I tend to take a hard line on discipline. I cheered when a dad found stolen goods in his kid's room and turned the little thief in to the cops. But a woman who took unusual steps after she found the cellphone of a teenager in her ransacked car has me wondering if I'm a little too hard.
Eliza Webb could have called the cops immediately, but the woman who works with high schoolers had a hunch the phone belonged to a teenager. So she didn't.
Instead, Webb wanted to talk to the kid and his parents and see if she could figure out how to deal with his bad behavior without ruining his life. As Webb told the Seattle Times:
I think bringing the police and courts into something like this can have long-term, devastating consequences for kids.
Get the cops involved, and you're talking about giving a kid a record, a record that could follow them for the rest of their life.
Sometimes, that's necessary. Sometimes, it's overkill.
So how do you know the difference?
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In Webb's case, she ended up meeting with the kid and taking him and his teenage accomplice door-to-door in their neighborhood, apologizing to neighbors for breaking into their cars and returning the items they'd stolen. The teens also have to write a letter of apology that will be read at a community block party. Having to own up to what they'd done and doing it face-to-face surely made an impact on those kids, maybe even more of an impact than standing in a courtroom with a judge and prosecutor who represent The Man.
As a mom, I'd like to think I would have turned my kid in to the authorities if I found out what they'd been doing. But this ... this doesn't seem like such a bad option either.
I can't help but wonder: is this the difference between a parent disciplining and a stranger punishing a kid?
Do we as parents have to be harder on our kids than strangers? Can strangers teach the lesson we need to teach with strength by showing compassion?
I'm not suggesting that we turf our disciplining to other people -- I'd much prefer my kid never end up hurting someone else and ending up in a position like this -- but the "it takes a village" mentality of parenting certainly seems to have worked here. And it can work in most situations; if people show a little common sense when dealing with miscreant teenagers.
You don't ALWAYS have to call the cops. Sometimes the lessons are much more profound if they're dealt with on a human level.
Look at Eliza Webb. She didn't let the kids "get away" with breaking into her car. But she didn't turn to the cops either. Good for her. Good for her for doing her part in the global village and helping shape the next generation.
If only more people were like her.
Perhaps it's a little hypocritical to want a little forgiveness from strangers that we ourselves won't give our kids. But one thing I've learned over the years is that kids tend to take things better from someone who is NOT their parent. Other people simply don't HAVE to be as hard on our kids to get them to shape up.
Put yourself in these parents' shoes. Would you want someone calling the cops on your kid or dealing with it as Webb did?
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