UNPOPULAR OPINION: I Think It's OK To Discipline A Stranger's Child

Kids aren’t going to be traumatized by a stranger politely telling them not to do something that could potentially harm them, or is just a social norm.
Publish date:
February 5, 2014
parenting, kids, unpopular opinion

Air travel can be annoying. Getting through security, waiting to board and then eventually making your way onto a large aircraft with a surprisingly small amount of space isn’t anyone’s idea of a good time. But recently, during a flight home, Kourtney Kardashian's trip turned sour when a woman reprimanded her kids for not covering their mouths when they coughed. Kourtney took to Twitter to express her displeasure:

“People on airplanes are so wild these days... Telling other people's children to cover their mouths. Cover YOUR mouth.”

Personally, I think she overreacted. Covering your mouth is a way to prevent the spread of germs, and we all know how quickly those germs can travel when you're stuck on an airplane with limited space.

Being reprimanded by strangers isn't anything new to me. I was raised in the south, and things like this were a regular occurrence. When it came to discipline, parents, family friends, neighbors and even people you didn't know scolded you if you were caught running down the aisles knocking things over, throwing stuff at cars or coughing without covering your mouth.

The rule was that as long as an adult wasn’t creepy or trying to kidnap you, they were an authority figure, and their word was law. So, it’s kind of weird for me to encounter parents who don’t want anyone else ever disciplining their child.

About two weeks ago I was boarding a train headed to Brooklyn. I had one foot in the door when a kid came running up, shoving his way onto the train nearly me knocking over, and an elderly woman as well. His mother just ignored it, but I couldn’t so I told him, “It’s very rude to shove someone without saying 'excuse me.'” I didn't do so in an aggressive way. I as very calm and nice, but firm.

His mother, however, felt that I was out of line and told me so. She explained in not so polite terms that she was the parent and that she would discipline her child as she saw fit. Anger got the best of me and I replied with a nasty remark of my own, then I turned and walked to the other end of the subway car.

Maybe I should have handled things differently. Maybe I should have addressed the parent, but it was very clear to me that she didn't care that her son had nearly knocked down an old lady. I know that it’s up to every parent to figure out how they want to raise their child and discipline can be a tricky issue, but I’ve witnessed the same situation as the one I experienced far too often.

Is it ever OK to discipline a stranger’s child? Personally, I think so, especially when the parent isn't. Kids aren’t going to be traumatized by a stranger politely telling them not to do something that could potentially harm them or is just a social norm (like covering your mouth to cough).

And, be honest, are you always paying attention at the exact moment when your child is misbehaving? Sometimes it’s better for kids to be disciplined by someone other than their parents. Strangers are less likely to put up with bad behavior, and a child will likely always remember being reprimanded by someone else, and will think twice before misbehaving again.

I firmly believe in the old cliché that it takes a village to raise a child. It’s the responsibility of adults to guide children into becoming good functioning members of society and sometimes parents need a little help. Having a stranger address your child just reinforces the rules we’re all meant to live by and the rules that most of you have taught your kids. It’s important that kids recognize other authority figure besides their parents and teachers.

Discipling a child can be tough, and strangers who intervene can offer a different perspective, one that could help, because parents don't always know how to handle a situation. It's a learning experience for you and the child. It's moment for the child to learn how to interact with others and treat adults, but also a chance for you explain why the adult said what they said or see a discipline technique different from your own.

As long as whoever reprimands your child does so in way that doesn't hurt anyone, then really what's the issue?