By Carol Lloyd, Executive Editor
“Mommy, I’m worried about the first grade boys,” my 10-year-old daughter recently confessed. “They are saying a lot of bad words.”
“Bad, huh?” Since many of my daughter’s friends had been taught that “stupid” was a curse word, I assumed it would be one of the milder forms of playground profanity.
“They say the f-word and one of them was talking about rape and his penis. They do it all the time.”
My daughter’s elementary school community gathers on sunny days at a tiny nearby park where different ages play together and the parents sit by and chat about the PTO, their kids, and where they’re looking for middle schools. The mood is generally sweet, the sense of comradery and looking out for one another’s children pervasive. But it’s a community, not a tiny klatch of friends who know each other well.
So as I quizzed my daughter about the 7-year-old boys who she’d heard sling cuss words like gangsta rappers, I mulled over my options. To share or not to share? No one likes hearing anything negative about their child, even when it’s true, or more like, especially when it’s true.
Should I take my 10-year-old’s word for it, relay the hearsay of a child, and freak out these mothers who I barely knew? Or should I, as my daughter implored me to do, stay silent?
It’s not something we get training in when we become parents. There is no chapter in What to Expect When You’re Expecting on navigating the treacherous waters of conflicting parenting styles, playground gossip, children’s often hyperbolic reportage. But there isn’t a parent out there who isn’t faced by the dilemma: When is it appropriate to inform another parent that their kid has done something wrong?
I’ve done it before and it wasn’t fun. When my daughter was 8, she had friend over and the girl started a minor food fight with the chocolate pudding I’d made them. I swooped into the room and cried, “Hey what do you want to do, eat it or throw it?” –thereby breaking a whole slew of parenting best practices, chief among them: Wwhy was I asking a question? She snorted: “Throw it!” Later, instead of passing a CD to my daughter, she flung it across the room, catching my daughter under the eye. Then finally, when playing some game involving getting into a cubby hole, the girl kicked her way out, breaking the hinges.
I wrote an email, feeling like a self-righteous idiot the entire time. Her parents – I’m certain listed in heaven’s Who’s Who of the nicest people in the world – called to say the girl wanted to apologize and explain her side of the story. We talked briefly and I assured the girl there were no hard feelings and it was okay. All was very courteous, but the whole episode did cast a chill over my daughter’s friendship. It was the last time she came to our house, and my child was never again invited to hers. I wasn’t sorry I’d spoken up, but I learned that you can’t always control the aftermath of such minor confrontations.
So as much as I didn’t want to talk to these mothers of the little boys with trucker mouths, I tried to think about what I would want them to do if they or their children observed my child doing something so blatantly antisocial. I’d want to know, even if in the end I didn’t agree that the behavior was so bad.
A couple of days later I mentioned it to one of the mothers, who is also on the Who’s Who list. She was concerned, but seemed perplexed that her son had been among those mentioned. She explained that sometimes her son – who is a total sweetheart – sometimes stayed away from the other boys because they played too roughly. “He’s kind of sensitive,” she explained. A day later, one of the other mothers approached me to say she’d heard about my concerns and wanted to assure me her son is only 7 and doesn’t know those words, but that she would talk to him and that she was sorry if anything had upset my daughter.
I don’t know if it will have any effect – my daughter says the trash talking tykes are pretty relentless in their profanity. I also don’t have any idea what 7-year-olds uttering words they most certainly do not understand actually signifies. But I’m not so naive as to assume that I made myself popular that day I chose to cross the line and tattle on another child.