Friday, January 18, 2019

Neighborly Tattling Or Not

The neighbor kids tend to play in our front lawn a little bit. Not a big deal. The other day, however, one of our Christmas decorations was destroyed. I asked my own kids if they had been in front at all (they hadn't), which was confirmed when I watched some surveillance video. I know the neighbor kids broke the decoration (even if it's just out of view), and the neighbor kids know, but it's still more complicated than all that.

Proof
First off, I don't want to make other parents feel as if I'm criticizing them. I dealt with enough parents as a teacher to know better. My neighbor kids are not bad, in general, and it was probably their friend who did the damage, but me accusing the neighbors of anything is tricky, even if the video shows two boys pretend sword fighting within a couple of feet of the decoration. Still, I don't have definitive proof, and if the kids have already decided to withhold information in order to stay out of trouble, I predict lying might happen. Then you have the question of whether or not a neighbor you barely know believes you or their own child.

Philosophy



The kids were all over the yard, and I've seen this behavior when the parents are outside. That means the parents think it's OK, which I won't question. I used to play in my front yard as a kid, and it often spilled over into Mrs. Seif's yard. She wasn't using it for anything. I'd rather kids play than not play. We have a couple of little kids in the area that we never see. That seems mean. When kids play, things will get broken. Granted, the strip of yard owned by my neighbor next to my house is less than 10 feet wide, so it's pretty much playing in my front yard when it happens, but I still would rather have kids play than stream Youtube videos of other people playing video games. 

Options
My first option was to go over to the neighbor and tell him what happened. That's pretty bold for a $15 lawn ornament, and without absolute video proof. Even if he decided it was the right thing to pay me, it would be uncomfortable. Besides, my daughter paid for the item, not me, since I said we didn't need one. Not that I expect her to tattle, but it wasn't even my money. And maybe it's a good lesson for her that stuff gets broken and sometimes there's nothing that can be done. 

Another option was to just forgive and forget. That's hard to do, isn't it? You end up holding the grudge, and it festers. Then, when something else is broken, you know who you're going to blame. If people could really forgive and forget, this would be the WWJD, correct choice. (It's also the one I end up with if you keep reading.)

I chose the passive-aggressive option that I hoped would get the kid to fess up. We weren't actually looking for money. We were looking for honesty, and an apology to my daughter. I decided that we'd put a sign up next to it that read, "Please do not run this over again." It was a fairly small sign, but the device was close enough to the property line that I assume the kid saw the sign. I figured guilt would get to him, even if he never read the words. He'd know that someone had discovered his secret. Or maybe one of the parents would see it and ask.

Results
Nothing. I take it the kid never confessed. I'm not sure if he ever read the sign. The parents never asked about the sign. Alright, not nothing. I used it as a teachable moment for my own kids. If you destroy something, you have to let us know. Even if you know you can get away with it. Whether it's at home, a neighbor's, or at school. If you are responsible for hurting someone else, then you take responsibility. 

Back when I was teaching, there were a lot of parents who had excuses for me. Their kids grew up never having to take responsibility. It was either someone else's fault or just not theirs. If and when my kids admit to doing something wrong, I want them to realize that it was their own actions that led to the problem. I'll pay for the damages, and they'll be punished. Pretty simple, as long as they follow my advice. Mostly, I don't want to take too much credit for what my kids do well, but I also don't want to make excuses for them when they fail. 

I ended up paying my daughter back for half of the yard ornament. I'm not sure if that's right, but I don't want her to harbor bad feelings for the neighbor kid. I told her that kids often think that getting away with something is better than getting caught, and if this kid is happy with his decision, then he is probably behaving in a way that's already been reinforced in his house. That means any apology would really be insincere, since the only sorrow is in getting caught.

Besides, it's just as much our fault as parents. We're not outside developing relationships with these parents, their kids,  and other neighbors. I tried, to some extent, but it seems like the typical suburban world of waving and ignoring the other humans 60 feet away has mostly prevailed. And that's probably a good part of what leads to kids feeling like they can get away with breaking something on their neighbors' property. It's also why people act surprised on the news when there's a meth lab across the street. I'm pretty sure if you met and talked to your meth-cooking neighbors, it wouldn't surprise you to see the police roll on them.