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Friday, April 18, 2014

Breaking bad behavior

Last week's column on speaking out against obnoxious or dangerous acts by kids struck a chord.

BY SUZANNE PEREZ TOBIAS
The Wichita Eagle

Sounds like there are lots of grownups out there who are learning to embrace their inner Clint Eastwoods. Last week's column, in which I admitted that I sometimes speak out against littering, jaywalking and other forms of obnoxious or dangerous kid behavior, struck a chord with readers.

I figured I'd hear from at least a few people who'd accuse me of being unreasonable or intolerant. They'd say I was stodgy or hated kids, like Eastwood's Walt Kowalski in "Gran Torino." Perhaps they'd tell me to mind my own business.

What I heard instead were dozens and dozens of "amens" and "bravos."

As I discovered several years ago when I wrote about inconsiderate stroller drivers, there's an ocean of frustration simmering out there, much of it aimed at parents who set poor examples or don't correct their children.

"I thought I was the only parent who believed as you do," Zandra McIntosh wrote in an e-mail. "I always 'embarrassed' my kids by opening my mouth, but my kids knew right from wrong. ... Keep up the good work."

A reader named Carol left a voice mail that began, "I appreciate young moms like yourself for recognizing issues that are not good in children and having guts enough to do something about it."

See how she called me young? I love Carol.

"I try to do the same with a pleasant face and pleasant voice, but my goodness," Carol continued. "I'm very dismayed about how many parents let their children run around and scream in public places."

One of my favorite calls was from a woman named Dorothy, who said my story about politely asking a child to pick up his trash reminded her of a similar incident years ago, when she was driving her teenagers to school.

A boy brazenly darted out in front of her car, she said. When she honked her horn and urged him to be careful, he spit on her windshield.

"I was irate," Dorothy said. "So I followed him until I could pull in front of him and stop him, and I made him clean my windshield.

"My kids were hiding down below the seats, they were so embarrassed," she said. "But I figured he'd never do that again. Or maybe he would, but I hope that whoever he did it to would make him clean their windshield."

A former teacher named Suzanne said she "never knew if it was the mom or the teacher coming out" when she'd correct misbehavior. "Now it's the grandmother," she said.

"I have chided running children in the mall, advised moms in the grocery store that a child standing in the basket is dangerous, rescued wandering toddlers, you name it," she wrote in an e-mail. "My own children have been mortified many a time!"

As I mentioned last week, my children often roll their eyes or hide their faces when I say something to their classmate or a stranger. But they do the same thing whenever I sing aloud, use teen lingo or dance in public, so what's a little more embarrassment for the good of the village?

Several readers said they've been tempted to speak out against rudeness but hesitate because they fear how the offending child or parent will react. Some said they were surprised the kids mentioned in my column didn't cuss at me, make obscene gestures or worse.

One online reader said she once saw two youngsters stuffing their pockets with gum and mints in a grocery store checkout line. The mom was turned away, unaware.

When the reader approached the mom to tell her what the boys were doing, the mom told the bystander, "I don't need you telling me how to raise my kids!"

Yikes. That's too bad.

Said the reader: "I can live with myself just fine knowing that I tried to bring the problem to her attention."

Online reader "caitcait08," who works at a hardware store, recalled retrieving a 3- or 4-year-old girl who had climbed to the top of the store's tall ladder without her mom noticing.

"The mother was grateful but also embarrassed," the reader wrote. "Sometimes if we don't intervene, worse things can happen than someone thinking you're a crabby person."

That's the message I hoped to deliver last week: Nobody's perfect, including my two children, but my husband and I try to teach them right from wrong and how to behave properly in public. When my kids make a mistake, I appreciate people who gently correct them. If I'm around, I thank those people; if not, I'm nonetheless grateful.

Among the dozens of calls and e-mails I received was one from an Augusta woman named Judy. She said she's usually the silent bystander who mutters under her breath and then thanks the rare person who opts to speak up.

"Hope to be the one saying something next time," she said.

Atta' girl, Judy.

Welcome to the village.

Reach Suzanne Perez Tobias at 316-268-6567 or stobias@wichitaeagle.com. At Kansas.com Visit this story at Kansas.com to read Suzanne Tobias' column from last week.

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