Boys Acting Out

Late Sunday morning, my husband and I were standing in the long deli line, ticket in hand, waiting for our number to pop up on the counter. I was checking messages on my iPhone when I heard a young boy call his mother a "stupid jerk-off" and saw the cart slamming into her thigh as he pushed it toward her.

As a survivor of domestic violence, I always hear these kinds of things in stores.  I seem to have developed spider sense hearing when voices are raised, when names are called, when shoving ensues.  I don't know why I always seem to be there when a man pushes a woman up against the brick wall outside of Wa-Wa, grabs a woman by the jacket under the stairs at Garden State Mall, or when a woman is running through the parking lot at Deptford Mall screaming, "Somebody call the cops, he's going to kill me." Maybe its because I will step in, tell them to stop, let them know that they are not in a bubble and that someone is aware of what is going on while calling mall security, 911, store managers or whatever apparent authority is appropriate for the incident.

But these two boys, who where exhibiting this same behavior were only about 10-12 years old. They were angry and red faced, calling her names and pushing the cart filled with groceries at her viciously. She was trying to subdue them as people do with children acting out in public places, with emphatic whispers that the boys knew meant nothing. Evidently they wanted her to purchase something and she had said "no." While the one boy shoved the cart at her, the other stomped over to the door, pulled the item  out slammed the door and threw it into the cart.  She said, "I told you no." and picked up the item to return it and the cart-pusher spun the cart and sent it crashing into another display about five feet away from where they were standing.

So I made my way over to where they were and told the boys they were being rude and disrespectful to the woman, the other shoppers and the store itself by acting this way. Told them to have some respect for her and for themselves and that they should be ashamed of how they were acting in public.

At that the cart pusher balled his hands up into two fists and started looking for something to throw. This child was absolutely enraged.  His face was red, he was panting, gritting his teeth and actually started making a noise in his throat that sounded like a growl.  So I told him that if he continued to act out and throw stuff around the store I was going to call the store manager.

This is how my stepfather acted when he lost his temper: this red-faced panting, clenching and unclenching of fists, this looking around for something or someone to toss, punch, break, hit or slam. The boy stopped pacing and seemed to be calming down when his mother said, "Are you happy now that you've made a scene?" She meant that my speaking up is what caused a scene and not how they were treating her. I also recognized this statement as one my mother made often about my stepfather's acts of violence.

So it really got me to thinking when do we take this type of rage in children seriously? If we wait until it manifests itself in a domestic violence case as an adult, we've lost them. Do we wait until they are teenagers and acting out? If I saw this rage in a supermarket, what do his family, teachers, and neighbors see?  And, when is it appropriate for someone to step in and try to stop it, call attention to it, or even attempt to help. Why does it not upset everyone when they see this already uncontrolled rage in a twelve or so year old boy?

I know that there are those that think it was none of my business.  That I should have acted like all the other shoppers had, walking away head shaking, tsk, tsk, tsking and there but for the grace of Goding and just gone about my shopping silently and ignore the whole thing. But I can't, I have to admit that after living through these types of rages, I am tuned in to them in public because they still make me feel unsafe.  I call the cops because I couldn't when I was a child. It would have been some sort of mortal sin to do that simply because it was my family.

And maybe this Sunday morning incident had nothing to do with my childhood and simply was none of my business.  I followed my instinct going over to them to try to stop the scene. I wanted to get them to stop treating her like it was okay for them to threaten and bully her.  Who knows, maybe I am still trying to save my mother. But everything in me screamed that this was domestic violence, even though the perpetrator was a child.

What has this child been exposed to that being so angry and out of control was acceptable behavior? How had he known it was okay to be physically and verbally threatening to his mother? I couldn't help but wonder, was he only repeating how he saw his father, grandfather, stepfather, uncle or brother treat his mother or other women? Did he think that witnessing this kind of behavior gave him permission to do the same? This child has already learned the first and most damaging thing he could possible learn at his age: that verbally and physically threatening a woman is what you do when you don't get what you want. The cycle continues.


Cara Lopez Lee said...

I don't see anything wrong with what you did. They were already causing a scene and disrupting your sense of safety and peace, as well as that of many around you, I'm sure. So you didn't cause the scene. His mother wasn't getting compliance, and if simply verbally asking for appropriate behavior in your presence could prompt him to escalate the behavior, then there's something wrong with him, not you.

I will point out, however, that he might have had some invisible mental syndrome, such as Autism. In that case, his mother might have been doing everything right to de-escalate the situation. I've learned a little about this, and you cannot confront an Aspbergers kid on the spot - unless they're endangering someone or themselves. The normal discipline that works for other kids doesn't work for them, because they don't understand social cues, get easily confused by ordinary discipline, and get more freaked out the more confused they become. So, in that case, indeed, adding another person to the situation could have escalated it.

But, on the off chance that was the case, you would have no way of knowing that. And certainly many kids who behave like that are simply not being appropriately disciplined by their parents. Either way, you were simply trying to protect yourself and your community in a public place, by asking for appropriate behavior. If it's in your face, it IS your business. You have guts. I wish more people would step in and confront bullies.

jen revved said...

Hi Joan-- I know how it feels to be triggered. So that you don't become a target, and looking back at the times when I have stepped up like you did, I would think that going directly to the store manager might be good-- it's so hard to know.... thanks for posting this! xj

Joan Hanna said...

Cara and Jen, thanks so much for your comments. I do have to confess that I didn't think they might be suffering from an autism disorder until afterward. I only felt that I should step in at the time because it seemed the situation was escalating. My talking to the boys did at least calm their behavior a bit, at least while they were still in that section of the store.
It was later that evening that I began to think about the root of domestic violence and if the seed could be not only planted but already manifesting itself in kids this young.

Joan Hanna said...

Cara, I just saw your website for your book. I also write reviews for Author Exposure and Would you like me to review your book?