was also gratified that someone had taken an interest in adopting the role of in loco parentis. My take is, such actions benefit both the person doing the re-directing (and, indirectly, all of us) and the child: in the home and at school, social hierarchies are (ideally) clearly defined, but such isn't the case in public spaces. Kids need to feel welcome and affirmed in those spaces--they have as much right to be there as adults do. With rights, though, come responsibilities: they also need teaching and reminding that they can't just go helling about in, say, a city park or a mall because no walls define the spaces people occupy. My thinking is that we'd be on the whole healthier as a society if we'd stop taking the attitude that other people's kids aren't our responsibility, even as we inwardly seethe when they're doing something we know isn't proper or acceptable.

All this is easy to say and, I suspect, agree with . . . but the devil is in the details. We could take up a whole bunch of server space talking about hypotheticals, and that's not my intent here. I'm more curious in hearing what you have to say about your own guiding principles on this issue.

1 comment:

R. Sherman said...

Here's a topic about which my ambivalence is boundless. On one hand, there are so many times I would like to intervene, especially when I see parents with young children running amok. So many little kids these days have zero respect for their own elder family members, to say nothing of strangers. I see these kids and I wonder what they'll be like at age 16.

That said, my inner libertarian resists interfering in something which is none of my business. There is something inherently American about ignoring other people whose behavior is not adversely affecting others, no matter how stupid or misguided the behavior might be.

I could go on, but the comment would wind up being longer than the post. I'll just say, I thank God that my three comport themselves OK in public. Of course, at home with just the EMBLOS and I around is another matter entirely.