In the months following September 11th, the New York City Transit Authority implemented a safety campaign, that has since been licensed by The Department of Homeland Security: “If you see something, say something.” The principle is that it takes a community effort to keep a community safe. It’s a broader example of the oft-repeated “It takes a village to raise a child.” Personally, I prefer the former.
I’ve always maintained that I want to know. In fact, I often remind my friends to please tell me if they ever hear that one of my kids is involved in something they shouldn’t be. I won’t be upset with them in the least. I want to know. God knows, I’d rather hear about it from a friend than to find out after a behavior gets out of hand and attracts the attention of strangers. (As a rule, I assume my son or daughter is guilty until proven innocent.)
If I catch your kid – I’m probably going to tell you, too. If that sounds like I’m the nosy neighbor, let me clarify: I don’t seek out information. I never share gossip (unless the rumor suggests a child might harm themselves or others), only what I or my own children have witnessed in person or on social media. It’s not fun – I’ve made some pretty uncomfortable phone calls. Life is so much more complicated for children – adolescents, in particular – than when we were younger. It’s the responsibility of adults to collectively look out for our kids. I want that extra set of eyes. I want you to call me.
Unintentionally, I have become a parent my children and their friends know they can turn to when there is a friend who has something going on that they can’t deal with – I am willing to be the “bad guy” who gives the information to the appropriate person. As an added bonus, because their friends know I absolutely will tell, they are less likely to do something inappropriate when my daughters are around. I’m grateful that hasn’t led to the girls not being invited to parties and trips to the mall.
Social media makes the question of “when and what to tell” even more complicated. Recently, one of my daughters showed me a picture of an underage acquaintance of theirs holding what was pretty clearly an open can of beer. I know the kid and I know the mom, but not very well. At the very least, it’s a teachable moment about how anyone can see what’s been posted on social media. In the end, because I wasn’t really sure what was going on in the photo, I didn’t make the call. I’m still not sure if that was the right way to go. I’d want to know about that picture if it were my daughter in it, but other parents might not. There’s always the risk that the good intentions of one parent are misinterpreted by another.
I’m really interested in where other parents stand on this issue. Are there any circumstances where you would tell another parent that their child was involved in something they shouldn’t be? What are those? Has telling someone ever backfired?
Let me know in the comments.