When would you step in with someone else's family?


I remember as a child…there were many things that I very much wanted to talk to someone and get help with, but I did not out of fear that they would report back to my parents. We had the perfect family in public. At home, I’m not sure how to describe it. More of a, our family is perfect or else feel. When I did talk to other adults, I got encouraged to be more submissive and obedient and assured if I just talked things over with my mother everything would be fine.

I understand where people where coming from and why they said that. At the same time, I can’t help but wonder why adults never seemed to do anything except turn me back to my own parents to fix the hurt my parents were dealing out to me. Where’s the line? When is it ok to advise a child to go against their parents, or simply to give them advice that may contradict what the parent would want?


So, if it’s a matter of physical or sexual abuse, you should tell someone you can count on to get you out of harm’s way. In the public school system, a principle is required to call child protective services. I imagine it’s the same in parochial and private school.

If it’s just a matter of normal stressers where you’re not in danger of being harmed, you can talk with people here. There are also counselors at school who will listen to you, and psychologists who you can talk to, which your parents’ insurance can pay for. Also, don’t forget the pastor of your church! He’s trained to listen and give good advise. :slight_smile:


Unless it is an abuse or neglect situation, in which case it should be reported to the authorities such as child protective services or the police, it is a bad business for any adult to advise a child to go against his or her parents.


I am a mandated reporter. If a child tells me about abuse or if I suspect abuse, I must report it.

If a child comes to me with something that does not rise to abuse, it would depend on my connection to the family. I may be able only to be a listening ear or I may have a close relationship where I could (with the child’s permission) confront the parent.


I mean, there’s a lot of stuff between “physical and sexual abuse” and “normal stressors”. In my case, I would say it was a case of extremely severe emotional stressors, beyond what even would be expected of an adult to bear. It’s not considered abuse, for example, to go off on your child for 30min about the look on their face because you just had an argument with your husband.

CPS wouldn’t have done anything likely because of the lack of physical or sexual abuse, and calling CPS would almost certainly have made the situation much worse for me. So I think that’s what bothers me. My family didn’t really qualify as the kind of case that would be considered abuse, but at the same time it’s something that left an intense amount of psychological damage and couldn’t be worked out within the family. And it seems like there’s really not much between “terrible abusive families that should have the children taken away at once” and “normal families where things are mostly ok and everything should be deferred to the parent”.


Emotional abuse IS abuse.


CPS will step in.


I’ll be honest here. A lot of people I know, including myself, had parents who could be very moody, yell or do silent treatment for protracted periods of time over very little. Often the parent was themself ill or had an extreme stress in their life, such as economic, marital, death of their own parent or sibling. None of these situations involved a physical or sexual abuse or any neglect - the kids were fed, had clothing, washed etc. The degree to which kids were affected depended a lot on the individual child. I would imagine some of them relied heavily on siblings or grands.

Some of the girls I knew in high school who had stressful home lives of this type talked to the school counselor a lot. A couple of them practically adopted her as a second mom. A couple more attached themselves to favorite teachers (a mixed blessing) or just spent a lot of time out of the house. The vast majority of us with stressful lives with parents just moved out as quick as we could.

I am not trying to excuse away your parents’ actions. Just saying that these situations have happened. And I would also say that people varied in how much they wanted outside involvement. Some of us were protective of our parents and didn’t want outsiders butting in. In my case a boyfriend once tried to have a word with Mom. I was angry and embarrassed. I got another boyfriend who understood better and didn’t do that stuff, just listened to me vent and told me moms (including his) were weird sometimes and you had to just let it go. I very much loved that guy, and that was one reason why.

Sorry I do not have good advice for you…just pointing out not all kids want “help” when it’s not abuse or neglect.

As far as “emotional abuse is abuse”, I think it can be tricky to decide just what “emotional abuse” is.


Fair enough. In my case it was heavily exacerbated by homeschooling and the general restrictions. You just didn’t spend lots of time outside of the house, it wouldn’t have been permitted unless it was an organized activity from a fairly narrow list. I also had no siblings and no local family.

I honestly don’t think I really wanted someone to step in - just someone to tell me I wasn’t crazy. The message in my house was always, that didn’t happen, why would you think that? I think that’s what kept me entangled longer as well, because it was so hard to shake that message. The problem with being pushed to “work it out” was I knew that I was supposed to work it out, but whenever I did I got punished, but also that it was wrong to be angry and not try to work it out.


Homeschooling would make it hard. Most of us relied heavily on our friends to tell us we weren’t nuts and that parents could be difficult or even wrong sometimes. If you were at home not having that hour or two with a couple close friends daily, that likely made it harder than those of us who went to school and told our troubles to each other or the counselor or teacher.


The line is basically this - don’t mess with a parent’s right to raise their child how they want to. That may involve instances that one person would consider abuse, but another person would not. If I ever see what I think is questionable parenting, as in your case, the most I would ever do is just listen, and even that would be very limited. I would never want to step on another parent’s toes…which would actually be more like hitting their toes with a hammer. If I knew that my children were confiding in another adult, that I didn’t know, about my parenting…I would be pissed, big time. If they were confiding in someone I knew and trusted, that would be much different, I wouldn’t mind that so much, mostly because if it was someone I trusted then I know they wouldn’t be sabotaging my parenting.

But in your case, I suspect that whoever you tried to talk to may have known that your parents were strict, and didn’t want to take any chances with you. It’s just not worth risking upsetting the apple cart if there isn’t obvious abuse.


I guess the flip side for me is…I honestly consider myself lucky that I got out of my teen years without killing myself. Heaven knows I wanted to many times. I know I was hurting myself all through it - what else could I do that wouldn’t be punished? I was smart enough to make it plausible. I thought about running away, but mom told me she wouldn’t care, they’d just have the police bring me back and I’d be in trouble. But if no one would listen or offer advice on the smaller stuff, other than to push me to talk to my mother, how could I trust anyone with the rest of it?

I wonder when we read the news about happy teens from good families who suddenly killed themselves, how many are kids like I was. I’m sure if I had it would have been no one saw it coming, she was in such a good, loving family, it’s such a tragedy. (I think now it would be called enmeshment - I described it as being a treasured doll. Dolls are clothed and cared for and displayed, but they’re not supposed to feel, they’re supposed to act out the role that makes the real people happy.)


darklight, given you have had a very difficult time and suicide has ben a consideration, and you are hurting, I suggest a mental health professional to help you look at and overcome these issues.

we can’t do this alone. we can’t allow it to bury and fester either.


There are a lot of reasons why teenagers commit suicide. In some cases the teenager is struggling with a mental health issue like depression, and it’s not something caused by their family’s treatment of them. In other cases, it’s an impulsive act caused by poor judgment or just teenage emotions getting carried away, and not really relevant to the family at all. And in still other cases, there are legitimate, bad issues with family.

I considered suicide a number of times when young because life just seemed really hard. In reality, looking back, my life wasn’t all that hard - I just hadn’t yet developed the coping skills to deal with life stress and the confidence in myself and God to know that things would work out. I also wasn’t considering suicide because of anything my family did, and in fact one of the reasons I never did it was because I was worried that my parents would not only miss me but would also be unfairly blamed by outside people pointing fingers at them for my death (just as you seem to be alluding to when you say kids from good families, blahblah).

I would really caution you to focus on your own situation and not be trying to make generalizations about what gos on in other families. It’s personal to them. As I’m sure you know, there are many books trying to get to the bottom of what motivates teenagers to commit suicide. I read a number of these books when I was younger, mostly because I was fascinated that people would write whole books about what they obviously considered an alarming phenomenon, when I thought that wanting to commit suicide was a very rational response to the culture.

In terms of your own pain, I agree that it’s probably best discussed one-on-one with your mental health professional.


I’ve discussed is with lots. Never did anything but make my mental health lot worse. I never really managed to make therapy anything other than me and a stranger sitting in a room frustrating each other. I don’t want to “explore my pain”, I want to know how to stop it from being repeated with others.

But that aside, I’m not just asking why here. I know not all cases in other families are like mine, but I know there are others out there, and the system seems pretty well designed that so long as there’s no blatant abuse, parents can hurt their kids as much as they want and it’s just a family matter. And that bothers me, because I don’t want someone else to go through that.


do you have laws against emotional abuse there in your country


Yes, although it’s rather a hodge-podge and very frequently nothing is done other than to mandate therapy. And it’s not commonly reported unless it’s extremely blatant and in front of others.


maybe education is the key, to stopping your experience becoming that of others.


I don’t think that’s necessarily true.

It might put parents on notice that they are on CPS’s radar, and they might shape up (if they can). Nobody wants a repeat CPS visit.


It would be difficult. I think people are right that it’s sometimes hard to tell from the outside, when there’s a serious problem and when there’s just a family issue to work out. And kids do lie too, and I know it’s not always clear to an outsider what the real story is.

The other thing is, in my memory, I think the more subtle problems are often greater than the obvious ones. I don’t think it was really mom losing her temper that did most of the damage as much as the gaslighting after. “Yeah, mom lost her temper” isn’t as bad as “of course mom didn’t lose her temper, why would you make up such a nasty thing?” I think she believed it; my mother frequently highlighted that she “never yelled”, which was entirely true insofar as she didn’t speak at a high volume. Had something similar with the whole idea of “working things out” - my family insisted they were completely willing to work things out and they had no idea why I never came to them to work things out instead of just spitting out a bunch of nasty lies and expecting to not get in trouble.

The main worry for me is that mom’s reaction tended to be to say how upset she was and how much she wanted to help me - and then proceed to scour my life for what outside source was causing the problems so it could be replaced with more family time. It often seems like it literally never occurred to her that she could be anything but a wonderful parent coping with a stubborn, manipulative, rebellious child who was always lying to her and trying to weasel out of what she should be doing. So the likelihood is that she’d have doubled down on the control to try to fix what was wrong with me that was making me react so badly to her good parenting.


For various reasons, some parents may really clash with one of their kids. I can think of many families where that happened. In some of those cases the child was just as mischievous as the one parent was when they were young, and it frustrates the parent to no end to see their beloved make the same mistakes. But that’s just one scenario.

It sounds like you may have clashed with one or both of your parents, and it may have been exaggerated because you were the only kid.

Have you talk to them about it since you’ve gotten older? Or have they started to treat you like an independent adult yet?

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