Wednesday, February 23, 2011

When a Sandwich Board is All You Have Left

I read a story in the paper this morning about a mother in Florida who, fed up with her 15-year-old son’s disinterest in school, took a drastic measure to get his attention. She placed the kid on a busy street corner with a sandwich board over his head that said: “I have a 1.22 GPA…honk if you think I need an education.”

While some people applauded her last-ditch effort to set the kid on the straight and narrow, others called Child Protective Services to report her abuse of the young man.

I have to tell you, when I read the article, I had to chuckle, because as the mother of two kids, I, too, have looked for creative ways to get their attention.

Don’t get me wrong, my kids do great in school, particularly child #1, who is now looking at colleges and knows that she has to keep her grades up if she has any chance of going to some of the more competitive colleges in the country. But, as many of the moms on this blog will attest, when your kids get older, your issues with them get more complicated and it takes every last ounce of energy you have to stick to your guns and to keep them moving in the right direction. It is very easy to just give up and let them do what they want, but we all know what happens when we let the inmates run the asylum.

It’s anarchy, I tell you.

It is true what they say: “little children, little problems; big children, big problems.” I think all of us, at some point when our children are small, look at someone else’s parenting style and think “I would never do it that way.” Really? Wait until you get there. I remember when child #1 was a baby and I thought I would never lose my temper with her, raise my voice to her, or punish her. Then came the terrible twos, followed by the temper-tantrum threes, and the feisty fours. Let’s not get started on five through seven. You find yourself doing things you never imagined. For instance, child lays down on floor of the bank and refuses to move; there are eight people behind you on line. What do you do? Leave her there or laugh in embarrassment as you pick her up by the scruff of the neck like a mother cat, dragging her out kicking and screaming? Either way, she’s going into therapy first chance she gets (and her health insurance allows for free visits) so you’re doomed. My plan of attack was always to pretend I didn’t notice what was happening or that I didn’t know her, because you know that there is someone behind you tut-tutting about your parenting skills. Usually, they don’t have kids, or their kids are older than you and they have forgotten what it is like to confront a hungry toddler who acts like they are a protester during the Vietnam era. (You know what I mean…you go to pick them up and they go slack. It’s an effective protest technique whether you weigh thirty-two pounds or a hundred and thirty-two pounds.)

The problems, discussions, and issues only get more complicated as the kids get older. Apparently, as well, “EVERYONE else’s parents are letting them do it.” Like I believe that one. Yes, many parents in our small village are more permissive than we are…ok, every set of parents in our small village is more permissive than we are…but that doesn’t mean that in our middle-age we are going to succumb to peer pressure. We make decisions based on what is right for a particular child at a particular time. And sometimes that means that a particular child is not doing what other children are doing. Them’s the breaks, as they say.

But back to the lady in Florida. Judge lest you yourself be judged. She’s got a 15-year-old who won’t do his homework, won’t go to school, and probably has a one-way ticket to a life of heartache and trouble if this behavior continues. I have to say, not being in her shoes, I’m not sure what I would do, but if the sandwich board of embarrassment were my last resort, I might resort to it.

What do you think, Stiletto faithful?

Maggie Barbieri


  1. I live in a small country town in Australia and we have a problem with some kids not aiming for their full potential. I wish those students had mothers that cared enough to try something crazy. *Honks*

  2. Maggie, I don't have kids (yet!) only fur-kids. But I know just from hanging out with my four year old niece how, um, steadfast they can be in getting their own way. I am glad that mom in Florida cares enough for her son to do something like that. I'm sure she's feeling mighty helpless. And if her son doesn't get an education in school, he'll get it on the street. Which probably won't be a good thing for him, his mother, or the entire community in the end. So I'll honk, too!

  3. In California if a kid is truant, there's a possibility the parents will go to jail.

    When one of my son's was a teenager he'd skip school and the school never let me know. He left and came home at the right times. We never knew the truth until a friend saw him on the street during school time. He ended up having to get a GED. He took the test and passed with very little schooling under his belt. So sad, because he waster his potential. He's now working in construction which he likes--but I know he could have done a lot of other things too. Oh well, he's the father of four great kids a grandpa of 3 darlings.


  4. Two notes from me:

    1) Heard this story as well and the most curious point to me is that the mom cannot motivate or force this kid to perform better in school, yet she can make him stand on a corner with the sign? Something isn't meshing for me in the narrative. It's not that I doubt this is true, I just don't understand how it's true.

    2) As someone who is child free (and loving it), remember that just as every parent whose kid is acting out is not a bad parent, every person who doesn't have kids and pulls a face over being witness to and frankly subjected to such behavior isn't always harshly judging the parent. We're almost always harshly reacting to a harsh situation, though. Sometimes my grimace or staring or my quick little escape from the area is just plain old reaction to a very unpleasant or noisy happening. Sudden loud screams, shouts, breaking glass and flailing arms are something anyone will react negatively to, at any time and any where. Admit it, mothers and fathers would do the same thing I do if they could get away with it. As it is, lazier parents do act like I do and just ignore or step a few feet away from their own tantrum throwing kid or flat out try and pretend this isn't even happening.

    Kids are always trying, testing, indulging and sometimes that goes easier than other times, for all of us in the mix.

  5. I think that this is a good way to change kids behavor