Viewpoint: What to Do about Bullying and Fighting: Not My Kid

My dog and I regularly walk by Palisades Garden Café on our loop through town. My pooch particularly likes to go by the picnic tables on the sidewalk (along La Cruz), in hopes of securing an errant French fry on the ground.

After school, the place is packed with kids, grade school through high school. I love the enthusiasm and youthful energy they radiate. Owner James Kwan has a good business model with reasonably priced food that ranges from super healthy salads and fruits to doughnuts and pastries.

Last month, as the dog and I walked by, one kid brushed another kid on the head in an aggressive move. The second kid backed up. The boy followed him and shoved him. The kid was picking a fight.

What’s the proper response?

I didn’t have to think about it that day; I had already figured that out when my three kids, who are now adults, were toddlers.

I had put them to bed and took the opportunity, with my husband at home, to run to Ralphs to go grocery shopping.

Unencumbered, I swooped down aisles and in the cleaning section I came across two boys—probably 12 or 13. Odd, why would boys be in the cleaning aisle?

I slowed down and one of them was holding up a room spray and explaining to the other you could get a high by inhaling it. The other was making a choice between two different scents.

What to do? Do I say something to the kids? Do I tell the clerk? Do I let it go? Is it my business? I didn’t know.

When I went to check out, the man in front of me was stacking groceries on the belt and the two boys came up and put the aerosol with his stuff.

I asked myself, “If I were the parent, would I want to know what these boys are going to do?”

The answer was yes.

I pulled the man aside and told him what I had heard.

Once you understand that adults are here, not to be friends to kids, but to help raise them, the proper response is easy.

When I saw the kid picking the fight near the café there was no hesitation, I shouted, “Stop it,” and walked between them. The aggressor looked at me and then moved off.

When I see a “pack” of kids, I always think of the novel by William Golding, “Lord of the Flies,” in which prepubescent males are stranded on an island and the bullying becomes awful for the kid named Piggy. The theme of the novel is the conflict between civilization and man’s savagery.

So, I wasn’t surprised when I saw the posting on Nextdoor that described a mom’s anguish of her 12-year-old son being bullied on La Cruz. When her son refused to hand over his money, the bully came back with other kids to try to take it. The kid contacted a guard nearby.

I can tell the mom, from my experience with my son being bullied, it won’t end with this episode.

She asked, “Why is this happening in the Palisades?” and then concluded: “The intent of this post is not to bash a beloved local small business, our community, or my fellow parents. Rather, it is a mother’s passionate plea. Sometimes, ‘kids will be kids’ is not good enough. We can do better.”

Large groups of kids go to the Rec Center after school on Fridays, there is smoking and drinking. One person on Nextdoor wrote, “The kids just vape and roll in mobs all about now. The fact that there are multiple parents and families in this community that condone/ignore/allow this behavior every Friday is unimaginable.

“Show some concern for your child’s developing brain please,” the person continued. “Marijuana concentrate is 50-100 times the strength. We are witnessing some serious “failure to launch” children here. It takes one to know one, I had my problems growing up here and it took me my entire early adult life to get it together. More than anything it’s sad. Parents wake up!”

Another person wrote, “It’s not Garden Cafe’s job to parent people’s kids” and pointed out that parents don’t want to be the “bad guy” that they don’t want to parent their kids by telling them “no.”

When my children were in preschool at Circle of Children, parents were schooled of the need for rules and boundaries.

As the teachers explained, you can drive across a bridge without railings, but you feel more secure if you know there are railings “rules” in place.

When my children were in middle school, I read that my child could find lots of friends, but I was the only parent they would have – and that I should find my own friends and not expect my child to be my confident.

So, I ask middle school parents (and some from the local elementary school) to stop by after school some Friday and have a cup of coffee and enjoy the scenery.

If someone is acting out, be the parent that is needed.

Or, take a walk to the park and help the Rec Center employees by stepping in if it is needed.

Children of all ages need to know someone cares and someone is in charge. Moral behavior needs to be taught to children – by all adults.


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5 Responses to Viewpoint: What to Do about Bullying and Fighting: Not My Kid

  1. M says:

    Well said, Sue –

  2. david peterson says:

    Your observations and conclusions are both eloquent and spot on. As responsible adults and as responsible members of our community there are times that we have to intercede when the young members of the community are misbehaving. Thank you for this message.

  3. Ruth W. Mills says:

    Sue, I strongly agree with you. As a teacher, I take my responsibility of “civilizing” my high schoolers very seriously, insisting on acceptable behavior in my classroom. This means no talking after the bell rings; no communication of any kind during tests; no phones visible or audible (cell phones must be OFF and stowed in the “phone pockets” on the wall of my classroom); and most importantly, civil behavior toward each other and the teacher. I keep three questions on my chalkboard: “Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?” If a student is about to say something to or about another person, and the answer to any of the three questions is “yes,” the remark should not be made.

    It takes constant effort to maintain decorum in a high school classroom, but I make that effort because I believe the most important job I have is to help my students become better people, whether they are in my classroom–or indeed, still high school students–or not. They need to learn, especially if they have not learned it elsewhere, what it means to be a cooperative member of a classroom or of society. Most of my students quickly comply with my requirements for civility. A few students, however, clearly believe that they are entitled to do or say whatever they want, and indeed, a few parents, when I have insisted on high standards for their son or daughter, have shown me their own sense of entitlement, making it easy to see why their children display the behavior they do.

    It would be so much easier simply to allow my students to behave their way. I know that parenting is even more of a struggle than teaching, having raised children of my own. I know how much harder it is to say “no” than to say “yes,” and how tempting it is simply to look the other way when behavior is not up to my standards. However, every year I am confirmed in my insistence on civility, when my students sign my yearbook in June. Student comments such as, “I have learned more in your class than in any other,” “You keep the class organized so we can learn,” and even, “At first I thought you were mean, but later I realized that you really care about each of your students, and I appreciate your approach so much,” are common and validating.

    The misbehavior of children in groups is nothing new, nor is the apparent absence of parenting. However, that does not mean it is acceptable for parents to abdicate control of their offspring, allowing them to roam wherever they want in town, behaving in ways that are harmful to themselves, to other children, and to the town itself. If I were queen of the world, I would make sure every parent insisted that children come home or go to a pre-arranged, supervised, safe place after school where they could get a snack, do homework, and not inflict bad behavior on the community. I know I sound like a dinosaur, but I’ve seen the result of indifferent parenting all my life. I wish Palisades parents and those everywhere would really work at the most important job they will ever have: raising responsible, respectful ADULTS who have learned that their parents’ insistence on civility is a sign of love.


    Ruth W. Mills
    Teacher, Palisades Charter High School
    Pali alumna, class of 1970

  4. Cheryel Kanan says:

    So true! Well said.

  5. M says:

    EXTREMELY WELL SAID! I too have witnessed the bad conduct, foul language and rudeness of a small majority of Palisades students….

    It is NOT a mark against anyone to practice good manners of every kind. It is a PLUS….
    Young people who use foul language, are rude, obnoxious, cruel and indifferent to others
    seem to be saying “see me”…….well, they ARE seen, but is this how they truly want others to remember them? Ummm…

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