Is it ever appropriate for strangers to interfere in parenting?

I was watching the news this morning and saw a segment on the news about a project called “One Kind Word.” The project is “designed to give people (particularly, retail employees) the words and actions to offer support to parents and children who are having a tough time and to help defuse parent-child conflicts” the web site says.

The web site also says “Most parents, on most days can take a tantrum in stride; but sometimes the stress can be too great, and the parent reacts inappropriately – yelling at, belittling, or even slapping a child.”

Is it okay that a complete stranger, who may have a limited understanding of a particular parent-child situation, should step in and possibly make the situation worse? Who can be the judge of whether or not a parent is acting inappropriately? We all have different measuring sticks for this issue. Comments?

Generally speaking, it is ordinarily true that strangers should avoid interfering in a parent’s handling of a publicly-misbehaving child. But that assumes that the parent is not misbehaving himself. To stand back and watch while an adult slaps a child, no matter what the provocation or possible mitigating circumstances or close relationship to the child, while telling oneself that “we cannot judge,” is to risk that Jesus Christ will one day say, “What you allowed to be done to the least of these my brothers, you allowed to be done to me” (cf. Matt. 25:31-46).

This doesn’t mean, of course, that strangers should assume the worst of such a parent and escalate the situation by unnecessarily calling the authorities. It only means that projects that educate the public in how to defuse explosive situations before they escalate into abuse do indeed appear to be worthwhile.

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