After kids have a fight — an all-out fistfight, that is — there are two types of children who disperse when it’s all over and head home to their parents. The first group — the ones doing the actual fighting — can typically expect some more trouble when their parents see firsthand what they’ve been up to.
The second group — the onlookers — head home and are typically grilled as to their level of involvement in the dustup, because we usually try to teach kids that if there’s a fight, they ought to stay out of it. Find an adult if you can, but don’t even think about jumping into the fray.
That’s just common sense, and yet a group of parents is seething in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, because their children were arrested for not jumping in to break up the flying fists. Oh yeah, and one of those kids who now has a big, fat “criminal” stamp in his record?
After watching a video of a neighborhood brawl, Murfreesboro police officers ended up arresting five children between the ages of 6 and 10 years old for failing to properly intervene at the kids’ elementary school in front of all their peers. It’s hard to imagine a situation so absurd: Handcuffs coming out in the middle of circle time or flash cards? Over a neighborhood altercation?
Even if these children were the ones doing the fighting, the punishment would still be way too severe, but what makes this situation particularly baffling is that these kids were arrested for not stepping in. There’s no word on whether they went to find a grown-up to break up the fray, but even that hardly seems criminal.
Kid fights draw crowds. It’s even a Disney Channel staple — a challenge to meet up after school, followed by a ring of cheering, bloodthirsty elementary schoolers surrounding the brawling pair. Usually Mirandizing the onlookers isn’t part of the script.
That’s not to say that kid fights are right or cute. They’re not, of course, but they do happen. It would be massively irresponsible for parents to go around telling their children to try to block a left hook that isn’t aimed at their own, actual face.
Jumping into a fight is more likely to get extra people hurt or escalate the entire altercation until it’s a bunch of kids pummeling one another and not just one pair. In no way, shape or form is it a child’s responsibility to try to resolve peer conflict when that means they’d almost certainly get hurt. Especially a 6-year-old, who is hardly in the position to use either physical force or a calm, rational voice to talk down older kids who are intent on hurting each other.
The only way a child should be expected to step in is by proxy. That is, running to find an adult who can de-escalate the situation properly. This is something that takes a while to learn.
Adults aren’t even particularly spectacular at being good Samaritans every single time they see someone who needs help. So it’s reasonable to expect that kids will need a little coaxing when you’re attempting to convince them to tell on a child who has no qualms about using violence to solve his or her problems.
If your kid knows better but fails to do that — especially if they’re, oh, gee, 6 and maybe don’t have a whole lot of experience even being alive for very long — then that’s an opportunity to have a conversation with them about standing up for what’s wrong. A conversation about staying calm and not fueling the fire. Let’s not get to the point where we have to have conversations that end with, “And remember, don’t talk to the police until you call Mommy, Daddy and a lawyer first, OK sweetie?”