Steve Wehmeyer South Burlington
Child: Daria, 8
My first, immediate answer to the question is, you don't. In almost every case, it's easier, and probably preferable, to address the kid directly. If you see a kid being a jerk, and you're the only parent in the room, you step in and say, "Hey, we've got to get along. This is not how we treat each other. We have to find another way to do that."
I could imagine another situation where you'd want to sit down with another parent and discuss personality conflicts: "Look, it seems our kids aren't getting along. Are you experiencing the same thing? Is there something we can do about that?"
I'd have a hard time looking another parent in the eye and saying, "Your kid is out of line." On the other hand, I'd want to be told if my daughter were being a jerk. I'd definitely want someone else to approach me and let me know if there were something going on that I was not aware of.
So, I guess I'm the most passive-aggressive parent out there ... I want the burden of the socially awkward situation to always fall on someone else.
Eric Sample, South Burlington
Children: Max and Kally, 12
At some point, a level of appropriateness gets crossed, and the best thing to do is to take action with the kid. If the other dad is present, you could act like you don't know it's his kid, even though he could be sitting right there. You could shame him into action.
Sometimes you're testing the waters of what's OK. Somebody has to step forward and say, "This is not OK." Then the other parent has the option of stepping in and taking responsibility or not. It's very rare that anyone is going to respond well to being told his kid is being a jerk.
The extension of this is, what do you do when you see that parent, that father, being abusive or planting some permanent negative neural pathways in that kid? Again, I would be more inclined to say something kind to the child. The parents see that.
Jon Shenton Burlington
Child: Olive, 7
If you're the only parent in the room, then it would seem that the onus falls on you to curb the behavior until you can corral your child. If the kid is being a jerk and the parent is a witness, then really it's the parent who's being a jerk for not dealing with the situation.
Options for what to say are as follows: dad is a good friend — "Dude, can I get you a beer while you deal with your kid?" Dad is a good friend who is having a bad day — "Dude, go get me a beer while I teach your kid how to [behave properly]." Dad is an acquaintance — "Time to leave."
I have also found that fireworks, water balloons and being able to burp the alphabet can be major game changers. So parents should always be packing.
If the child is over 12, chances are it is you who is being the jerk for trying to hang with him or her.
Allan Nicholls, Huntington
Child: David, 6; Flown the coop: Andrew, 26, and John, 28
Well, my initial response is that I don't tell the dad ... [my wife] does. Why? Because she may not have to deal with the fellow in other circumstances, whereas I might. But that's kind of a cop-out response.
If I wanted to be responsible, honest and wise (using my experience as a father of three sons over a period of the last 28 years), I would have to say that a sit-down, face-to-face confrontation with the parent would be the method I would choose. I would look him (or her) in the eye and say something like "your child is disruptive, unkind and unfair, and I think you had better face that fact and do something about it before he finds him- (or her-) self alone during this vital period of his (or her) life." I would then go on and explain how I have come to this conclusion, citing the bullying, name calling or whatever crime brought me to this place, and hope and pray that the parent would grasp the serious nature of the situation and deal with their "jerk" child.
But, if you want to know, in all honestly, what I have done — I have usually skipped this part where I confront the parent and simply dealt directly with the child (usually chastising) in the hopes that he (or she) responds positively and never reveals the incident to their parent.