By Dr. Stacey Patton
Some of you may have heard about that idiotic Philly mom who got upset and called her goon relatives to shoot a fellow Septa bus passenger after he threatened to call child services on her for hitting her child. In that incident, which took place in early August, an angry 20 year-old Penny Chapman made a phone call to her brothers Karon and Raheen Paterson and directed them to “shoot that ni–a” when the bus arrived at her stop.
Video taken inside the bus shows one man sliding a large assault rifle out of his jeans and passengers, including a mother and her 4 year-old son running for cover as bullets fly through the windows. It also shows an 80 year-old Asian woman dropping to the floor just seconds before a bullet flies overhead.
Watching this horrific scene play out on my computer screen made me pause and think back to all those times I ever dared to open my mouth and say something when I witnessed a child being mistreated. And for the next few days and weeks I found myself contemplating what I should tell others who’ve said that this video graphically illustrates the dangers of speaking up on behalf of a defenseless child.
“What do I do if I see an adult hitting, roughly handling, or cussing out a child in public? Do I intervene? Or do I keep quiet and mind my own business?”
Even before FOX aired this video, I often received these questions from email writers and audience members who participate in my child abuse prevention and positive discipline workshops. The questions typically come from white women who encounter young or middle-aged black mothers slapping or verbally cutting down a child. For years now I’ve been loudly beating my drum, telling my black and white participants to “Speak up! If these people will hit a child in public, imagine what happens behind closed doors.”
Many participants want to say something but are often afraid to intervene for fear of being told: “Mind your damn business, white lady! Don’t tell me how to raise my child!”
Others, black and white, are afraid of being physically threatened by the angry parent. Some say they don’t want to make matters worse for the child who might get physically or verbally beat down even more when they get home. And every now and then I hear a black audience member say they are hesitant to report abuse because they don’t want to see yet another black child end up a statistic in the child welfare industry.
When I was in my 20s and still working through my own anger issues and traumatic memories stemming from the physical abuse I endured as a child, I had no problem walking up to a parent and saying, “Don’t hit that child like that! What’s wrong with you? Why don’t you try to hit ME like that? Pick on somebody your own size!”
In time I moved away from those kinds of heated confrontations by shooting child hitters a dark and indignant glare, turning my nose up at them, or simply shaking my head. But over the years I’ve learned that kind and delicate intervention is the better approach. If you come at a parent angry, judgmental or in a way that embarrasses them in front of others then it defeats the purpose.
I have found that sometimes a parent is so stressed out that they may not see that how they are treating their child is abusive. If the parent is out of control, call the police right away. Use a camera phone to record the incident if available. Don’t give the parent a disapproving stare or confront them directly. Negative reactions are likely to increase the parent’s stress or anger, and could make matters worse for the child.
Offer support, even just a smile. If you see a parent struggling, hold the door open or offer to help with bags. You can say something like, “Oh, my kid used to do that all the time. That’s really normal.”
Here are some other simple tips that might help:
Start a conversation with the adult to direct attention away from the child.
“He’s really trying your patience today, huh.”
“My child sometimes acts out like that, too.”
“These little ones can really wear you out sometimes. Is there anything I can do to help?”
Divert the child’s attention (if misbehaving) by talking to the child.
“I like your baseball cap. Are you a Mets fan (whatever team logo) fan?”
“I like your T-shirt. Did your Mommy pick that out for you?”
Look for an opportunity to praise the parent or child.
“Your child has the most beautiful eyes.”
“That’s a very pretty shirt on your little girl/boy. Where did you get it?”
If the child is in danger, offer assistance.
If the child is left unattended in a grocery cart or a car, stand near the child until the parent returns. If the child is in immediate danger, call the police!
To report suspected child abuse or neglect, please call Child Protective Services at 1-800-4-A-Child, 24 hours a day. As long as your report is made in good faith, and without malice, your identity is kept confidential and free from any liability.
Yes, the Philly incident was pretty scary. But we cannot use it as an excuse to keep quiet and mind our own business. Thankfully the state prosecutor will make an example out Chapman and her goon brothers who are awaiting trial. Hopefully what happened on that Septa bus last month will remain an isolated incident.
As members of the human family, we all have a duty to speak up when a child is being mistreated. My hope is that eventually states will help our cause by making it illegal for parents to use physical force against their children, in public or private, just as they did in the fight against domestic abuse of women.