What if We Could Predict Future Crimes? Bad, Bad Idea

Wouldn’t it be great if we could accurately predict which kids will grow up to be criminals? Maybe, maybe not. If you saw the Tom Cruise movie “Minority Report,” you know the potential pitfalls (more on that in a sec). But two different groups of researchers released studies this week that purport to be able to ferret out those bad seeds before they turn aggressive, violent, or commit crimes. Personally, I’m scared. And you should be too.
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When Good Teens Go Bad

Our 18-year-old son just got arrested. He’s been in trouble with the law before and never did well in school. His mother and I know he’s responsible for his own actions, but we can’t help blaming ourselves. We feel like failures as parents. Where did we go wrong and what can we do for our son?

Parenting an adolescent isn’t a particularly easy thing to do even under the rosiest of circumstances. Having a healthy, well-adjusted, top-performing, polite, well-groomed, socially conscious teen would certainly make the process more enjoyable for everyone, but what if, despite all the wonderful things you’ve done for him, he turns out the very opposite?
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The Trouble with Other People’s Kids

Dear Mr. Dad: Is it ever appropriate to discipline other people’s children? My 7-year-old daughter often invites one of her classmates to our home. I don’t mind, but this girl is a terror and does things (like jumping on furniture) that my child is not allowed to. I spoke to her mom about it but she just laughed and said, “Allie is a very lively girl.” How can I handle this situation without depriving my daughter of her friend’s company?

A: There’s a difference between disciplining children while their parents are present, and a situation like yours, when a child is dropped off at your house and left in your care.

Generally speaking, if a parent is present, it is up to him or her to ensure that their children are not misbehaving—and to discipline them if and when necessary. There are, of course, some exceptions. Say another child is acting aggressively at a playground and pushing yours off the swings or slide. In an ideal world, the offending kid’s parent would immediately react and remove the child from the playground. But what if the parent is ignoring the child’s behavior? At that point,, you certainly have the right (and, in my view, the responsibility) to step in and do what you need to do (without hurting the other child, of course), to protect your daughter from harm.

The same would apply if a child was doing something to harm another kid—not yours—at the park or anywhere else. When someone is in danger of harming themselves or anyone else, as a responsible adult, you must step in. Think how bad you’d feel if something tragic were to happen that you know you could have prevented.

It’s a pity that Allie’s mom laughs off her daughter’s behavior, missing the opportunity to teach her child some basic lessons in courtesy and respect. I’m betting that little Allie has very lenient (if any) rules at home, and hasn’t learned how to behave in other people’s homes. At seven, though, she should certainly know what’s acceptable behavior and what isn’t.

It goes without saying that in your home, Allie should follow your rules. (It’d be the same with adult visitors: If you have a non-smoking household, you have every right to demand that your guests either respect your rules or leave.)

The next time Allie (or another child) comes for a play date, be very clear about what the rules are. Of course, you don’t want to be overly strict (after all, she’s there to have fun), but the children’s safety and your comfort should be your priority. It’s absolutely reasonable to expect that visitors—whether they’re kids, adults, or pets—not jump on your furniture, yell, make a mess (without cleaning up afterwards), or turn on the TV without asking first.

If Allie keeps breaking the rules, you have every right to discipline her by telling her that this kind of behavior is not acceptable in your home, and she has to stop. Be calm but firm. But never shout at someone else’s child. You might also want to include your daughter in the warning if she’s involved in the activity too.

If you ‘re consistent in reminding Allie what the rules are, chances are she’ll start to follow them, even if they’re different from what she’s allowed to do in her own home. Of course, if she continues to misbehave—especially if she’s endangering or harming your child, or damaging your belonging—it might just be time for your daughter to find some other, better-behaved playmates.

Grandma Hates Babysitting

Dear Mr. Dad: I have two grandchildren, ages 4 and 6. I love them dearly but really don’t enjoy babysitting. They run around, climb on the furniture, break things, and generally wreak havoc in my house. It takes me a good hour to child-proof the house before my daughter drops them off and then another hour to put everything back. I’m exhausted! How can I be a good grandma and enjoy time with the kids?

A: Let’s start by defining “good grandma.” I’d say that taking two little terrors into your house and keeping them entertained for hours on end without getting paid for it—more than once—is a good start.

Another important ingredient is the desire to be a regular part of their lives. The foundation you’re laying now will hopefully blossom into a close, nurturing relationship as your grandchildren get older. The trick is to find a way to turn those frustrating and infuriating visits into something more fun—for you and for them. They can definitely feel how tense you are when they’re around and they probably aren’t much happier to be at your house than you are to have them there.

One solution is to do your babysitting at your daughter’s house instead of yours. That way, you’ll save a few hours on the childproofing, and any property damage will be covered by your daughter’s homeowner’s policy, not yours. The downside is that children usually like spending time at their grandparents’ house. The rules there are often more lenient than in their own home, and they get to do things they wouldn’t do with mom and dad around. There’s something about sharing that feeling that helps strengthen the grandparent-grandchild bond.

You’ll need to establish some simple ground rules. Your grandkids are old enough to understand the difference between appropriate and inappropriate behavior. For example, at grandma’s house, there’s no jumping on furniture or touching things without asking first. Explain to them that you have to repair anything they break or damage, and that’ll cost you time and money. Remember, though, that kids sometimes break things accidentally, so keep anything valuable well out of reach. You can’t reasonably forbid them from touching everything in your house—that’s just not realistic.

As a workaround, do you have a room in your house that you could designate as a play space where the kids won’t have to worry about breaking or destroying anything? It doesn’t have to be fancy: a few pieces of child-friendly furniture, a table, some chairs, and a good assortment of age-appropriate toys, coloring books, arts and crafts supplies, blocks, and so on. If money’s an issue, you can probably get most of these items used at garage sales or on Craigslist.

Before each visit, think about what you’ll do while they’re there. Build in a good mix of indoor and outdoor, active and quiet, group and solo activities. Give them some choices, but don’t forget to include activities you enjoy. For example, my mom loves to draw and paint and she makes doing art a regular part of many of her visits with her grandchildren. My 7-year old’s maternal grandparents are avid bird watchers and they’ve taken her on many backyard outings. Do this now. It’ll be a lot harder to convince a tween or a teen to go to a museum with you if they’ve never done it before. But if it’s been a regular part of their routine, you may actually be able to get them to stop texting for a few minutes and enjoy the artwork.

Hey, Are You Spanking My Child?

Dear Mr. Dad: My mom watches my 3-year-old son while I work part-time. I appreciate her help but it bothers me that she spanks him when he misbehaves or disobeys. I’ve been meaning to speak with her about this, but have been holding off because I can’t afford to hire a babysitter and I don’t want to antagonize my mom. What do you suggest?

A: Boy, that’s a tough one. On one hand, it’s comforting—not to mention more convenient and less expensive—to have your son cared for by a loving relative while you’re at work. On the other, if you and your mom can’t reach an agreement on how to discipline your child, you’ve got a real problem—regardless of the financial savings or the convenience factor.
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Walking a Mile in Mom’s Shoes

Dear Mr. Dad: I’ve always resented my mother and thought she was a lousy parent. I saw only her negative side and was extremely critical and judgmental. But now that I’m a new mom myself, I see her in a different light and realize that her intentions were good. How do I make up for all the grief I’ve caused?

A: When it comes to admitting one’s mistakes and trying to make amends, being late is always better than never.

As children—and especially as teenagers and young adults—we tend to see our parents as too strict and old-fashioned. Close your eyes for a second and think back on how often you screamed things like, “I hate you!” or You just don’t understand me” or “I will never, ever be a parent like you!” Five times a day? More? All of us dream of having cool parents, the kind who would give us the freedom to act as we want, never interfere or criticize, never tell us what to do or impose rules. With criteria like that, it’s no wonder that the vast majority of moms and dads will fail miserably—at least in the eyes of their children.

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