How I turned a teen's nasty attitude into a teachable moment for my children / by Jennifer Evans

teachable moment, parenting - Fotoplicity A few weeks ago I took my children out to lunch at a popular burger joint.  We sat at a booth-style table - my children on one side and myself on the other. While waiting for our food to arrive, my children (ages 7 & 10) were having a discussion about random things when all of a sudden the teenage girl who was sitting behind my children stood up, whipped around and yelled "CAN YOU STOP HITTING THE SEAT - IT'S ANNOYING"  She quickly turned around in a huff and slammed herself back down in the seat.   It took me a moment to figure out that she was yelling at my children because I did not see or hear them do anything that warranted that reaction - and I was looking right at them!  I glanced at my kids and they were as confused as I was.

I asked my kids if they did anything, which they swore they didn't.  I took some time to assess what happened and quickly realized that the table benches were the ones that have a shared back (the seat part on either side of one back).   The one my children were sitting on was off balance.  Now that I was paying close attention, I saw that every time this girl sitting on the other side moved, the entire chair moved too.

My first instinct was to let the whole thing go, but as we continued with our meal, I couldn't help but think about her reaction more and more.  Clearly my kids weren't out of control and even if they had been more "active" in the seat than they should have been her initial, venomous reaction was uncalled for.  My husband and I put a lot of effort into teaching our children manners and always tell them how they need to respect other people.  From holding doors open to simply acknowledging others - we pretty much drill this stuff into them on a daily basis.  And here they were, doing absolutely nothing and they got nastily reprimanded by some stranger.  No.  This didn't sit well with me.

I'm typically the person who lets things roll off her back.  I don't say anything, I don't get involved and certainly don't confront people.  Sometimes it's a good thing, sometimes it's not.  This was one of those times where I knew that I needed to jump into the fire and teach my children that there are times when you do say something.  More importantly, I wanted to reinforce to them that her reaction was uncalled for, inappropriate and rude.  I would NEVER want my children to think what she did was OK and I certainly didn't want them to think they did anything wrong.

As we packed up to leave, I told my children that I was going to talk to the girl.  Of course they were embarrassed and didn't want me to, but I had to.  As my children watched, I walked around to her table and said the following,

"I want to apologize for my children bumping the back of the seat, but I want you to know that they weren't doing anything but changing positions - you see, this seat is broken and they experienced the same "bumping" every time you moved.  I also wanted to tell you that your reaction was completely uncalled for and extremely rude.  I take a lot of pride in teaching my children to respect others and a can tell you that a simple, "Would you mind not bumping the back of the chair", would have sufficed.  Had you done that, I guarantee they would have quickly apologized and modified their behavior accordingly.  Your spiteful reaction showed them the exact opposite of what I teach them.  I would suggest that your really re-think the way you approach people.  But I do thank you for providing my children with a perfect example of how NOT to treat others and how NOT to behave in public."

As I spoke, the young girl sunk lower and lower into her chair.  Her boyfriend just about wanted to crawl under the table - he wouldn't even look at me.  To say they were uncomfortable was an understatement.  And yes, my kids were embarrassed, but they knew I was standing up for them.

As we walked out the door, my decision to confront this girl was validated when a woman stopped me outside the restaurant to tell me that she saw the entire thing and was glad I said something because she wanted to as well.  She had even witnessed something I did not....apparently after the girl yelled at my children her boyfriend said something to her about her so rude for no reason and she told him "she didn't care".  This woman was so bothered by the girl's behavior that she too wanted to say something but opted not to since she wasn't directly involved.  She ended our conversation by telling both my children that they had done absolutely nothing wrong.  I want to thank her reinforcing my decision and validating my children's feelings!

Why am I telling you this story?  I suppose because I want others who are like me (those who prefer to just let things go and never confront others) that sometimes it is more important and meaningful to step outside your comfort zone and use moments like this to teach your children that standing up for yourself (in an adult-like, calm way) is much more powerful than doing nothing.  I know that this incident made an impression on my kids.  Not only do they know that I will stand up for them but they know that the type of behavior they witnessed was completely unacceptable.  I know that when they are teenagers and a young child bangs the back of their chair they won't react the way this girl did.  I also hope that I made that girl so uncomfortable that she will think twice before reacting like this again.