Should Parents Get Involved in Teen Fights?

Once again, Brain, Child had a compelling issue, which I read cover to cover. I was enthralled by this debate: “Should you talk to other parents about your tweens and teens sniping at each other?”

“Jamie Roberts” — she used a pseudonym — said no.

While I’m sure that it can’t feel very good to be insulted by your former best friend in a public forum, Derrick seems to be handling it. Just like he can now handle tying his own shoes or fixing a simple snack for himself, Derrick is capable of negotiating these choppy social waters. (For example, he points out that he’s in an advanced math class, and asks why Tobias bothers commenting if he truly doesn’t care.) My job as a mother isn’t to shield him from the painful or irritating or wearying parts of life; it’s to teach him how to get through them. You teach a boy to fish, and he’ll form his own good comebacks for the rest of his life.

Because I’m on Team Derrick. Forever. Even when he’s wrong — and he has been wrong before, you’ll be shocked to learn — my natural inclination is to understand Derrick’s perspective. Forget fairness and neutrality. Even as I sometimes pretend to be otherwise, I’m all about family solidarity. The problem with getting other parents involved relates directly to this family solidarity. Any parent worth her salt is on her kids’ team, and if you’d like to experience an exercise in frustration, please do call that other parent. You’ll get an earful of why Special Snowflake is acting the way he does. You might find yourself trying to get the other parent to understand your little darling’s point of view. It all makes for plenty of compassion, genuine or otherwise, between the parents, but the kids don’t really care why a given situation is happening. They just know that the parents got involved and now they — or just the one on the offensive — must be sneakier.

I see Roberts’s point, especially on the importance of teaching children how to problem-solve, but also not coming out and accusing a parent of Precious’s behavior. This is a lesson I learned — not in middle school though — when my kindergartner was complaining about a girl in his class. I was concerned about him being bullied, and almost brought it up to the mother.

The girl’s mother actually approached me, in the way of a playdate. We went out for ice cream, and the tension between the two kids melted. It was a much better way of dealing with the situation, than my initial, knee-jerk reaction, which was to lay out all the things her daughter had said to Ari. The mother turned it on me and pointed out all the things Ari had done to upset her daughter. Then she proposed the playdate, which was our principal’s suggestion. (Good one!)

But as Brett Stanwick, the mom who argued the “yes” side of this debate, pointed out, there are probably circumstances in which parents’ involvement is crucial. Think of the case of Phoebe Prince, the Massachusetts girl who committed suicide after being relentlessly bullied.

Of course, a lot of how this conversation goes depends on things like how well you already know the other parent. Calling up someone you’ve never shared more than a parking lot greeting with is a whole lot harder than sitting down over a cozy cup of tea with a friend, especially if what you’re saying is likely to make them uncomfortable or defensive. But there are ways, honestly. Most of them are related to making sure the other person knows that you’re sharing information, not calling them out on what a crappy parent they are, that your kid has done his or her share of similarly dubious things, and that the goal is to figure out how to get everyone back on track….

It might seem like tattling, but when you talk to another parent, you’re modeling for our own child. Lessons the kids can take away: how to report stuff to authorities (the other parent being their nemesis’s authority), when to recognize that there are problems that you can’t solve alone, how to defuse a tense situation, as well as maybe how to nip in the bud another Phoebe Prince case. You’re also setting the example that this is what mature adults — what the kids aspire to be — do. If two people are having a problem, no one has to suffer in silence. As a parent, you engage as much as you can in coming to a solution, and if you can’t find a solution (because, say, the other parent is an asshole), only then should you feel okay walking away. Just because the kids are fighting doesn’t mean parents should stop thinking of each other as allies.

What do you think? Have you ever contacted other families about bullying?

26 thoughts on “Should Parents Get Involved in Teen Fights?

  1. No, not when they’re teenagers.

    Unless the situation is extraordinary, as in the teen suicide case, I would advise steering clear.  Ofcourse, in those situations, or if actual violence is threatened, I’m not sure contacting parents is the way to go.  

    I have a good friend who’s spent way too much time becoming overly involved in her teenaged daughter’s social life in this way.  It’s not healthy for either one of them.  I think it’s even less healthy for the parent and she spends way too much time and energy worrying about what this-or-that 16 year old might think or do.  This isn’t something that should be occupying your time when you’re 40, and I think if you start down that path, meaning well, it’s too easy to end up in that spot.

  2. No, not when they’re teenagers.

    Unless the situation is extraordinary, as in the teen suicide case, I would advise steering clear.  Ofcourse, in those situations, or if actual violence is threatened, I’m not sure contacting parents is the way to go.  

    I have a good friend who’s spent way too much time becoming overly involved in her teenaged daughter’s social life in this way.  It’s not healthy for either one of them.  I think it’s even less healthy for the parent and she spends way too much time and energy worrying about what this-or-that 16 year old might think or do.  This isn’t something that should be occupying your time when you’re 40, and I think if you start down that path, meaning well, it’s too easy to end up in that spot.

  3. I’ve never intervened

    b/c

    1. Liza is a big freaking drama queen
    1. unless there’s blood spilt i’m not getting involved.

    I invoke my mother’s favorite expression.  “Figure it out”

    the other thing I say to liza since she was little was “Life is Long Liza and it’s full of people. Better start figuring out how to handle them now… you’ll be better off when you’re older”

  4. I’ve never intervened

    b/c

    1. Liza is a big freaking drama queen
    1. unless there’s blood spilt i’m not getting involved.

    I invoke my mother’s favorite expression.  “Figure it out”

    the other thing I say to liza since she was little was “Life is Long Liza and it’s full of people. Better start figuring out how to handle them now… you’ll be better off when you’re older”

  5. Great Topic!

    When dd was little she had on going issues with a friend from Kindergarten all through to 8th grade.  Both me and the other mom did agree to a plan together and yes my precious contributed to the problem :)

    Another issue in grade school revolved around a classmate stealing a pencil box from dd.  She finally admitted it and arranged a playdate for our kids with her mother.  Worked out very well.  I approve of playdates to overcome many of these issues in grade school.

    Teens?  Hard one for sure.  I agree keep out of it as much as possible. However I do feel strongly about checking in with other parents regarding party rules.  

    • ditto

      I kept a fairly close eye on how relationships were developing when DS was little, but now that he’s a teen I highly doubt I would even know if he was being bullied, much less feel drawn into it. I hope I would know from his demeanor if something requiring my intervention was going on.

      It’s developmental, like everything else. Kids aren’t born knowing how to relate to other people; they learn from modeling and practicing, and a little adult facilitation can smooth the way. There were times when he was younger that his babysitter and I each coached DS about being a bit more assertive since he seemed to “give in” to his friends’ ideas, and also about not feeling consumed by anxiety when a sophisticated kid wanted to triangulate with DS and a close friend. For some reason that happened to him more than once and preoccupied him a lot (“I want to play with him but X will be mad”). But now he’s got it down, at least from what I can see. There’s a lot I don’t know.

      By the time they’re teens, I think a lot of what goes on between kids is more personality-based than maturity-based, and it’s time to figure out who one does and does not want to hang around with, and how to manage that gracefully.

      Totally agree on the party rules. That’s between adults, though — I always get a phone number from DS and often give a call. I used to ask about firearms but now I trust that even if he came across a loaded gun DS would have the good sense not to fool with it.

  6. Great Topic!

    When dd was little she had on going issues with a friend from Kindergarten all through to 8th grade.  Both me and the other mom did agree to a plan together and yes my precious contributed to the problem :)

    Another issue in grade school revolved around a classmate stealing a pencil box from dd.  She finally admitted it and arranged a playdate for our kids with her mother.  Worked out very well.  I approve of playdates to overcome many of these issues in grade school.

    Teens?  Hard one for sure.  I agree keep out of it as much as possible. However I do feel strongly about checking in with other parents regarding party rules.  

    • ditto

      I kept a fairly close eye on how relationships were developing when DS was little, but now that he’s a teen I highly doubt I would even know if he was being bullied, much less feel drawn into it. I hope I would know from his demeanor if something requiring my intervention was going on.

      It’s developmental, like everything else. Kids aren’t born knowing how to relate to other people; they learn from modeling and practicing, and a little adult facilitation can smooth the way. There were times when he was younger that his babysitter and I each coached DS about being a bit more assertive since he seemed to “give in” to his friends’ ideas, and also about not feeling consumed by anxiety when a sophisticated kid wanted to triangulate with DS and a close friend. For some reason that happened to him more than once and preoccupied him a lot (“I want to play with him but X will be mad”). But now he’s got it down, at least from what I can see. There’s a lot I don’t know.

      By the time they’re teens, I think a lot of what goes on between kids is more personality-based than maturity-based, and it’s time to figure out who one does and does not want to hang around with, and how to manage that gracefully.

      Totally agree on the party rules. That’s between adults, though — I always get a phone number from DS and often give a call. I used to ask about firearms but now I trust that even if he came across a loaded gun DS would have the good sense not to fool with it.

  7. Not there yet

    But off of my gut, I would say no involvement in the day-to-day stuff.  However  if something is particularly egregious or if I feel that I would have appreciated a heads up myself I may give one.  But like the parent arguing that side said, I think that would be the end of my involvement.  What they choose to do with the knowledge is their business.

  8. Not there yet

    But off of my gut, I would say no involvement in the day-to-day stuff.  However  if something is particularly egregious or if I feel that I would have appreciated a heads up myself I may give one.  But like the parent arguing that side said, I think that would be the end of my involvement.  What they choose to do with the knowledge is their business.

  9. I thought at first

    that the two mothers were talking about apples and oranges, the first about mundane conflict and the second about Phoebe Prince level harassment.  But reading what the second mother had to say, I felt like the lessons she felt she could model were more appropriate for younger children.  Besides, has the world changed more than I know?  Do teens want their parents involved in fights with their friends?  I would have been mortified.

    I do understand that teen mortification can’t be taken too seriously–they are likely to refuse help that they really need.  But I would try to respect their boundaries otherwise, I think.  If they wanted my help, I might still try to do a risk assessment.  I agree with mom #1–I cannot see a conflict one of my kids is involved in clearly.  I’m on team Simone and Milo, right or wrong, so I’m not necessarily a great choice for mediator.  

  10. I thought at first

    that the two mothers were talking about apples and oranges, the first about mundane conflict and the second about Phoebe Prince level harassment.  But reading what the second mother had to say, I felt like the lessons she felt she could model were more appropriate for younger children.  Besides, has the world changed more than I know?  Do teens want their parents involved in fights with their friends?  I would have been mortified.

    I do understand that teen mortification can’t be taken too seriously–they are likely to refuse help that they really need.  But I would try to respect their boundaries otherwise, I think.  If they wanted my help, I might still try to do a risk assessment.  I agree with mom #1–I cannot see a conflict one of my kids is involved in clearly.  I’m on team Simone and Milo, right or wrong, so I’m not necessarily a great choice for mediator.  

  11. Yep

    We’ve contacted people.  

    Personally, I’ve kept a “hands off the small stuff” approach, but have been involved in larger, more complex issues.  The small stuff is just that.  The larger stuff we help with for a couple of reasons.  I have an Anti-”Lord of the Flies” philosophy meaning that kids need some modeling on occasion, regardless of which person your kid is in the “bully triad” (bully, bullied, bystander).  Now, that’s how we did it with the boys.  Not sure about the girls yet.  I can relate to (Katie) the Drama Queen aspect with my girls as they are also very, very easily offended.  And (dare I dream) girls are less likely to have issues come to blows.  

    Once, a little guy who just lost his mom was hassling one of my kids on the bus (7th grade).  Luckily, my boy was able to understand the larger issue at hand and chose to ignore it.  I called the school when a mom friend told me that if my son didn’t stick up for himself, her son would punch this newly motherless child (she didn’t think it was related although the teasing revolved around my son’s “loser” mom…we’d never laid eyes on each other).  The school wasn’t aware of the death in the family and offered some help in the form of a counselor.

    Also, we got involved when a socially awkward kid spent his time on the bus punching our kid in the back of the head.  Our kid was 2 years younger (and first time on bus) and the older kid needed to understand that isn’t how you make friends or impress others (which we think he was trying to do).  In that instance, DH went with DS to the other child’s house and dealt with it in a matter of minutes (when DS finally let us know what was happening).

    As a general rule, though, when I hear parents proclaim (usually loud and proud) that they “stay out of kid stuff”, as though it’s below their concern, my ears hear “I’m a pretty lazy parent and I’m not going to deal with my kid”.  

  12. Yep

    We’ve contacted people.  

    Personally, I’ve kept a “hands off the small stuff” approach, but have been involved in larger, more complex issues.  The small stuff is just that.  The larger stuff we help with for a couple of reasons.  I have an Anti-”Lord of the Flies” philosophy meaning that kids need some modeling on occasion, regardless of which person your kid is in the “bully triad” (bully, bullied, bystander).  Now, that’s how we did it with the boys.  Not sure about the girls yet.  I can relate to (Katie) the Drama Queen aspect with my girls as they are also very, very easily offended.  And (dare I dream) girls are less likely to have issues come to blows.  

    Once, a little guy who just lost his mom was hassling one of my kids on the bus (7th grade).  Luckily, my boy was able to understand the larger issue at hand and chose to ignore it.  I called the school when a mom friend told me that if my son didn’t stick up for himself, her son would punch this newly motherless child (she didn’t think it was related although the teasing revolved around my son’s “loser” mom…we’d never laid eyes on each other).  The school wasn’t aware of the death in the family and offered some help in the form of a counselor.

    Also, we got involved when a socially awkward kid spent his time on the bus punching our kid in the back of the head.  Our kid was 2 years younger (and first time on bus) and the older kid needed to understand that isn’t how you make friends or impress others (which we think he was trying to do).  In that instance, DH went with DS to the other child’s house and dealt with it in a matter of minutes (when DS finally let us know what was happening).

    As a general rule, though, when I hear parents proclaim (usually loud and proud) that they “stay out of kid stuff”, as though it’s below their concern, my ears hear “I’m a pretty lazy parent and I’m not going to deal with my kid”.  

  13. Teach ‘em to fish

    I like that analogy.  I’m trying to teach my kids how to deal with people (this includes teachers, too, although that’s a different topic).  You’re not going to like everyone, and (honestly) not everyone is going to like you, so figure it out (as Katie would say).  And I’ll help them figure it out.

    We had an interesting thing happen at the end of school.  “Billy” had a get-together for “Sam” who is moving.  “Harry”, former bully and now just allaroundjerk was not invited – no one likes him and Sam thought if Harry was there, the other boys would be unhappy and he didn’t want them mad at him on his last day before moving away.  But Sam’s mother intervened (interfered?) and insisted they include Harry.  I talked to my DS and said “you don’t have tell Harry you want him to come, but be a good friend to Sam and tell him you won’t be mad at him.”  I felt bad for Sam, because his mother WAS forcing him to do something he didn’t want to do.  In the end, the boys conferred and invited Harry (who was, pathetically, thrilled).  That night, DS said “just so you know – Harry was just as much of a jerk as we thought he would be and you and Sam’s mom were wrong”.  We did talk about it some more, and DH said I had interfered too much.  But I felt like it was a lesson in how to handle a sticky situation – and part of this sticky situation is how the former bully is not totally marginalized, not hated as much as he is totally ignored.

  14. Teach ‘em to fish

    I like that analogy.  I’m trying to teach my kids how to deal with people (this includes teachers, too, although that’s a different topic).  You’re not going to like everyone, and (honestly) not everyone is going to like you, so figure it out (as Katie would say).  And I’ll help them figure it out.

    We had an interesting thing happen at the end of school.  “Billy” had a get-together for “Sam” who is moving.  “Harry”, former bully and now just allaroundjerk was not invited – no one likes him and Sam thought if Harry was there, the other boys would be unhappy and he didn’t want them mad at him on his last day before moving away.  But Sam’s mother intervened (interfered?) and insisted they include Harry.  I talked to my DS and said “you don’t have tell Harry you want him to come, but be a good friend to Sam and tell him you won’t be mad at him.”  I felt bad for Sam, because his mother WAS forcing him to do something he didn’t want to do.  In the end, the boys conferred and invited Harry (who was, pathetically, thrilled).  That night, DS said “just so you know – Harry was just as much of a jerk as we thought he would be and you and Sam’s mom were wrong”.  We did talk about it some more, and DH said I had interfered too much.  But I felt like it was a lesson in how to handle a sticky situation – and part of this sticky situation is how the former bully is not totally marginalized, not hated as much as he is totally ignored.

  15. good topic

    mainly because I’m wondering how to handle it myself as the girls grow older. At the moment, I prefer to take the “monitor the overall situation, but don’t get involved in the small stuff” approach. It works well because most of Jess’s circle of friends have parents that are friends of mine/ours and we are all mostly on the same page. So when Jess and her little friend “Barry” start playing around, when there’s minor conflict, Barry’s mother and I have pretty much agree that, barring blood, if either come up to complain about something, we get them to resolve the situation themselves. Works so far.

    But I was bullied as a tween and a teen, and I really want to make sure that doesn’t happen to my girls. My parents did a good job, I thought, and when things were really bad they did go to the school. The school, however, was of absolutely no use, even though the bullying was taking place on school grounds and even in front of teachers/administrators. But at least I knew my folks had my back.

    • I think the point

      made in the first scenario in the diary makes a lot of sense.  You can go to another parent, but many times, it’s not going to solve the problem and might only make it worse.  Frankly, I would have been afraid to have gone to some of the parents on my own.   In fact, even before my kids reached jr. high age, there were a pair of twin boys down the block who bullied my sons mercilessly.  Their mother wasn’t bad, just really, really dim-witted.  However, after awhile, I caught on that there was a lot of abuse going on in that home, and my complaining about the kids to the parents probably escalated it, thereby, of course, causing the bullying behavior to be even worse.  

      Schools can be helpful only in sometimes making sure that kids might be separated.  

      • escalating..

        i know what you mean about certain unhealthy households.  dd had a “friend” who was clearly troubled and called my dd for support.  it was way too much for a young teen to handle, yet i knew if i contacted the parents it would likely make it much worse.  i ended up advising dd to tell her friend  to talk to school counselor and therapist he was seeing.

        • These little boys

          were much like the little girl that Erin spoke of in another diary today…for a long time they had many adults completely hoodwinked.  I have to admit that it was a very frustrating few years for us.  No one, including the school, was helpful to our situation.  I think many knew what was going on, but a lot of leeway was given to these kids.   They went on to have a lot of real trouble in their teen years, but thankfully, as young adults now, I’ve heard that they aren’t doing too badly.  Very lucky considering that the mom and dad divorced, the mom went on to have serial relationships while the dad just kind of backed out of a lot of responsibility.  

  16. good topic

    mainly because I’m wondering how to handle it myself as the girls grow older. At the moment, I prefer to take the “monitor the overall situation, but don’t get involved in the small stuff” approach. It works well because most of Jess’s circle of friends have parents that are friends of mine/ours and we are all mostly on the same page. So when Jess and her little friend “Barry” start playing around, when there’s minor conflict, Barry’s mother and I have pretty much agree that, barring blood, if either come up to complain about something, we get them to resolve the situation themselves. Works so far.

    But I was bullied as a tween and a teen, and I really want to make sure that doesn’t happen to my girls. My parents did a good job, I thought, and when things were really bad they did go to the school. The school, however, was of absolutely no use, even though the bullying was taking place on school grounds and even in front of teachers/administrators. But at least I knew my folks had my back.

    • I think the point

      made in the first scenario in the diary makes a lot of sense.  You can go to another parent, but many times, it’s not going to solve the problem and might only make it worse.  Frankly, I would have been afraid to have gone to some of the parents on my own.   In fact, even before my kids reached jr. high age, there were a pair of twin boys down the block who bullied my sons mercilessly.  Their mother wasn’t bad, just really, really dim-witted.  However, after awhile, I caught on that there was a lot of abuse going on in that home, and my complaining about the kids to the parents probably escalated it, thereby, of course, causing the bullying behavior to be even worse.  

      Schools can be helpful only in sometimes making sure that kids might be separated.  

      • escalating..

        i know what you mean about certain unhealthy households.  dd had a “friend” who was clearly troubled and called my dd for support.  it was way too much for a young teen to handle, yet i knew if i contacted the parents it would likely make it much worse.  i ended up advising dd to tell her friend  to talk to school counselor and therapist he was seeing.

        • These little boys

          were much like the little girl that Erin spoke of in another diary today…for a long time they had many adults completely hoodwinked.  I have to admit that it was a very frustrating few years for us.  No one, including the school, was helpful to our situation.  I think many knew what was going on, but a lot of leeway was given to these kids.   They went on to have a lot of real trouble in their teen years, but thankfully, as young adults now, I’ve heard that they aren’t doing too badly.  Very lucky considering that the mom and dad divorced, the mom went on to have serial relationships while the dad just kind of backed out of a lot of responsibility.  

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