We’ve all been there. A children’s birthday party, a soft play centre, a theme park or a friend’s house. One of the kids is acting up, but their parent appears oblivious. What do you do? Turn a blind eye? Or scold them like you would your own child?
I decided early on in my parenting years to adopt the blind eye approach. Unless the behaviour simply couldn’t be ignored, but even then a quiet word in the ear or a diversion attempt was as far as I’d take it. Kids shouldn’t get off with misbehaving, but if you start reprimanding those that don’t belong to you, you’re in for a whole world of trouble.
As 23-year-old Ryan Birtwell found out when he administered some washing-out-the-mouth-with-soap treatment to young Alfi Forsyth. Now, this may seem a rather extreme measure — not to mention old-fashioned — but you might feel less sympathy for 6-year-old Alfi when you hear that he swore at Birtwell after he stopped him kicking an old man’s walking stick in a park.
When Alfi’s parents found out he’d had a block of soap put into his unsavoury young mouth, they went to the police, and Birtwell ended up in Sunderland crown court. He was found guilty of battery, slapped with a 12-month conditional discharge, and ordered to pay £85 court costs and a £15 victim surcharge.
(In case you’re wondering, Birtwell didn’t walk around with a bar of soap in his pocket; after Alfi called him a “gay boy” and told him to “f*** off”, he went to the nearest shop, bought a pack of three and returned to the park to pin down the boy and dole out his punishment.)
It’s worth mentioning that Birtwell isn’t a parent himself. I wonder if his reaction would have been any different if he was. If I saw an unaccompanied child terrorising an elderly man in the park, I’d do something too. (Although the soap tactic is a little extreme.) And if it was my son kicking walking sticks and telling people to “f*** off”, I certainly wouldn’t have an issue with another adult having a few stern words in his ear.
In general, though, I don’t get involved with other people’s naughty kids. I have two of my own who demand the lion’s share of my attention and energy. It’s slightly different when you’re in sole charge of other children, but you still have to tread carefully. I don’t know many parents who would appreciate hearing that their little darling had spent the duration of a play date on the naughty step, however she behaved.
If all parents focused on raising their children to be kind, polite and respectful, there would be little need for other people to step in.