Bad grade, kill your pet. Are some parents too threatening to call?

A frequent statement on this blog from teachers is that parents don’t care. don’t discipline their kids and don’t 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 son’s 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?

44 comments Add your comment

RJ

January 23rd, 2010
10:15 am

This is a common problem in my school. I’ve 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 child’s 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 student’s mother. After I explained what happened again, I witnessed one of the most horrifying incidents I’ve 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, “White people don’t understand that this is how we have to discipline our kids.” 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 wasn’t the only time I’ve 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 I’m black. I’m very careful about calling parents. We see kids come to school with unexplained bruises often. It’s reported, but there’s always another kid. It can be a very sticky situation.

ga

January 23rd, 2010
10:26 am

Oh my gosh RJ, oh my gosh…. and you said the principal went along with this! that is abuse – plain and simple. This abuse to children must stop. and any principal or educator that thinks this is not needs serious help. These stories make me ill. It bothers me terribly that this attitude is pervasive by some in the education field. They are supposed to be educated! If you can’t handle a child’s behavior without hitting them, then you don’t deserve to be a parent and if you are a teacher that thinks this way, you don’t belong being a teacher/educator either.

C?

January 23rd, 2010
10:31 am

It’s not just black children who suffer the lash for bad grades.
School was a time of living hell for me, and I would be brutally beaten each and every time a teacher reported that I had bad marks, sometimes to the point of losing consciousness.
I avoided homework because my mother would rip me out of my chair by my hair and drag me across the room whenever I messed up on my homework and had to use an eraser. I was beaten with belts, brushes, fists…whatever was handy.
Of course avoiding homework always made it worse when the teacher would call because of missed assignments, and I would endure abuse so bad CPS was called because I would be covered in marks.
Of course my mother, and later, in another home, my father, were both talented at turning everything around so it looked like I -deserved- the abuse meted out to me, and my father even had one CPS agent so convinced that she told him to beat me -more-.
I dropped out of school at 16 and got married to get away from all the abuse…
To this day I have serious PTSD, especially concerning school, and suffer panic attacks that made it take many years of slowly taking one class at a time in college to finally get my high school diploma.

MUSTANG100

January 23rd, 2010
10:31 am

PPPPPPPPPPTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

ga

January 23rd, 2010
10:31 am

And the Ga DOE remains silent on the issue of corporal punishment in schools in the state of GA, along with the ga legislature…that needs to change.

been there

January 23rd, 2010
10:37 am

My mother was one of those crazy parents. I finished school some 40 years ago, but even then the teacher and staff of my school knew not to call my mother for any academic or disciplinary reason. They would just handle it themselves. This was back in the day of corporal punishment and I got many a paddling at school (you’re right about the kids who are hit at home being the most troublesome) but they never called my mother. Many people decry the fact that parents can’t hit kids anymore; if they’d gone through what I went through with my mother they’d think differently. On several occasions I went to the authorities (school officials, neighbors, even the police once) and every time I was taken back home. Personally I’m glad that parents can get locked up now when they treat their kids badly.

Sharon

January 23rd, 2010
10:56 am

Many school systems are getting on board with PBIS or Positive Behavior Interverventions and Supports. Even Gwinnett County will be introducing into some schools. I mentioned in a recent meeting that parents could also use some training as it is being introduced. I too was guilty of punishing my child when she got into trouble at school (but not physically), as a result she was constantly grounded. It didn’t work but backfired. She gave up and quit trying. How kids are motivated varies greatly. Reward that child for accomplishments, ESPECIALLY that child that struggles academically or with behavior.

Chellie

January 23rd, 2010
10:56 am

Unfortunately, you do need a license to fish, hunt, drive a car, own a business, but any Joe can have children. Parenting lessons should be required before you can enter your child in public schools. This is really only happening in a small subset of families. Most parents are totally oblivious to teaching their child appropriate behavior at school. Most of them have no clue why they are there and are unmotivated to learn. Teachers can only bribe with candy and beg them to listen and not disrupt the learning of others.

ga

January 23rd, 2010
11:02 am

to been there – corporal punishment in schools is still legal in Georgia, some districts still use it, other districts have recently brought back the paddle and still others are considering bringing back the paddle. This has been in the news as well.

Sincere

January 23rd, 2010
11:14 am

I do beleive in discipline and spanking everything is done in moderation. I don’t agree with the principle who encourages such abuse in front of all the students. Out of all things get a good understanding and that wasn’t one of them. Every child is different some kids don’t respond well to harsh talking and some don’t respond well to spanking. I do think over time kids are now running our households and child services are responding to non emergency situations. They take there titles and try to split up homes over little or nothing. I’m a parent myself and I know that my strength is far greater than my children I don’t spank in anger I take a moment and evaluate the situation. Never spank in anger it will cause harm and longterm effects mentally. We as parents and teachers need to work closely, hand in hand with one another to raise our youth. It’s a group effort and we can’t afford to get it wrong.

Courtney

January 23rd, 2010
11:23 am

Does this happen? yes. Big problem? NO! More often I see the parent who is afraid to discipline their child because they might not be “friends” or “cool” anymore.

Y2Educate

January 23rd, 2010
11:31 am

After an incident that occurred my fourth year as a teacher, I learned to combat the need to make bad phone calls home by making good phone calls home. The first week of school, I would call the honm of every homeroom student. Parents were surprised to get good phone calls, and the next day the students would come in and remark how happy they were that I called their home. I would continue these calls throughout the whole year with students in all my classes. The students never knew when a good call would be made, but apparently, word got around, and students began inquiring when I would call his/her home. Of course from time to time, I still had to make negative phone calls home, but when this was necessary, I would also make several good phone calls – my way of ending my day positively and in hopes of making a positive difference. Did it increase my already lenghthy workload? YES! But was it worth it? A resounding YES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

linda

January 23rd, 2010
11:32 am

When I did my student teaching (all black school) we were not allowed to send home bad grades due to the problem with abuse. Students would get beaten for getting a C or below, never mind the fact that parents had not supported the students throughout the grading period by putting them to bed on time, turning off television, talking to students about what they were learning in school, helping with math facts, spelling, etc. So, students went home with As and Bs and parents pretended everything was okay. They were not educated enough to notice that their A/B student was in the 20th percentile on ITBS. Very precarious situation. These parents thought they were doing their job by sending their children to school and threatening them to listen to their teachers and do well in school. They knew it was important, but had no idea how to support that. I think they thought were doing the right thing and considered themselves to be caring, involved parents. Instead of being proactive, they were reactive. This seems like an old-school approach and is very dangerous in a time when many students have not a single good example of a successful adult in their lives and there is no culture of common sense. Parents today have to be extremely proactive just to keep kids on track so it is a lot more work than it used to be!

Justine

January 23rd, 2010
11:49 am

i have two questions. First, will PETA show up and march against this mother who not only ordered the death of the hamster but treated he child so badly. I dont think so. They never show up unless it is a major person involved.

My second question is who will protect children. The school system is in the best position to determine if a child is being abused because they spend so much time with the child. Yet they are now backing off.

If we do not protect our children from abuse the chances are good we end up with one of two things. A child who becomes an abuser. Or a dead child.

Ole Guy

January 23rd, 2010
11:51 am

Corporal punishment is like having a shot at the bar…given the right time, place and circumstances, I see nothing wrong in administering a reminder or two. Obviously, the story of the woman (I will not refer to her as a mom) who forced her son to kill his pet hamster exemplifies the degree to which people will sometimes go in the name of discipline-enforcement. One would imagine, as a child, the woman experienced similar episodes; these somehow reinforced the notion that it’s ok to destroy loved ones in the name of discipline.

As for RJ’s story, one would certainly hope that the principle’s actions were reported to the state licensing board.

[...] View full post on pet – Google Blog Search [...]

Greg, Marietta, GA

January 23rd, 2010
11:53 am

As a 15 year veteran educator, I can tell you that Y2Educate has just listed one of the best “secrets” of good teaching. It is something I tell all of my rookie teachers to do.

Yes, by the way, there are parents that we hesitate to call because we know that they will overreact in a way that des more harm than good.

And thinking like Courtney’s is part of the problem.

Corey

January 23rd, 2010
12:09 pm

RJ, and we as black folk wonder why our kids wind up hurting others on their way to being permanent customers of our criminal justice and prison systems.

ga

January 23rd, 2010
12:09 pm

I applaud Y2educate and other educators like him/her. Thinking like ole guy or Courtney is part of the problem in our society… people do not want to admit there is an elephant in the room.

ta

January 23rd, 2010
12:44 pm

If you are truly concerned about what is happening to children, you need to contact your state representatives, and Governor Purdue, ASAP. The budget cuts are hitting the Department of Family and Children’s Services, too. They are already too few Case Managers (Workers) and they are leaving in droves. There is a freeze on hiring new employees, so the ones that leave are NOT being replaced. This is resulting in some case managers having as many as 28 cases. There is no way they can do a really good job with that many, even without furlough’s. A child is going to be severely damaged or die before our state government realizes some things are more important than others and our children are the most vulnerable, especially during times of high stress like unemployment. I am not, and no one in my family, is employed by the state of Georgia.

awantwin

January 23rd, 2010
1:53 pm

There should definetetly be something done about this. Some type of law enforcement should be put into effect that will keep parents at bay before they physcially abuse their children for poor grades. I mean, this is an over-reaction. Some of these parents should be counseled that their children may require some simple learning assistance.

Joe

January 23rd, 2010
2:11 pm

Link in the story is broken. AJC needs to hire more copy editors and QA people.

Tom Johnson

January 23rd, 2010
2:13 pm

Well, we may not agree with how this woman disciplines her child, but that doesn’t mean it’s not within her parental rights. (Devil’s advocate mode off).

What’s interesting is that Georgia has two laws, one against “child abuse” and another against “child cruelty.” Since there was no physical injury to the child, I don’t know if it would satisfy the definition of abuse, but I would have to assume it meets the criteria for cruelty.

By the way, are any of these articles on mistreatment of children being run in the print edition of AJC? It’s a shame if this topic is just relegated to the blogosphere.

catlady

January 23rd, 2010
2:26 pm

I have seen this happen twice (2 times too many) in 38 years of teaching, so I don’t think it is very common. I have mostly taught in all white (with some Latinos now) lower SES schools, if that is important. I have not often had to make calls home, however, as my students generally behave fairly well. The Latino parents tell me that things will be better right away, and they are generally right, but I never have known of one physically reprimanded. The parents generally seem to point out that getting in trouble at school will bring on the police, which they desperately do not want. I have only had 2 Latino parents who felt their child was unfairly accused of misbehavior.

On the other hand, while I have generally good support from the white parents, there are some who want to immediately accuse the school of being “agin” their children. These kids’ behavior generally does not improve.

I have had a couple of parents I WAS AFRAID OF, and a couple of elementary students I WAS ALSO AFRAID OF. One I have worked with now for 2 years, and I expect one day he will bring a gun to school. Can’t get him any BD help at school, however, because no one at the school or COUNTY LEVEL knows how to do it with RTI (and besides, we don’t have any class for BD kids, just a teacher who “consults”. With a BS in sped and 3 years of experience, she has NO IDEA how to help with these kids except to make jokes and bribe them with candy.)

I have also not had very good experiences with reporting suspected abuse/neglect up the chain of command. Only three times have I ever had reason to believe that the problem was investigated and intervened upon.

V for Vendetta

January 23rd, 2010
4:23 pm

This brings up a more weighty philosophical issue: What do you do about this? There are two obvious solutions, but neither solution is morally defensible. The first solution is to prevent some people from having children. However, that is too Big Brother-ish. Who gets to draw the line? How would it be decided? The second option is to remove children from bad situations more quickly. But this places the burden on the average tax paying citizen. The abused children would obviously end up in some kind of government-run orphanage.

Children are a sticky subject. I have always championed individual rights on this blog, and I always will. But children cannot stand up for their rights like adults can. They need protection. It would seem simple enough to loosen the reigns a bit on an organization such as DFACS–though, it would still raise the questions of who makes the decision and where do we draw the line. It also would create an enormous tax burden on the people–something I’m not comfortable with.

So what do we do?

As someone mentioned earlier, any fool can have children. That’s the problem. We have yet to come up with a solution.

Ole Guy

January 23rd, 2010
4:52 pm

Catlady, here’s where a little “militaryesq” training usually accomplishes the desired goal. Personally, I don’t, and never believed this BD stuff…BD, in my book, is simply another psychoexotic term attached to what is basically a spoiled self-serving attitude. We see it in adults all the time…where do you think it started? The adults in the kid’s life want to be his/her friend, so the piss around (I do not know of any “socially-acceptable” means of description) with the kid, joking and bribing. The kid ain’t stupid…he/she learns to play the adult like a violin…”If I put up a fuss, the adult will ‘play my music’, in terms of entertaining me with jokes and candy”. Unfortunately, the militaryesq approach is viewed, by many, as arcane, a mysterious, misunderstood means of instilling discipline and self-reliance…therefore, a completely non-pc means of attaining that which the powers that be prefer to expend countless millions of scarce public monies.

The big problem, Catlady, is that educators think like…well, educators. When you stop and look at some of the problems you have enunciated, it becomes clear that these issues have migrated out of the education camp. We insist on refering to these issues as being within the educational realm simply because then the problem(s) are more socially palatable. When the kid turns 18, faces the world, and exhibits these engrained behavior patterns, there’s no one to tell jokes and offer bribes…what then?

ash

January 23rd, 2010
6:20 pm

Nothing wrong with a good butt whuppin when necessary. This woman is sick and has seriously damaged her mother/son relationship. I got my share of whuppins and I wound up with a degree and a 6 figure salary.

Maureen Downey

January 23rd, 2010
6:44 pm

Joe, I just checked and the link works. No one else seems to have that problem so you may want to try again.
Maureen

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cp

January 23rd, 2010
7:51 pm

I just feel like I have seen this crazy lady before. Was she in the news about a year ago for threatening someone at a youth league/ rec.center regarding sign-up or team assignments??

Chris Salzmann

January 23rd, 2010
8:06 pm

If parents cannot discipline their children without giving them black eyes or bruises, then they shouldn’t be parents and should have their kids removed. When it comes to child safety, there should be no hesitation.

ssidawg

January 23rd, 2010
8:47 pm

The only thing that beating a child teaches is violence. There are too many people having kids that have NO BUSINESS reproducing. How do you expect someone that’s too stupid to wear a condom to have any idea how to raise a child? That’s how we end up with violent, uneducated people having babies that end up being disruptive kids in school. It’s truly not the children’s fault….they’ve never been taught how to act.

As far as I’m concerned, this “mother” (and I use that term very reluctantly) needs to be knocked over her head with a hammer.

Of course….she was probably abused when she was a child….so the vicious cycle continues. Sad.

OTOH

January 23rd, 2010
10:54 pm

Perhaps we should all wait a bit to hear the rest of the story. So far we only know the teacher said the child said his mother made him kill the hamster.

RJ

January 24th, 2010
11:30 am

@ash, I’m happy that you found success, but I’m sure we can find just as many people not “whupped” to say the same thing. You can even find adults that were abused to tell how they overcame the abuse and now make seven figures. What I witnessed was abuse. And it wasn’t right.

Mg

January 24th, 2010
11:59 am

As a teacher, I am more worried about the parents that don’t discipline their children, than the ones that do. You need a driver’s license to drive a car, but most parents (especially those that are uneducated ) receive little to no training on how to parent their child. This should be addressed at the state, county, or even community level with mandatory classes. I feel sorry for the children that have parents that will “take care of them” when they get home. However (with the exception of extreme cases) the truth is if I have 20 students in my class and one or more of them continually has a serious behavior problem, I usually have no choice but to call home and talk to the parent about the problem. Otherwise, one child can disrupt the learning for all the other students. I don’t like to call a parent I know may physically discipline their child, however, at the end of the day, how a parent disciplines their child is their choice and it is better than no discipline at all.

Ole Guy

January 24th, 2010
12:11 pm

Some of you folks amaze the hell outa me…you seem to think the world is black and/or white. A periodic well-timed pop on the butt which serves as a reminder to those who are unable or unwilling to mentally process right from wrong is, ssidawg, NOT violence. Your point is well-taken that some…no, make that many…people have no business producing kids. Unfortunately, too many people…probably the same folks who lost the condom…understand neither the differences between a tough love pop on the derriere and violence resulting in the black n’blues, not to mention the resultant psycic damage. After all, kids don’t need to have episodes of PTSD before high school.

Secondly, I fail to see a direct link between types of discipline the child endures and the income levels achieved in adult life. Do you people actually believe, ash and dawg, that income level serves as validation for the type of discipline one receives in childhood?

The scary issue concerning this mom-imposter is the fact that she was/probably still is a pta guru, well-respected, etc, ad nauseum. This causes one to wonder just how many “respected” members of a community are so imbalanced as to place a child through this sort of crap.

Ann n GA

January 25th, 2010
10:39 am

I read all the comments, the principal had the entire class watched this; Hopely he was reported has another JOB. I work in education, I agree some parents needs parenting class, how to help and even to talk to their kids. The hamster incident, I pray there is more to the story, kids will try to get back at parents and teachers. They continue to buget cut, larger classrom size they are asking for problems in the classroom. Some have never set foot in a classroom or forgot what we have to put-up with these kids. I got plenty of whippin, belts, switches whatever, but I’m here and thankful for them now. Yes, I agree with spanking and others positive measures.Getting parents involved is a big problems, you only see most of them when kids can’t return to school without a parent(s). They are mad because they had to take off their jobs, we have no correct phone numbers. I agree call parents with positive comments, so when you call for the negatives they will be more acceptable…….

GK

January 25th, 2010
12:16 pm

Ole Guy is a Fox News disciple. The world is much more complicated than people like him would have you to believe.

And RJ, I hate to tell you this, but when you witnessed the abuse of that child, and failed to report it as a teacher to DFACS, you broke the law. As did your principal.

ga

January 25th, 2010
1:52 pm

Oh My Gosh – there is no peer reviewed study anywhere that says ‘whuppins’ are an effective means of discipline. You posters that claim that you turned out o.k. did so in spite of it, not because of it.

Picture me

January 25th, 2010
9:28 pm

That story doesn’t sound right. I believe there is more this story. Children do lie too. Who is to say that this 12 year old boy is lying on this mother. I don’t think that we should jump to conclusion to all the facts are in. I didn’t believe the story when I heard it on news this morning. I am going to wait before I give any comments.

J4A

January 26th, 2010
9:17 am

Catlady, I am glad you are commenting on this subject as I am aware that you have extensive experience teaching children with EBD. I also know you have taken self initiative to educate yourself by reading, continuing education units, or any means available to you, with little support, to educate yourself to work with these children without physical and mental abuse. I know that 38 years ago there was little research on children with EBD, but you amazingly stuck by these children to help them overcome their childhood behavioral barriers and become productive, functioning citizens and parent’s. Do you think you would have been able to remain in the teaching profession if you had not taken the initiative to educate yourself further than your college degree or teaching certificate? Let me rephrase:) Did your initial college education (teacher degree) prepare you to be able to work with EBD children in the classroom setting?

Silver Fang

January 26th, 2010
8:54 pm

If this woman really did what was said in the article, I hope she has to undergo a lot of evaluation and reeducation before she is allowed to see her son again.

Maureen Young

February 4th, 2010
8:47 am

RJ – I’m sorry you had to experience this. I too, experienced something very similar at an inner city school in Ohio. I called the police while at the school and waited until they arrived. In came a black officer, a black principal, a black parent and black teacher. I too was told “I wasn’t respecting a culture.” The fact that an institution that is supposed to “teach” could put a hand, belt, strap or anything else on a child is barbaric. The folks that believe a “little beating” never hurt anyone, are people that came from that type of home and school environment and/or lacks the knowledge that there is another way to raise children. Six months ago, Ohio abolished corporal punishment and became the 30th state to do so.

There is a misconception that you cannot have an orderly classroom (or family) without the use or threat of corporal punishment. Children are successfully educated and classroom order maintained without resorting to this model of violence. There is a multitude of researched evidence that shows children do not become better adults when hit as children. Corporal punishment might have been accepted years ago as a way to discipline children, but research has taught us there is a better way. The military no longer allows it, military schools no longer allow it, catholic schools no longer allow it and thirty other states have banned it.

I hate to say that this is a culture issue, but it is prevalent within poor and minority cultures. My heart breaks for every child that lives in a constant environment of fear and intimidation and is brought up to believe that that is normal. They end up as adults that believe and teach the same thing.
Maureen Young
Child Advocate

Juli

May 4th, 2010
4:53 pm

I am verbally abused, but no one can prove it. I feel terrible about myself all the time, and I considered suicide this year. Physical abuse is horrible, but there is always concrete proof. When I tell people that my father makes me call myself a bitch and my mother is never pleased with me and constantly belittles me, I am called a liar.

Juli