Bad grade, kill your pet. Are some parents too threatening to call?
By Maureen Downey, January 23, 2010; Source:

A frequent statement on this blog from teachers is that parents donít care, donít discipline their kids and donít set rules. But there is a small, subset of parent that overreacts to grades and calls from school by physically punishing kids.

The terrible story of the Meriwether mom who made her 12-year-old kill his pet hamster with a hammer over a bad grade is an example of a dangerous and misguided parental response to a school problem.

Do you worry about those parents and those kids?

I spent a year on a child abuse project early in my career and interviewed many case workers in the New York City area. One familiar scenario was that a student, usually a middle school boy, came home with a poor grade or was involved in a school fight. In either case, the parent was called to the school to meet with the principal or teacher over the sonís bad behavior. Once the parent and child got home, a beating followed. When the boy showed up in class the next day with obvious bruising, someone called DFCS, and social services got involved

I had a cousin up north who taught in one of the roughest high schools in the state, and he told me that he was reluctant to call parents because so many of them responded with rage when their kids did something wrong. He did not want to see a student return to class the day after a conference with a black eye or a bruise. (The teens never blamed the parent, always saying they had fallen or bumped into something.)

An expert on juvenile crime once told me that it is a myth that disruptive, problem teens received no discipline at home. In fact, he said, these kids were usually raised by the fist, the switch and the belt. They were hit all the time, for every small offense. As a result, they learned to respond to every problem with violence.

As teachers, do you worry about some kids, that a call to a parent will only worsen a life that you already suspect has too much rage, too much anger?

A Teacher's Response

This is a common problem in my school. Iíve witnessed parents abuse their children while in my prescence. The worst scenario was about 8 years ago when I was working as a substitute teacher. I contacted the parent of a 3rd grader to inform her of the childís disrespectful and disruptive behavior. About 30 minutes later I was asked to come to the office and bring my class. The principal introduced me to the studentís mother. After I explained what happened again, I witnessed one of the most horrifying incidents Iíve ever seen. The mother began to beat her son with a leather belt. He fell to the floor, but she continued hitting him. My class was standing in line watching this entire scene. A woman passed the office and looked in to see what was going on. The principal directed her to leave and then turned to me and said, ďWhite people donít understand that this is how we have to discipline our kids.Ē I was speechless. The principal spoke to the kids while the beating occured, telling them that this is what needs to happen to all of them for being disrespectful and rude. This wasnít the only time Iíve witnessed a parent hit a child, but it was the worst.

That day I went home and cried. I have always remembered what I witnessed. I will always remember being told that this is what black kids need, even though Iím black. Iím very careful about calling parents. We see kids come to school with unexplained bruises often. Itís reported, but thereís always another kid. It can be a very sticky situation.

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