What Would You Have Done: Teenagers at the Park

– Posted in: Bullying, Elfie, Kid Friends, Mean People, Newt, Parenting

I’m coming to the realization that one of the worst feelings in the world is powerlessness. I felt it when we were coming back from Mexico and the mean TSA agent took my kid’s water bottle for no good reason. And the other day, I felt it at the park.

Elfie (9), Newt (almost 11), and their friend were on the three-story play structure when a group of 15-ish-year-olds invaded. The teenagers proceeded to play a game of tag that covered every surface of the place. Basically picture being confronted with a gang of ten, adult-sized people who are running, leaping, climbing, dodging, screaming, and cussing their way around a jungle gym.

The tiniest kids quickly made for the hills. Mine sort of edged away. Elfie, ever the anthropologist, hung out on a landing and observed the madness. She reported back to me later that most of them smoked (because all but one of them smelled), and the teenager everybody called “the good kid” was the best athlete.

Just as an aside, I know that all teenagers aren’t like these kids. There was actually another kid their age at the park with his little sister, and he seemed visibly disgusted by the group. I’m not one of those people who thinks the world is going to hell in a handbasket because all the youth of today play too much Grand Theft Auto and listen to rap music (although I can’t claim to enjoy rap — it mainly just hurts my head).

But some kids aren’t nice. And it was already clearly established that these people were big, strong, and not terribly concerned about the safety of others. So I just sat there. Dying to do something. Dying to walk over and say, “Hey! There are little kids here. Settle down. And watch your language.” But I was texting with my good friend at the time — who happens to be a professional mediator — and she talked me down. She told me to just let it go and leave.

Me: You’re right. It just feels like I’m telling the kids it’s okay to let a bunch of people come in and push everyone else around.

Her: It’s not okay. But you’re also teaching the kids about walking away, which sometimes is the best route. You can’t fix everybody.

So I sat there and held my tongue along with all the other parents. Including, incidentally, the teenagers’ parents (who were all there…).

My kids and their friend seemed no worse for wear. I stayed mellow and they stayed mellow. We finally went to a different section of the park and then left.

But I’m wondering:

  • Would the rest of you done the same thing? Would you have said something or just walked away? Was this more than just disciplining someone else’s kids?

And because I was mulling this over for a day, my latent Psych 101 came out, and this thought popped up:

  • As I was describing this scenario, did you assign different races and genders to the kids I described? In your mind how did you picture the “mean” kids, the “good” kid, and the boy with the sister?

You might be interested to know that the group of kids was white. All of them were boys except for one girl. The “good” kid, who I don’t think was with them, appeared to be East Indian. And the boy with the sister was Latino.

If I heard this story, I can’t say for sure what would’ve come to mind. I like to say I know with certainty, but I’d be lying. And that makes me ashamed and terribly sad.


Would YOU Have Stopped the Kids at this Playground?


22 Comments… add one

Cheryl S. October 29, 2013, 5:27 am

Okay, wow. This has happened to me. A lot. At our community park. But first, I pictured all of them white and I don’t know why. Perhaps it’s because when I’ve seen witnessed teenagers being disrespectful, and, well, teenagers (the good, the bad and the ugly), the rowdiest, unruliest ones with the most blatant disregard and disrespect tend to be white. Bring on the hate. I’m sorry…just my observation.

We went sledding at our neighborhood elementary school two winters ago when we finally had enough snow. It’s just a small hill, but the kids love it. Some teenagers showed up and were dropping mad language skills around the little ones. I couldn’t take it. I walked over and asked them to stop. They did. That’s rare.

This behavior isn’t related to just kids, though. We were out to dinner with my mom last Christmas and were in the lobby of a nice restaurant (BJ’s – not white tablecloth, but not cheap) and there were a group of young adult men, some military in uniform. They were dropping the F bomb, and loudly. My daughter could hear it, and worse? My mom. She HATES that word. And they were not lowering their voice. I asked them to knock it off and be respectful of others. And they did.

But my husband was there in both cases. I don’t know if I’d have done it if it were just me. I’d like to think I would.

I completely understand that feeling of powerlessness though, and it enrages me that our kids can’t play in the park without being stampeded. My husband joined our neighborhood watch partly for this reason. To keep the big kids out of the park after dark, so they wouldn’t light the slide on fire (which they did) or graffiti (which they did) or have sex and leave condoms on the ground (did, and did).

I live in a “nice” neighborhood. And yes, teens will be teens. I’m actually a little happy that they were running around playing anything that didn’t involved a t.v. and a remote, but they should be aware of where they stand in the time/space continuum and try to set a somewhat decent example for the little kids.

Tammy November 3, 2013, 11:46 pm

See, that’s the hard part. Should I be happy that these kids were at least outside? Am I a complete jerk for not encouraging them to be active? What a frickin’ disaster.

I think part of me feels disturbed by this because most of the time, people DO respond to reasonable people asking them in a reasonable way to stop doing something. And it seems like you should make the effort to change things. But then there are the rare times when someone goes all psycho like that scene in Brokeback Mountain and people get punched out at a fireworks show.

Cheryl S. October 29, 2013, 5:28 am

*was a group, not were

Tammy November 3, 2013, 11:47 pm

You’re really just as crazy as I am…

Ginger October 29, 2013, 6:22 am

This happens all the time at the park. As for confrontation…it usually depends on the group of teenage kids, and if I gauge them to be just being kids still and clueless to the world around them or completely rude and obnoxious for the sake of being mean and rude. Because I taught middle school, I usually feel pretty comfortable telling a group to disperse in a non-confrontational way that leaves everyone happy. I may have approached the “good” kid and said something like, “hey, do you think you can have you and your friends move this game somewhere else? There are a lot of little kids here and how you are playing is dangerous to them.” Generally though, I tend to gather my kids and leave. In fact the other day I was walking by the park near the house and there were three school buses parked in front with loads of high schoolers that had taken over the complete park…the kids were crawling all over the place…even the baby area was not free. We were not going to play, but the whole situation made me annoyed. Adults brought those kids there and were standing off in a circle to the side letting them go wild. And as for picturing the kid’s race..didn’t…just faceless bodies running and shouting everywhere…I’ve seen it all..kids will be kids no matter race.

Tammy November 3, 2013, 11:40 pm

Being a teacher really helps, doesn’t it. You guys have “magic voice.”

Kimberly October 29, 2013, 10:31 am

I’ve had this happen at several different parks. Only, my kids are much younger than Elfie and Newt (4, 3, and 1). I tend to ignore profanities. I don’t condone them, but I know that teenagers often cuss, and it’s a matter of choosing my battles. However, because my older two are now at the age where they can do a lot of independent climbing (with me observing from the sidelines, rather than hand-holding), I WILL say something if the kids get too rough around my kids.

My daughter got knocked down last summer by a 16-ish-year-old who was part of a group like the one you described. I went over and confronted him, in front of all of his buddies. “Excuse me, but you just knocked my daughter down. I know you want to have fun and I’m not trying to spoil that for you, but there are a lot of kids here who are much littler than you. I don’t mind if you guys play rougher, but please be considerate of the little ones. You could hurt one of them.” I chose to emphasize safety rather than the fact that their behavior may influence that of the younger kids. It seemed to work. The boy apologized to me, said he didn’t even notice that he’d bumped into my daughter, and asked which kid she was. I pointed her out, and he went over and apologized. In front of all of his teenage buddies.

Tammy November 3, 2013, 11:39 pm

Good tactic. And I do think that if you call most kids out, they end up responding well. The hard part in this was having the parents there, for one. The size of the group always makes it iffy, too. But you sound like you did a fantastic job. Exactly what I’d like to be like when I grow up.;)

heidiayarbe October 29, 2013, 11:43 am

Actually, I didn’t picture race until you asked, but once you posed the question “white” came to mind. This, however, is because we’ve been trained as readers to assume white unless described otherwise. And as writers we are, I hope, training ourselves to describe all characters equally. If you’re going to talk about midnight skin, talk about milky skin, too. (It’s a nerdy author thing). Interesting, anyway.
Yes. Walk away.
Pick your battles and some aren’t worth fighting. I think that’s a beautiful lesson your friend taught you. There’s power in just turning away from something and saying, “Enough.”

Tammy November 3, 2013, 11:37 pm

I thought it would be an interesting social experiment, especially without using any descriptions. Where do our minds start, what do we need to add detail? Yes, nerdy author thing.

And yes, some battles aren’t worth fighting.

Claire October 29, 2013, 6:12 pm

Maybe I’m flat wimpy, but I’m a big proponent of personal safety and remaining (externally) calm. BTW, my prejudice led to picturing all boys, color was secondary, but went for white based on your city/state and a few other assumptions.

Tammy November 3, 2013, 11:34 pm

To be honest, personal safety came to mind. Sad to say, but these folks didn’t seem to be the types who’d be above beating the crap out of me in front of my kids.

Andrea October 30, 2013, 4:27 am

Nobody in particular came to mind, and I think that is because I have 2 teenagers who may occasionally hang around at playgrounds. The shift in the story came for me when you mentioned that their parents were there…that would have certainly kept me from saying anything (while being even more agitated)

Tammy November 3, 2013, 11:33 pm

It was hard with the parents being there. I think that always changes the game.

Sandee November 6, 2013, 4:05 pm

Those 15 year olds have just as much of a right to play in the PUBLIC park as your littles. You’d be we’ll within your rights to politely request they stop cussing (or cuss quietly) so your kiddos aren’t forced to listen to vulgar language.

Tammy November 6, 2013, 5:02 pm

Yes, clearly they have a right to be there. Just like an adult has the right to be there. But if an adult were running around, bulldozing little kids (or big kids), and cussing, I’m sure people would be pretty annoyed about it, too. The thing is, we seem to live with a bunch of crazy people — or so it seems — lately. Statistically, I know that’s not true. Violence is actually down. But the perception that you can’t talk to someone without them freaking out on you gets sort of ginned up. So I think we all feel like we want to just stand back or walk away.

vinma November 11, 2013, 4:50 am

what a thoughtful post! I loved it. I think, I would have walked away from that situation. Talking to them might not bring the desired results. It could even bring the results you did not want in the first place- like those kids getting agitated and nasty talk backs or something worse. Good call there.
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Elle November 11, 2013, 6:51 am

Interesting post Tammy and something I think we’ve all seen and been involved in at some point in our life. Personally, because I’ve been known to be an idiot, I would probably have yelled in my best British accent, OY, be careful of the smaller kids.

And yet, there’s something scary about out of control teenagers…If I’d taken the time to reflect I might have been more considered in my response. Most definitely if hubby had been there he’d have had a word or two to say, and he’s much more zen than I am.

As for race, didn’t even think about it.
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Elaine Schoch November 11, 2013, 9:26 am

I think you did the right thing by walking away and that does teach your kids to leave if the situation is bad. I’ve been the one to say things to older kids but typically only if/when they knock down a little one and hurt them. Otherwise, like you I prefer to walk away.
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Cher November 11, 2013, 5:12 pm

I think it is just a matter of not being properly “trained” by their parents, especially since the parents were present. My teens would never do something like that – they were taught respect of all people big and small. In fact, I’m pretty sure one or both of mine would have said something. I would probably walk away.
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vanita November 14, 2013, 10:04 am

Their parents were there? WTH. Oh that’s the icing on the cake isn’t it? No wonder they can do whatever they want. Their parents let them.
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Samantha November 14, 2013, 11:59 am

I agree with some of the comments. I have asked certain groups of older kids to watch their mouths as well as grown adults depending on the situation. I try to gauge as to if I think they will respond to me asking them to do so first though, and I also will wait for my girls reactions unless it is completely unsafe or healthy.
As hard as it might be for me at times I try to have a ‘strike system’ before I can jump in to handle such cases. Sometimes my girls will ask them to stop as well, which I think is great. If I do ask them to stop I ask them in a friendly tone if they could please be a bit more careful not to say such things or push and shove past other kids depending on the situation. Sometimes they are not even really thinking how their actions are impacting others around them apologize or say that they will try.
Other times I pack up and head home if they seem really inconsiderate and do not seem to care if younger kids are around or not. Then, I talk with my girls about what happened on the way home.
I have found myself frustrated in the past with finding out a child’s parent was there watching this kind of behavior and not taking action first, but sometimes they do not always see the complete picture, because they are on their phones or talking with someone else and not paying the best attention. If I do know the parent then I will try to talk to them first so that I do not step on any toes, but if I don’t then I try really hard to be respectful of how I ask the child or teen in question to play nicer or I simply say…’that’s not okay’ and move to a better location or go home. I feel if we say nothing we are enabling the situation, but if it really is not okay then we should be at least able say so.
In my opinion there is nothing wrong with asking a simple question or saying something isn’t right. It is up to them as to how they respond to it, but that is just my opinion.

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