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Outsourcing discipline?

If you and your kids are a fan of Robert Munsch stories, you've probably read Mortimer. Mortimer is a young boy who doesn't want to go to sleep. He starts singing at the top of his lungs as soon as his mother says goodnight and closes the door. This is followed by his father, his brothers and sisters, and all sorts of other people going up and telling him to be quiet and go to sleep. Each time he promises to be quiet and each time he starts singing loudly as soon as they close the door. Eventually the police are called and they also have no success in getting Mortimer to be quiet. This results in all of the people who were trying to get Mortimer to go to sleep fighting loudly with each other downstairs as Mortimer drifts off to sleep.

This morning on the radio, I was listening to a report on the increase of calls from residents of Ottawa reporting by-law infractions. Most of them were people reporting their neighbours for things like noise, parking infractions, pets, and the like. They mused that people appear to be more likely to pick up the phone to complain to the city than to have a conversation with a neighbour about the problem. To illustrate how far things have gone, they told the story of parents who called to report their 13 year old daughter for refusing to turn her music down. They wanted by-law officers to come out and get her to turn it down.

I've heard plenty of teachers complain that parents are essentially outsourcing discipline to them. I've heard plenty of parents threaten their children with possible arrest when they are attempting or considering something that may be illegal. And now I've heard of parents calling by-law officers to come over and discipline their child.

Move over Super Nanny....Ottawa has 3-1-1.

What do you think? Is reporting your child's by-law violations a way to teach them responsibility or is it an attempt to outsource parental responsibility to city staff?
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Reader Comments (31)

Oh goodness. I suppose its for shock-value; threatening a child with calling the police? I can't imagine even doing something like that myself... but then, I only have young children, who haven't been raised in an atmophere of violence. For those who grow up in violent households, police calls are a matter of course.

As far as outsourcing... I do certainly outsource some of my parental "duties" to my childrens' teachers. If I didn't trust them to discipline & teach them (in a way congruous to my own belief system) I wouldn't be sending them to school. I see school teachers (and nannies, of which I had one as well) and grandparents, and all child caregivers as part of a child's greater disciplinary web... everyone shares a bit of the responsibility of raising said child, and I think that's beneficial for my children, as they have exposure to differing personalities and modes of communication. Of course, again, I trust my children's teachers and caregivers to follow the style of disicpline that my husband & I are most comfortable with, and we don't allow them to spend time alone with adults who we aren't comfortable would use respectful, non-punative discipline. I suppose not everyone has that choice.

February 15, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterkelly @kellynaturally

And not just 311 but 911 as well. Its also a common occurrence for parents, especially of teenagers, to call the police for help in dealing with their teens difficult behaviours.

I feel that all too often parents outsource responsibility, unfairly, to a lot of different people: daycare providers, teachers, coaches, public agencies. Its not to say that others don't have a role in disciplining and guiding our children but its been my observation that all too often the pendulum swings towards 'let someone else deal with it'

February 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSara

it's easier to call the city than it is to actually have a conversation with your neighbor. Now, neighbors barely talk to each other let alone feel like they are connected enough to say 'hey, I noticed your daughter's music is a bit loud in the evenings....'

As for parents who 'outsource' don't get me started. I've been witness to it all too often and it makes my blood boil!

February 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterHeather

I think there are probably families in which things have escalated to the point where this is the only way a parent can get compliance from a child. I also think that there are parents who lack the skills and resources to communicate with their children in any other ways and this is the end result. I don't think those are the norm. I also don't think that it's effective. Sure, it may stop the child from doing that particular thing at that time, but I'm not sure that at that point when things have escalated so far that having a visit from an officer is going to be a long term answer.

February 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCasey

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by phdinparenting, Jennifer Jackson, kelly, Angella Martin, Bernadette and others. Bernadette said: Outsourcing discipline?: If you and your kids are a fan of Robert Munsch stories, you’ve probably read Mortimer.... http://bit.ly/euHBlM [...]

I think in many cases it's silly, but in some cases it may be for safety. You might have neighbors who won't take kindly to being told to quiet down. In our old apartment we heard gun shots occasionally, heard a neighbor threaten to shoot his wife, etc. When you have those sorts of neighbors, you don't really want to knock on their door and suggest they turn down the music or mow their lawn.
In a safe suburban neighborhood though I agree that it's probably overkill in the vast majority of cases.

February 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMaman A Droit

I've lived on this street my whole life, so I feel lucky to know almost all of my neighbors very very well. There's a few newbies around these days and I don't know them as well - but we still chat a couple times a week.

When I was a kid, I never understood how so many people didn't know their neighbors. I knew all of mine in a half-mile radius. Kids and their bicycles, you know? But when I was in my early 20s, I moved away from this neighborhood for a couple years and that completely changed. I didn't know anyone in my new neighborhoods - and I didn't make any effort to get to know them. Now that I'm back on the same road I grew up on, I make much more of an effort. When I didn't know my neighbors, I was lonely and afraid of everyone around me. I don't ever want to experience that again. A few months back, I accidentally left my door open when I took my baby to the doctor. Our neighbor saw it when he came home from work, went over to check the house for intruders, called us to make sure we were okay, and then closed everything up.

It's uncomfortable getting to know new people sometimes, but I hope I always remember to try. Especially when we share a fenceline!

As for the outsourcing...I don't get it. You're the parent! TAKE THE RADIO AWAY! (Or whatever.) It makes my blood boil. It's a waste of resources, for one. That 9-1-1 operator could be answering an emergency call but instead they have to hear about your teenager's behavioral issues? That is unacceptable! Second, guiding a child's behavior falls under parental responsibility as far as I'm concerned. You can have other people pitching in and what-not, but those people should probably be individuals in their life: daycare providers, grandparents, cousins, neighbors, friends. Certainly not the police. The state and its workers are here to keep us safe, not to raise our kids for us.

February 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSarah @ BecomingSarah.com

I love Mortimer. My 4 year loves it too. She can do the policemen's voices just like Robert Munsch.

We won't be calling the cops to get our kids to quiet down. But only because I am now comfortable being the "heavy". I can say no to them and I am ok with them not liking it. (Having said that they are 4 and 2. Maybe I should get back to you when they are teenagers.)

February 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCapital Mom

I have noticed an increase in my area too. Last summer a neighbor called the police because they heard my young child screaming... out in the back yard --- playing in the middle of the day. They at no point walked the very small distance to come talk to me.

The police obviously had to come because of the nature of the call the neighbor placed but they ended up getting a ticket for making such a ridiculous call. Apparently the neighbor is known in the area for being like that.

I dont get it.

February 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDevan @ Accustomed Chaos

As a teacher, I outsourced my discipline issues to the parents. Lol

I think Kelly had the right idea, though. We should be engaged as a community in handling discipline issues. My husband is very comfortable helping my friends' kids understand appropriate behavior in our home. I tend to be more skittish of that, afraid to cause offense, but no one has ever expressed concern about what my husband says to their kids... However, I think what teachers face in a class with 16-30 kids is a different story. They have real behavior problems from some children who have very little guidance at home. And we can't expect teachers to educate our kids the way we want them to while they're forced to spend their day handling bullies.

February 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGeigerin

When we cease to see our children as individual people who deserve to be treated with the same dignity and respect we want from them we give up a wonderful opportunity to have a meaningful relationship with them that is intimately tied to our ability to influence their behavior in meaningful ways. Sometimes what needs to be outsourced is society's general outlook on parenting. It is time to embrace our children's uniqueness rather than trying to make them robotic mimickers of our personal values. If they don't know it on the inside as true for themselves they certainly won't embrace it longterm in the way the live outwardly.

February 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAmy

Wow. I think this is taking this a little too far. I can see the threat of having the police called, but to actually call them on such small "infractions" as having their music too loud? I would only consider calling the police if someone was going to get hurt and there were no other options to fix the problem.

When it comes to this, we parents need to step back and see how effective our discipline is working and if we are being consistent. I don't think we need to pawn it off on someone else to fix the problems that are in our job description as a parent.

Um, no, I can't imagine calling the cops on my kid. That seems like a little much. However, if my kid grew up and was arrested, I can imagine letting them stew awhile before rushing to rescue him.

February 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMelissa E.

Police and bylaw officers already have way too much on their hands, including ACTUAL problems. Calling them to report your child's misbehaviour is just a terrible waste of resources. Outsourcing or not, it's totally inappropriate.

February 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAmber

Amazingly cute pictures. Clearly he's going to be a heartbreaker

February 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMary @ Parenthood

Erm whoops. Wrong blog!

I guess that's what I get for commenting on my phone - sorry! I don't think that calling bylaw or 911 is typical parenting behaviour. If it were, most would not find it surprising! I do think that our society does send the message that parents are less capable than professionals, encouraging the outsourcing of child rearing. So perhaps we shouldn't be surprised when some take this message to the extreme!

The neighbour thing is very common though. Many communities have lost their sense of community and since they don't know their neighbours they avoid confrontations and conflict. After all, who wants their first or only interactions with their neighbours to be negative? To avoid situations like that we need to get to know our neighbours but to do that requires a level of deliberate engagement and less after-hours busyness. Most people would rather rely on bylaw in the event they have a problem. Sad but true.

There is also fear about personal safety but I think that in many cases the fear is not justified. It's actually fear of the unknown.

February 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMary @ Parenthood

They mused that people appear to be more likely to pick up the phone to complain to the city than to have a conversation with a neighbour about the problem.

I think the wisdom of having a face to face conversation vs. calling the city depends pretty heavily on where you live, what kind of neighbours you have, and exactly what it is that you're complaining about. There are circumstances where a conversation can range from counterproductive to actually dangerous. If my sister had ever had a problem with the creepy, unpredictably explosive guy she had to live next to for a while, I would definitely hope she'd have called the city instead of trying to deal with him one on one. And my husband actually had an upstairs neighbour in an apartment building get all threatening and in-your-face for knocking on the door to ask him to turn it down. Unless you know the people in question well, sometimes you're better safe than sorry...sad but true.

February 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAmi

I can't imagine calling the police over my kids playing music too loud. I can talk to mine, and if that doesn't work, they can always lose the right to play their music at all.

I'm a firm believer in allowing the person supervising my child to do appropriate discipline. My sister and I have agreed that whichever of us catches a misbehavior can handle basic discipline, including referral to the appropriate parent if it needs more than can be handled in the moment. Helps that our parenting theories are similar enough that we don't have to worry about excessive punishments.

I've had other parents apologize if they have to gently discipline my kids, and I always tell them that so long as it's reasonable, it's not a problem. They'd better not lay a hand on my children, call names, etc., but stopping misbehavior is absolutely allowed and welcome.

February 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterStephanie - Green SAHM


February 16, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting


I think there is a difference between trusting teachers to discipline your children and depending on them to do it because you don't do it. That is what I've heard teachers complain about the most -- i.e. situations where the parents are not engaged at all in helping to guide their children.

February 16, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

As a teacher, I'd like to express my frustration at the way society keeps piling on the things we're supposed to be teaching the youth. Problems from poor money management to obesity is being put on the shoulders of the schools to deal with (and add to the already full curriculum). Meanwhile, people complain that math and literacy skills are lacking... teachers can only do so much with the time and resources they have.

February 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMelanie S

Today on the radio they featured a story by one man who built a shed on his property, next to his house. Apparently it was too close to the property line with the neighbour, but he hadn't realized that as he was building it. The neighbours waited until he was done building (took several weekends of work) and then called by-law officers. They came out, inspected, ordered the shed to be dismantled and moved, and came out again to inspect after the work was complete. The man said that if his neighbours had just approached him when he started building the shed he would have been happy to put it elsewhere. Instead, he wasted a ton of time and so did the by-law officers.

I agree that if you're worried about your safety, perhaps calling by-law officers is the best approach. But if they are people you have friendly conversations with over the fence and are just too shy to raise issues with, then I think that is a waste of city resources and taxpayer money.

February 16, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Oh Puh-LEASE. In my city, the police are needed for actual emergencies. Drugs, shootings, traffic accidents, etc. Unless your kid is brandishing a weapon because you told him to turn down the radio, you need to figure it out.

The neighbor thing saddens me. Last winter, my city got over 4 feet of snow in less than a week. We are not equipped to deal with it. And as it usually happens when it snows, people save their parking spots with cones, chairs, etc. Members of a family listserv I belong to were actually recommending people call 311 (our non-emergency one-call service line) to report their neighbors and get them ticketed! Instead of a polite conversation asking them to move their items! I was horrified. Especially in this economy, I'd be seriously annoyed if my neighbor got me a 50 dollar ticket because he couldn't be bothered to cross the street and knock on my door.

February 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKayris

Gun violence and domestic abuse are what the police are actually for! Of course it is appropriate to call in those cases. But there are many situations that fall in between that and a wealthy suburban neighborhood. We've had some apartment building neighbors who were lower class than us and often even slightly mentally off, but still could be reasoned with directly without need to call in police.

February 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterChanna

I usually don't post complaints on blogs, because, you know, it's your blog, you can post whatever you want and it's not of my business. But I know you've expressed an interest in catering your posts more to what your readers are interested in, and I have a free moment, so here I am. It's these kinds of posts that make me usually quit reading a blog, if I do. I know most people like to stay "tuned in" to what's going on in popular culture, which basically means the associated press or various other outlets. I'm of the mind, however, that these kinds of stories are basically just pre-chewed discussions that are not very interesting, and usually only get play because they spark "debate" (read: controversy). Not really news. Usually (not necessarily in this blog, I don't follow closely enough to be able to say, just in general) they involve some sort of intimation about how the world is changing, how different things are "these days," etc. based on one or a few instances. Other times, they're "reports" on what someone said on some social network. Really? It just feels like a waste of my time. Usually the apply a name to some "phenomenon" to legitimize it (i.e. "outsourcing discipline"). Maybe this doesn't make sense, and I hope it doesn't come off as overly critical, but it's my opinion, since you have shown interest in your readers' interests before. I've just noticed a lot of these kinds of posts, like a recent post when you felt it necessary to comment on all the stuff being said in the blogosphere despite it being more of the same stuff. I just don't really think the blogosphere is interesting enough to read a blog about blogs (about blogs).

February 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJen


Thank you for your feedback.

While I understand part of what you said, I'm not sure I understand it completely. Could you give me an example of a post or posts you did enjoy or some topics you would like to see covered? Contrasting what you don't like with what you are interested in may help me understand better.

February 17, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

I have several friends with young children who tell their child that if he or she doesn't do (or not do) something, that the police will come. I've always found this to be scary. If my daughter is ever lost or in trouble, I want her to feel comfortable asking a police officer for help. She thinks that police are here to help us, and doesn't equate them with punishment.

February 18, 2011 | Unregistered Commentermamakate

Too sad that people can't talk to their neighbors. The political climate in the US is being dominated by people who have no tolerance for intelligent discourse. People who post gun targets on their websites, who are publicly intolerant of homosexuality, (and then are outraged when this is brought to their attention), who publicly attack attempts at serious public health initiatives (there are serious gaps in care between African-American and Caucasian pregnancy outcomes in the US, you can't pretend they don't exist).
So I am not surprised that people are becoming polarized in their communities. Society's role models don't support intelligent discourse.

February 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKathy Morelli, LPC

I think this could lead to a very difficult situation. Thinking of it in behavioral terms, I imagine that the more exposure to law enforcement a child has, the less they're going to see them as mysterious & fear-causing authority and the more they're going to realize they are simply going to tell them not to do something. Eventually, this would lead to them not taking them seriously, which may lead to an increase in more serious issues in their future.

That's assuming the parent would use this tactic more regularly.

Now using it creatively, once or twice, for an unruly adolescent... maybe it could work. I think the parent would need to explain before & afterwards why it happened, what it means to be a responsible citizen/neighbor, etc. & how to avoid it in the future. I'm for creativity in discipline as long as it's within healthy boundaries. And I've worked with some very difficult adolescents while completing my internships, and I have a couple in mind that may have actually responded to this.

Maybe it could be thought of as not letting someone else parent for them, but really using "the village" to help raise the child?

February 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMomfish

I've seen too many parents who don't parent their children, but count on the school system to do it for them. I agree, you should be able to trust teachers to discipline and teach; however, there are a few who turn that responsibility entirely over to others.

February 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLara

All this being said, as a teacher, I know a few parents who have HAD to call the police on their children because the children (not young little ones, but ones aged 9 to 16) were physically assaulting them, or at risk of harming themselves. Calling the police is a perfectly appropriate action when there is a real danger present. These parents should be praised for seeking help.

February 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMary

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