“I Can’t Believe You Took Your Eyes Off Your Kid at the Mall. That is Bad Parenting!”

Ah, the joy of telling a parent that YOU care so more than THEY do about their own kid. Nothing like that glimmering, shimmering sense of vengeance, hate and saintliness. It is with such an encounter that this wonderful piece by Bruce Grierson in Canada’s “Walrus” (it’s like their New Yorker) begins:

Colette Anderson and her five-year-old son were approaching the checkout line at a Save-On-Foods in North Vancouver when she realized they’d left her shopping list at the sushi place in the mall. A hundred metres away, just out of sight. “Would you mind going and grabbing it while I pay for these groceries?” she asked the tow-headed boy. Off he went.

Two minutes later, she spotted her son coming toward her. A middle-aged man was escorting him, his hand on the child’s shoulder. The boy disengaged himself and trotted over to his mother.

“I found him alone in the mall,” the man said.

“Uh-huh,” Anderson said.

“I can’t understand how you could just let him run off.”

“He didn’t ‘run off,’” Colette replied. “I sent him on an errand.”

“How old is he?”

“He’s five.”

“Anything could have happened to your child—anything,” he said. “That’s bad parenting.”

The man was talking loudly. Other shoppers had stopped what they were doing to tune in. Anderson could feel anger rising in her but made an effort to contain it.

“Thank you, but my son didn’t need you to rescue him,” she said. “He’s quite capable of running an errand on his own. That’s how kids grow up.”

The man stalked off. Anderson reassured the rattled boy that all was fine now. But a couple of minutes later, the stranger appeared again. “I just can’t let this go,” he said. “I can’t believe you’d be that irresponsible.”

As readers of this blog know, parents who trust their kids, their community and the actual statistical probability of unlikely events like stranger kidnapping (about two annually, in Canada) are routinely dissed by those who either believe the world is one big  Headline News. Grierson discusses how that misperception, allows people to almost luxuriate in hating on parents:

One aspect of the interaction with her confronter stays with Anderson the most: his rage. In 2010, Anthony Daniels, a former Birmingham prison physician who writes under the pseudonym Theodore Dalrymple, described the kind of snap judgment that causes a stranger to publicly dress down a parent as part of a “toxic cult of sentimentality.” The phenomenon has become so widespread that a whole category of viral videos has emerged featuring mothers who return to their cars after running short errands and find themselves furiously upbraided by strangers for having left their children unattended. According to Daniels’s argument, such bystanders love kids so much their feelings curdle into a “sentimental wrath”—or a self-righteous hatred—turning them from protectors into vigilantes. In such cases, scolding an offender produces a moral high.

And as you may recall, a UC Irvine study bore this out: The more danger we think a parent has put a kid in, the more we hate the parent. And the more we hate the parent — the more we find her immoral in her nonchalance — the more danger we actually perceive her kid to be in.

So earlier this week I got a note from a mom who was just on trial for letting her child sleep in the car while she bought supplies for his birthday party (what a negligent, uncaring mom!). She told me she’d explained to the jury that even if they didn’t agree with her actions, surely the actions weren’t criminal.

Ah, but the minute they didn’t agree with her actions, they most likely DID find her actions criminal, and gravely dangerous, too. It’s that, “I wouldn’t do what you did, so you are immoral, and the more immoral you are, the more danger you put your kids in, you criminal!” loop. (Admittedly, not a loop that trips off the tongue.)

Read the rest of the Walrus article for more blinding insights. And here’s my write-up of the UC Irvine study. And either way, let’s all resolve that this will be the year we try to give everyone a little more benefit of the doubt.

Maybe even the buttinskis.

Maybe. – L.

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Goodbye, child-at-the-mall!

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38 Responses to “I Can’t Believe You Took Your Eyes Off Your Kid at the Mall. That is Bad Parenting!”

  1. James December 23, 2016 at 12:55 pm #

    I disagree with the notion that these people love kids. To love something is to know and love its nature; to claim to love something while undermining and destroying its nature is abhorrent to any rational person. Children need to be given progressively more freedom as they grow, otherwise they can’t grow. What these people do is no different than placing children’s legs in permanent casts: it stops their development at an artificially low level. If we saw someone doing that, we would hardly accept love as a justification! We shouldn’t accept it when they attempt to stunt a child’s mind any more than if they attempt to stunt a child’s legs.

    This type of “love” is akin to the “love” a sociopath feels or feigns for his victims. It has nothing to do with the alleged object of the love, and everything to do with inflating the person’s own ego. That’s why the man “couldn’t let it go”. Even granted his twisted view of reality the child was safe with his mother. Safety–and the child–were not the issue. The man needed to tear down the mother, that was the important thing. Since this cannot possibly help either the mother or the child, the only conclusion is that he’s doing so to make himself feel big and important. That’s not love, it’s abuse.

    I’m reminded of the scene in graphic novel Transmetropolitan (the first book of which is free online, but DEFINITELY NOT safe for work!!) where a brutal police force attacked a minority slum (this is portrayed as unspeakably evil, but this graphic novel intentionally addressed such evil head-on). The attitude if the man in the story related in this post bears a striking resemblance to that scene.

    In contrast, I remember speaking to my mother about child safety. When my oldest was just learning to walk I asked my mother how she dealt with the risks her children took (my career has included events like being shot at, being stalked by mountain lions, and being in the blast zone of a rocket; it was a legitimate question!). She said “Remember, we’re all going to die one day. It’s far better to die doing what you love than cowering in fear.” She understood that we have to live our own lives, and that the role of a parent is to prepare children for that task. And that means letting us have the freedom necessary to learn how to interact with the world. Not all at once, of course, but in a rational and sane manner. THAT is love: swallowing your own fear and letting your children do what’s necessary.

  2. M December 23, 2016 at 1:14 pm #

    When he came back to confront her again, it would be terribly tempting to simply start shouting “This man touched my child! He is a pedophile! He’s stalking us! Keep him away!” Except I wouldn’t do that to my kid. Although I might ask loudly why he is following us and state his behavior is inappropriate. Which is totally true.

    Poor woman. It’s hard to know the right thing to do in those situations.

  3. Papilio December 23, 2016 at 1:21 pm #

    “Congratulations, you’re scaring my child. Are you proud of yourself now?”

  4. Mel December 23, 2016 at 1:28 pm #

    I think that there is a way to handle these situations. It is how you approach a parent is the important factor and what you say. The idea is to make a point that I found your child and I am happy that I did because who knows what person could have abducted him. He is safe now but be careful when you are areas such as a mall where there are so many people around that your child may not be safe. To me, you are not judging the parent but being prudent about what could happen. You have to stop right there. You made your point and hopefully the parent will reconsider that they will be more careful from now on. Personally I feel that a five year old child should not run errands where the parent cannot watch the child. For one thing, the child is too young and doing what the parent should do is to run the errand with their child. I notice the picture above and as long as the parent is there, you should be near your child so as to know their safe. How many times have seen children play without supervision. That is not good parenting.

  5. Warren December 23, 2016 at 1:31 pm #

    I don’t care how you approach me. You bring my kid back from doing what I have deemed acceptable and I will lean in and not so politely tell you where to go.

  6. Virginia December 23, 2016 at 1:37 pm #

    Saw this article in the Washington Post recently about perception of risk:

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2016/12/16/were-really-bad-at-judging-risk-to-kids-were-really-good-at-judging-parents/?utm_term=.736fd0438644

  7. Heather December 23, 2016 at 1:41 pm #

    In these situations, you’re always so flustered that you can’t do anything other than stand there gape-mouthed. However, if I had a chance to think it through ahead of time– it sure would be tempting to start shrieking “He touched my child! Somebody call mall security!” I mean… technically he DID touch the child… just not in the way that all the bystanders would be thinking. Security would come and grill him and maybe ruin his day, which would at least give a little satisfaction.

  8. Ron Skurat December 23, 2016 at 1:46 pm #

    In her place, if I had the presence of mind during the anger, I would have started raging at him about being a pervert and “I saw where you were touching my son.” Would’ve served him right.

  9. elysium December 23, 2016 at 1:54 pm #

    @Mel, you’re new here, aren’t you?

  10. Kimberly December 23, 2016 at 2:30 pm #

    I had my 10 yo niece and 7yo nephew at the beach. They needed to use the restroom. Not wanting to leave our stuff unattended I sent them together. Well they came back followed by a “mom” who objected to my7 yo nephew hanging around outside the women’s locker room! He was waiting for his sister, who was wearing a one piece so took a bit longer. She also said they weren’t old enough for that responsibility.

    My reply was that the state of Texas said my niece was past the age of reason and could held responsible if she made a choice to break the law and nephew had been using the bathroom on his own for years.

    The she said they were disrespectful for refusing to walk with her to a lifeguard stand when she found them alone. I asked niece and nephew did you refuse to walk off with a complete stranger and instead came back to were our family agreed to meet. Huge smiles . I told them to go swim. The lady tried to argue. So I told her she could leave us alone or we could involve the life guards. 2d option would start with me complaining about her admitted attemp to force minor children to go with her instead of back to their family – generally called attempted kidnapping. She sputtered but left. The families on either side of our blanket were laughing at her. The kids were rewarded for their good judgement with increased freedom.

  11. Renee Anne December 23, 2016 at 2:42 pm #

    I’ll admit this: I can get squicky about kids being left to do X, Y, or Z but, at the same time, unless that child appears to be in some sort of distress, I keep my damn nose out of it. Now, yes, in certain situations, I might actually check on the child and say, “hey, are you doing okay, do you need help, etc.?” and if they’re fine, I’m done. No need to drag the child back to wherever their parent is hanging about. I’ve sent my 6 year old to the bathroom at Target or Costco while we’ve been out because we were in line and he needed to go. He knows where it is, he knows what to do, and he knows to march his butt right back to me when he’s finished.

    Also, @Mel, you’re definitely new, aren’t you?

  12. Buffy December 23, 2016 at 3:07 pm #

    Mel, if your 5-year-old isn’t competent to walk 100 meters without you hovering in fear, there’s a problem. All you’re teaching him is that the world is a frightening place and that he can’t possibly learn to navigate it.

  13. Jessica December 23, 2016 at 3:10 pm #

    Renee Anne
    Yes I like what you said! Nobody has a right to expect the whole world to approve of their parenting all the time. But like you said, you keep your nose out of it! (Just like I have some friends whom I think are waaay too helicoptery, but unless they ask, I’m not going to lecture them about it. They can do as they damn well please with their own kids.)

  14. CrazyCatLady December 23, 2016 at 3:34 pm #

    When he came back the 2nd time, I would pull out my phone and say “You are harassing me and my child. I am calling the police.” Generally, the police side with the people who call them first. Which is what happened a couple of years ago where I live when a guy, saying he was a fire fighter, got two kids, ages 13 and 11 to leave the car that Mom left them in and go with him to find Mom in Walmart. She called the police, he got in trouble.

    When I leave my kids in the car, I tell them that if anyone asks them about being alone, they need to come in the store and find me. And lock the car doors.

  15. donald December 23, 2016 at 3:45 pm #

    There is a brief Utopic feeling that comes with condemning others.

    If you’re not a good swimmer and are struggling to breath, pull yourself up to have a quick gasp of air. Anything within reach will work. Grab a piece of driftwood, shove it down below the surface and enjoy the temporary relief.

    You can do the same with people. If you feel insecure, you can get temporary relief by condemning someone. Anyone will do. Don’t limit yourself by condemning only people that you can see. You can do it online. Some people call it cyberbully but what do they know? When I was in 3rd grade, Julie Walker stoled my lunch money. It’s my RIGHT to get back at someone.

    Mind your own business? What for? Other people’s business is much more interesting.

  16. DocHal December 23, 2016 at 5:06 pm #

    I was raised in Brownsville, Brooklyn (Rockaway and Livonia Avenues) in the 1950’s. You’re a New Yorker so you know the area. I walked to school (PS 175) with my brother (2 years older than me). Later I escorted my 3 years younger brother to school. Do you remember Hurricane Donna on the first day of school (1960) and they didn’t close the schools? I went without a parent. In the morning one of us would go by himself to the bakery to buy a fresh bread (Do you remember bakeries or butcher shops)? On Saturday we would walk to the to the Ambassador Movie Theater on Saratoga Avenue. We went out to play without our parents. Even back then the area was not what you consider safe (I lived on the borderline between 2 gangs but back then they weren’t the criminal enterprises they are today). I went to Betsy Head Pool or park (swings, monkey bars, no rubber mats underneath) by myself. I occasionally got hurt. No helicopter parenting! And I was disciplined with a strap or no dinner. Anyone raising their kid today like that would be thrown in jail and the kids taken away for child abuse. Kids were raised the way parents saw fit. I wasn’t kidnapped and I didn’t grow up a criminal, a drug addict, a sex fiend or a child abuser.

  17. Papilio December 23, 2016 at 5:22 pm #

    Before I forget: Merry Christmas to all of you Christians, heathens and heretics!* 😀

    *Before y’all get miffed: I’m a good non-Christian myself 😉

  18. Dienne December 23, 2016 at 7:22 pm #

    Weren’t the play areas originally put in the malls so that kids could play while their parents shopped? At least, that’s what we did when I was a kid. No one thought a thing about it. Granted, I was probably 6 to 10 at the time and nowadays you can’t even have a kid over 40 inches at the play area, so they’re mostly for the 4 and under set. Big kids are scary, dontcha know.

  19. James Pollock December 23, 2016 at 8:10 pm #

    While it is true that either A) a parent may unintentionally place children in danger because of being preoccupied with something else, and B) circumstances may create a danger to children regardless of the parent’s actions, these are so rare that usually anyone who sees either will try to take action (so, if you’re the only one concerned, there probably isn’t something to be concerned about. Children alone in a car which is moving? That’s a problem. Children alone in a car which is not? probably not.)

    I think what we’ve lost is the ability to tell the difference between children who are distressed and children who are not. In ye olden days, it was easy: kids who needed help asked for it, and kids who didn’t need help didn’t. Now, it’s harder, because even kids who do need help are intimidated by the prospect of talking to strangers (I mean, even the ones who HAVEN’T been indoctrinated that all strangers are child-stealing criminal perverts.)
    I figure we’re within a decade of all children routinely having cellphones from the age of about five, though, so they’ll pretty much ALWAYS be able to summon mom or dad.)

  20. sexhysteria December 24, 2016 at 3:39 am #

    Simply disagreeing with other people doesn’t make you a criminal? That’s a radical idea nowadays.

  21. JL December 24, 2016 at 11:56 am #

    Last night, all the local news stations were reporting a 6 year old girl being kidnapped from a local mall and an Amber Alert was issued. They showed pictures of suspects and their car and gave a description of the girl. Stuff like that terrifies parents. Today it was reported that the kidnapping was a hoax. Parents will still remember their fear and act accordingly.

  22. hineata December 24, 2016 at 4:14 pm #

    @Papilio – Merry Christmas back at you, and I’m a genuine fundy holy roller, so feel free to get miffed ☺☺. Seriously, hope y’all have a great day as it rolls around for you ☺.

  23. Craig December 24, 2016 at 4:42 pm #

    The very first comment on this article by @James said it perfectly. He is dead on.

    I will argue that helicoptering is a form of severe child abuse, more so than even physical or sexual abuse (although I am not diminishing either of those). I have known many who suffered from physical and sexual abuse and while they had their issues they were by and large functional and in most respects healthy humans.

    Helicoptering abuse is more severe in that is so stunts the development of almost every aspect of the child such that they grow to become minimally functional humans. They are riddled by crippling anxiety at almost everything from leaving the house, to innocuous words people say, finding a job, going to school or really having to operate independently in the world at all.

    If that man in the story was truly concerned about that child’s well being, as i have said before, he would maybe keep an eye on him from a distance to see what he was doing, and make sure no harm came to him, see if he finds his mom again, and when he does move on. Maybe intervene if the child seems like he is in distress.

    It is narcissism that leads him to behave the way he did. A deep emptiness that he needs to temporarily fill by saying to a part of the world, “Look at me! I’m special and good for looking after this poor child and scolding the evil mom” If it can be done invisibly, it’s care, if it needs an audience and acknowledgement its narcissism. It is one of the biggest problems in the worlds these days.

  24. Call me Al December 24, 2016 at 8:46 pm #

    Following on from “I can’t believe you’d be that irresponsible”;

    Anderson: “I can only assume that something terrible befell you, or someone close to you, when a similar age to my son and whilst momentarily away from mother. I sympathize if that’s the case, bad things can and do happen, but that’s life, and extremely rarely in truth. What’s also life is growing up to be a capable and independent adult, and weighing up the pro’s and con’s, I would prefer my son to learn how to achieve tasks away from his mother for 2 minutes at 5 years old, than to be permanently relying on me as an adult.

    Alternatively, maybe you are battling personal demons? Perhaps this is about what you, personally, would like to do to my son if you felt you could ‘get away with it’, and you’re anger towards me is actually for allowing you to entertain such thoughts – for ‘putting temptation in your way’? Whichever the case, I am appalled that you consider my son to be of such little significance compared to your personal feelings, however well-intentioned they may be”.

    Maybe a case of that time-honoured tradition of ‘what I should have said/done’. He would have thought twice about interfering in future though.

  25. Reader Mathis December 25, 2016 at 2:11 am #

    Was the five year old able to bring the shopping back to the Mom with the old man attached to his shoulder?

  26. John B. December 25, 2016 at 11:00 am #

    Quote:

    “How many times have we seen children playing without supervision. That is not good parenting.”

    @Mel:

    Please tell me you’re joking, right?

  27. John B. December 25, 2016 at 11:08 am #

    Quote:

    “I would argue that helicoptering is a form of severe child abuse, more so than even physical or sexual abuse.”

    @Craig:

    Very gutsy thing to say Craig but you know what? I tend to agree with you here, in some cases anyway. Some of the helicoptering you see nowadays certainly falls to that level.

  28. Troutwaxer December 25, 2016 at 1:02 pm #

    “I would argue that helicoptering is a form of severe child abuse, more so than even physical or sexual abuse.”

    Absolutely. This is almost perfectly said. You just need to remove the “I would argue that,” capitalize the “H” in “Helicoptering” and straight out say it!

  29. Papilio December 25, 2016 at 8:56 pm #

    “and Happy Hanukkah”

    Okay okay! That too

  30. Jane Howard December 26, 2016 at 3:49 pm #

    Aggressive man threatening me = pepper spray.

  31. Steve December 27, 2016 at 1:51 pm #

    I’ve been teaching my son how to form a fist and throw a punch. He’s now 4 years old, very strong for his age lots of upper body strength thanks to lots of climbing, and has a very mean jab, I wouldn’t want to be punched in the balls by him.

    By the time he’s 5 years old I would expect him to take a guy like this down as soon as he put his hand on his shoulder. If he showed up with this guy I’d instruct him to defend himself and put all his strength into it and watch this man crumble.

  32. James December 27, 2016 at 3:01 pm #

    Mel, regardless of how you handle the situation you are interfering with the parent’s right to determine how to raise their children. There’s no polite way to say “You’re a bad parent”.

    Secondly, and more significantly: What do you think could happen? And what are the odds of it actually occurring? And what is your cut-off? If you can’t answer all three of these things in detail you’re fear-mongering.

    For me, the cut-off is “Is this more risky than going for a ride in the car?” If so, it’s worth considering. If not, obviously I don’t consider it a problem–I drive my kids in the car all the time. While there are a few mitigating conditions, by and large that’s what I consider a sensible approach to things. And the risk of a child being abducted by a stranger are so staggeringly low that worrying about it is less rational than worrying about lightning strikes.

    Finally, what makes you think that how you feel is a significant factor in my decision making process–or anyone else’s? What makes you so important that your feelings trump my considered opinions? Because like it or not, that’s exactly what you just stated: that your feelings are more important than my logic when it comes to my family. I don’t mean this question to be hostile, though it’s hard to write it otherwise–I genuinely want to know.

  33. Steve December 27, 2016 at 3:37 pm #

    “Mel, regardless of how you handle the situation you are interfering with the parent’s right to determine how to raise their children. There’s no polite way to say “You’re a bad parent”.”

    Yet there are times when its ok to interfere with a parents right to determine how to raise their children. Like if they want to raise their children by keeping their 3 year old daughter in a box. True story.

  34. Amy December 27, 2016 at 9:12 pm #

    I think a lot of the problem is that people forget that children are people. They either have no rights at all or are treated like expensive crystal that you’re afraid to break. And the hypocrisy is amazing. Going back to that story about the mayor who said only “children” above sixteen should go outside on their own because they could be abducted: If that same 15 year old were to commit a crime while they were out on the streets where they were vulnerable, they’re suddenly adults and can get a life sentence with other adults? Another example: If my boyfriend were to leave me in the car while he ran into the store and somebody were to abduct me (no I could not fight an attacker) would anybody dream of blaming my boyfriend? So (god forbid) that awfully rare thing would happen to a child, why would we blame the parent? In the example above, no it’s not okay or legal to lock a kid in a box. Because it’s not okay to lock a PERSON in a box. We could all benefit from children being recognized as people in regards to what they can and can’t do with a few common sense exceptions when it comes to developmental differences. But alas, common sense lacks, and children don’t develop into adults over time but instead just magically come out of their cocoon on some arbitrary birthday. A PERSON who is developmentally able to walk 100 ft would not be harassed. Why would a developmentally able 5 year old be?

  35. James Pollock December 28, 2016 at 2:34 am #

    “Finally, what makes you think that how you feel is a significant factor in my decision making process–or anyone else’s? What makes you so important that your feelings trump my considered opinions? Because like it or not, that’s exactly what you just stated: that your feelings are more important than my logic when it comes to my family.”

    Well, I know that parents can be fallible, and make mistakes. I know that I made mistakes when raising my offspring unit, and on several occasions someone else intervened and assisted me to correct an oversight. (My daughter was a climber, and needed parental assistance in differentiating between “things that are OK to climb on” from “things that are not to be climbed on”)

    This is not to say that my opinion on anything is always better than anyone else’s, but at any given time and place, it MIGHT be, and the more serious the potential impact, the more likely you are to hear me raise an alarm. Maybe start by assuming I’m trying to alert you to something you might not be aware of rather than assuming I’m judging your parental capability when I ask if your kids should be playing so close to the highway, or whatever it is that caused me to try to get your attention in the first place.

    “Mel, regardless of how you handle the situation you are interfering with the parent’s right to determine how to raise their children. There’s no polite way to say “You’re a bad parent”
    There’s a polite way to do everything.

  36. Steve December 28, 2016 at 3:10 pm #

    Actually, I think the stranger committed common assault:
    https://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Canadian_Criminal_Law/Offences/Common_Assault

    ‘he attempts or threatens, by an act or a gesture, to apply force to another person, if he has, or causes that other person to believe on reasonable grounds that he has, present ability to effect his purpose’

    From the article:
    ‘A middle-aged man was escorting him, his hand on the child’s shoulder. ‘

    on a minor…

    Further,
    ’34. (1) Every one who is unlawfully assaulted without having provoked the assault is justified in repelling force by force if the force he uses is not intended to cause death or grievous bodily harm and is no more than is necessary to enable him to defend himself.’

    The kid could reasonably assume that some stranger making him go with them at the mall is up to no good and is totally reasonable in defending himself. A jab in the balls from a 5 year old is hardly likely to cause death or grievous bodily harm.

    Train your children.

  37. Maggie Reigh January 4, 2017 at 6:26 pm #

    Psychologist and author of Raising Self-Reliant Children in a Self-Indulgent World, Stephen Glenn, says that we humans are the only species that put our young at risk by not allowing them to take the risks that help them develop the survival skills they need in life! Thank you, Lenore for championing the rights of children to develop the skills they need through risk taking. Hopefully adults will wake up to the REAL life danger of not giving them a chance to develop such skills.

  38. Nicoe January 4, 2017 at 8:47 pm #

    He’s sounds like an ass why not just ask the child where he’s going and walk with him. Why make a fuss over nothing.