The Parent As Arbiter
( Originally Published 1916 )
WHENEVER anything goes wrong with the children, the parent is usually tempted to apply some punishment in proportion to the damage done to the feelings, or in proportion to the damage done to the materials with which the child comes in contact. But since the parent is in most cases jury and judge and executioner rolled into one, it is well to delay execution until sentence has been carefully pronounced, and to suspend judgment, before pronouncing sentence, until all the facts have been ascertained. It is well worth while to be deliberate in all our dealings with the young people, rather than to let our indignation run away with our judgment. For, by taking pains to inquire into the circumstances of every disagreeable escapade, we impress the children with our efforts at dealing justly with them. Even if we do occasionally misjudge a deed, as we no doubt shall, the child will come to feel that we are trying to be fair.
Herbert knew no fear. But he had a great deal of curiosity. The prospect of a novel experience did not make him hesitate. On the contrary, it was an irresistible temptation. Therefore, when he came into the house one sunny summer day with his clothes just drip-ping a trail of water, his mother was sure that he had ventured into the lake in quest of a new sensation. And she was accordingly ready to punish him for doing such a foolish thing.
But Herbert protested that he was not to blame. " They pushed me in," he kept repeating, " I didn't go in myself." "Who pushed you in?" asked the mother. " Why, Joe and Stephen did ; they pushed me 'way into the water from the beach," Herbert explained.
This looked serious. While the shore sloped so slowly that a child would have to go out a hundred yards to get into dangerous depths, pushing children into a lake is no joke, and the matter would have to be investigated. So mother sent to the neighbors' houses to bring Joseph and Stephen before the bar; and while they were coming she changed Herbert's clothes.
The boys looked a bit scared. It took some little time for them to compose themselves sufficiently to tell a connected story. But Joseph, the oldest, finally made it clear that they had indeed pushed Herbert into the lake, but . . . (for there was a but) Herbert had asked them to do it !
Now of course it was very foolish for them to, push their companion into the lake—even if he did beg them to do it. But as they did not originate the deviltry, the mother thought that they needed no more than an admonition and a sermonette ; and she reserved the punishment for Herbert. The mother, having acted as jury and discovered the facts, found Herbert guilty. She then assumed the role of judge, and condemned him to solitary confinement for the rest of the day; he was to remain in the house and play without any companions. She then proceeded to carry out the sentence as chief executioner.
The following day, Herbert started off on a new round of adventures as gaily as ever, but apparently chastened. The punishment has had its effects, thought his mother. She was therefore greatly shocked, in the middle of the afternoon, to see the young gentleman come up the drive as thoroughly soaked as a dipping in the water could make him. " Why did you go into the lake? " she asked, before he had time to put in a defense. " They made me do it," came the answer, " they told me to." This did indeed seem hard to believe, and the mother felt quite certain that there was more to be told. She again sent for Joseph and Stephen and Eddy; and again she restrained all punitive proceedings until she could give the culprit a fair hearing.
With the arrival of the accused and the witnesses—for the boys were to tell their own story—came also an unexpected guest who happened to be passing when Herbert took his plunge. Stephen and Joseph admitted that they " told him to go into the lake," but they added that they did not think he would do it. The onlooker, however, testified that the boys had urged Herbert on by challenging him to walk into the water, until he felt that his self-respect demanded that he accept the " dare." The boys admitted that they had done more than " tell " him to get his clothes wet; they had really dared him to risk another punishment from the parental authorities—perhaps a whipping.
These disclosures put a different color on the situation. The jury found that Herbert had indeed walked into the lake foolishly, and had done certain injury to his clothes,, and had violated the injunction not to go bathing except in the bathing suit and at the pre-scribed time. But she also found Stephen and Joseph guilty (Eddy was too young to get more than the impressive reflection of the proceedings) of having tempted their companion to do what they all knew was considered wrong.
The judge decided that Herbert should be discharged with a warning about letting other people make his decisions for him; and she remanded the other boys to their respective parents for further judgment.
It is particularly difficult to deal fairly with a child when situations are complicated by the presence of other children; but then it is especially important that we should make the greater effort, for we have to be fair to Stephen and Joseph as well as to Herbert.