Sunday, April 20, 2008

Kids' Word vs. Parents' Word

Very soon after I started working in the schools, some kids started to disclose the ways in which parents had frightened them, hit them, yelled at them-- basically behaved badly.

I got a lot of advice about these very delicate parent-child issues. Adults (staff, teachers, neighbors, friends, my mom) had very strong opinions about the kids' statements. Some said that I shouldn't believe everything that the kids said. They believe that kids often make up stuff to get what they want. You know this argument; kids are prone to exaggerate if not outright lie.

Other adults passionately believe that the kids are telling the truth--after all, why would they lie?

As a teacher working within the school system I am obligated to report abusive/neglectful behavior. Obviously, the question is: what is abusive/neglectful behavior? Is spanking, a whooping (with a belt), lunging at or striking a child, hitting with a tennis raquet, cursing, threatening, withholding food? (Yes, these are all things I've heard).

Where is the line? Who decides? What are the parents' rights? What are the child's rights? These are all valid questions. Moreover, when one parent pits a child against another parent, this line gets blurrier. After all, children are impressionable and can be brain washed (oh, I mean convinced).

However, at the end of the day, one party has the power, the resources, and the Voice in this society and one party does not.

Both my personal experience and expertise tell me that children do not want to get their parent(s) in trouble. In fact, most children will go to great lengths to keep their parents' problems secret. Children want, no--need, to believe that their parents can take care of them. Their very survival depends on it.

I contend that it is very rare for a child to completely fabricate a claim against a parent. While a parent may not have done exactly what the child claims, the parent probably lost his/her temper or acted badly in the situation. No matter how "naughty" children are, a parent is still the responsible adult in the situation. Right?

I've pledged to be a voice for children but I know that these issues are not black and white, cut and dry. It is the parent's job/right to discipline a child. Just when has it crossed the line?

Now, you tell me. Please.

1 comment:

Michelle said...

I find it very interesting that I just updated my mandated reporter training and I happened to read your blog all in the same day. (I used to be a teacher and now work as an advocate for families with children with disabilities at a social service agency) I agree that it is the parent's job to discipline their children and I also believe that spanking can have a part in that discipline. I think the line is crossed when spanking is no longer used as one of the tools of discipline, but when parents start to do it out of anger. As a parent of two boys ages 3 and 1, I know how hard it is to stay in control sometimes. However, it is necessary and my responsibility to be in control of my emotions. It is our obligation as parents to teach our children how to behave and that starts with our own behavior.

As far as who is responsible for deciding when the line is crossed, that is a great question that I don't think there is a good answer to. Of course, DCFS is supposed to be the agency responsible for determining that, but we all know they don't really do a great job of it. There is no easy solution when it comes to the human condition.

Your questions are excellent and very thought provoking.