The Discipline Dilemma


My dog Cali was better behaved and more respectful of the priest at the Blessing of the Animals Sept. 30, 2017, than some kids are in church. If animals can behave, shouldn’t kids?

When is it OK to scold kids who aren’t yours?

I was sitting in a pew at confirmation orientation for my daughter (who was on the other side of the church) when three teen-age girls behind me began talking. It wasn’t a stray comment or two. It was constant and it was loud.

Between their chatter and laughing, I couldn’t hear the priest say how impressed he was with everyone’s behavior. I considered turning around and telling them to be quiet, or motioning them to join me in the vestibule for a dress down.

But I chickened out. You know how mean girls can be. I knew they were by themselves – no mom would tolerate their behavior – but I was unsure what, if any, role I had. Did I have an obligation to tell them to be quiet and respectful in a house of worship? Or was understanding and keeping my mouth shut part of being a good Christian?

Instead of focusing on the Mass, I was wrackeIMG_1904.jpgd with indecision. My shoulders stiffened a few times and I nearly turned and then . . . nothing. I decided to keep quiet. But I was thrilled when the Smart Mom in front of me calmly turned around and gave them a look that said, “Are you serious? Shaddup already.”

I forgot about the Mom Stare. With a turn of the head and narrowing of the eyes, it conveyed the message. After the MS, the girls stopped talking – for about two minutes. When they started up again, Smart Mom calmly turned her head again. Genius.

The thing about teen-age girls is the things they find funny are idiotic by anyone else’s standards. You try to be patient and remember you were once their age and then boom – something pushes you to the brink. In this case, it was one of the girls walking backwards on her way back from communion.

A friend said it was just as loud in her corner of the church, but noted, “Look at the bright side. At least they’re here.”

True. It’s not all their fault. Somebody dropped the ball. It’s up to parents to tell kids it’s not OK to talk in theaters, scream in stores, climb on restaurant tables, talk in houses of worship, fool around in class, scroll I-Phones in class and argue with coaches.

I took 6-year-old twin boys (long story) on a Target run last week. Though adorable, they were screaming in the store. It didn’t take long for customers to give me the “shut those kids up” dirty look. Keep in mind that my daughter hated shopping as a young child and I stayed home for nearly five years rather than inflict her screaming on other shoppers. Yes, I’m that considerate.


Faced with stereo screaming, I immediately found myself quoting Barney: “Let’s use our indoor voices!”  Somewhere in the recesses of my brain was the purple dinosaur that my daughter loved so much. Say what you will about Barney, but he teaches the basics: Keep your voice down inside. Clean up after yourself. Please and thank you are the magic words.

When I was growing up, you didn’t challenge adults. My mother didn’t yell, but my father screamed so loudly you could hear him in the front yard. No, make that the street. Let’s just say you didn’t want to annoy him. As my nephew once said, “That’s one scary dude.”

I don’t think a lot of kids respect adults today. I’m shocked by some of the things that come out of my kids’ mouths. I’ve done my best to discipline them and command respect, but I get some pretty horrendous back talk. So do other authority figures. When my son called a serve out in a recent college tennis match, his opponent began throwing F-bombs at him and his coach.

The coach marched up to to the kid and said, “Who do you think you’re talking to? I played for a top 10 college team. I could beat all of you with my left hand.” I understand his rage. As a coach, you expect some respect.

Kids need authority figures to set them straight. We had to tell our college kid that online gambling isn’t a good idea, nor is sleeping in the dorm hallway when you stumble back at   5 a.m. We had to tell my daughter that it’s not OK to watch Netflix in study hall even if everyone else is doing it and the teacher doesn’t care.

A few weeks ago, I was playing golf with three guys when the twosome behind us drove a ball within two feet of us. We politely told them to cut it out. Two holes later, they almost hit us again. A guy in our foursome pulled out his best Dad voice, screaming “That’s twice now. Don’t let it happen again. This is completely unacceptable.”

We speculated that he was in the military, most likely the Marines, to have such a scary  Dad voice. We decided to toe the line for the rest of the round, just to be on the safe side.


The Blessing of the Animals celebrates St. Francis of Assisi, patron saint of animals and ecology. Among the animals blessed on the Town Green in Guilford, CT., was a chicken. Here, Cali gets her first of two blessings.











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