Care and Feeding

How Do I, an Adult, Deal With a Bunch of Awful Tween Boys Hassling Me?

Do I track down their parents? Ignore them? Speak to them sternly?

A group of tween boys looking mean.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Getty Images Plus.

Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Email careandfeeding@slate.com or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.

Dear Care and Feeding,

I am a 27-year-old woman without children, and I’m encountering an issue with some of the boys in my neighborhood. There is a group of about five boys with whom I have had multiple run-ins. I think they might be about 10 to 12 years old.

I will freely admit that I am uncomfortable around children and downright dislike poorly behaved children. While I enjoy spending small quantities of time with my friends’ kids, I have a tendency to be curmudgeonly and am also intensely introverted. My childhood was spent playing with Breyer horses and reading Anne of Green Gables as an only child. I have no experience with boisterous or disruptive children. So I am perplexed by the issues at hand.

Several times now, the neighbor boys have screamed curse words and epithets at me. If these were adults, I would be very comfortable reacting or not reacting as the case may be. As a woman, I sadly have quite a bit of experience dealing with being harassed. However, these are children! The boys once blocked my ability to get into my garage by stopping their bikes on my driveway and screaming at me. I just turned my blinker on and waited for them to clear, which they eventually did after a two-minute game of chicken. Tonight, as I was on a walk with my husband, they yelled hello at us. We greeted them and continued walking. They began to scream that we were “fucking gay” and “Are you fucking deaf?” I didn’t see any adults around, and I’m not sure it’s appropriate for me to confront random children about their behavior.

Especially concerning for me is that they are using sexual orientation and disability status as insults. I shudder to think about what they might say to people of color or with visible disabilities, etc. And if this is how they treat adults, how are they interacting with the younger children in the neighborhood? I don’t want them to think this is an acceptable way to move through the world.

What should I do? Do I walk up to screaming children and tell them to knock it off? Try to figure out who their parents are and complain? Ignore it and hope the behavior decreases? I don’t enjoy giving mental space to such a petty issue, but also the injustice of it irks me.

Am I getting bent out of shape for nothing? I just want to be able to walk through my neighborhood in peace!

—Barren Would-Be Hermit

Dear BWBH,

What horribly raised children! They are not your responsibility, blessedly, other than in the vague it-takes-a-village sense. If you have any idea who the parents of the worst offenders are, you can certainly knock on their door and say, “Your son called me ‘fucking gay,’ and I would prefer he not do so in the future.”

In the moment, I would go for “That’s very rude” or a dignified silence, and be thankful that you are not having children yourself. If you do see them treating younger children or anyone with a disability in a bullying fashion, intervene in the moment with Firm Adult Vocal Energy, which is a powerful force you may not as yet realize you possess. The same goes for racial slurs. If the village exists for any purpose, it is to say, “That’s racist and rude. Leave this person alone.”

I’m sorry, and I hope you can enjoy your pleasant hermit-y life without too much of this nonsense.

Dear Care and Feeding,

What’s the current etiquette on kids writing thank-you notes for gifts received at their birthday party? My son just turned 5 and received a few gifts at his party, some of which he opened while the guests were present (and thus thanked the givers in person) and others that he opened at home afterward. He likes to write and draw sometimes on his own time but is generally disinclined to do so on demand—i.e. he’s not the kind of kid that’s happy to draw a thank-you picture for every kid on a list just because I ask him to.

What’s the ruling on this? I want to teach him to feel and show gratitude, but is forcing him to produce thank-you notes really the way to do that? I honestly don’t know. I am pretty sure that even if I ask him to dictate notes and write his initials at the bottom (his name is long!), it will still require me to put the words in his mouth first.

—Do We Really Have to Do This?

Dear Must We,

Thank-you notes are a) lovely and b) a mostly gendered way by which others judge the quality of a mother’s parenting or a new wife’s etiquette, and c) on their way out.

If you thank someone in person and you are a 5-year-old, you’re set. I think that if it is important for you to instill the practice of thank-you notes in your very small child, you’re going to have to do the dictate-and-sign thing. Which is fine. Probably a good idea. Do that.

• If you missed Friday’s Care and Feeding column, read it here.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My boyfriend and I are in a long-term, committed, loving relationship that is moving toward marriage and building a family together. We talk about having children together and are both excited about our future. Recently, he and I were hanging out with his infant nephew, and (as many people do) I began talking to the adorable baby in “baby talk.” My voice became high-pitched, I used cutesy versions of normal words, you know. My boyfriend said he hated my baby voice! He talks to babies in a normal tone of voice, which I find endearing in its own way, but also kind of weird? I know baby voices can be viscerally annoying sometimes, but I just can’t help it! I have to talk to babies in a baby voice!

My question is: Will he still find my baby voice annoying when we have our own babies? Will I be doomed to either annoy my partner or talk to babies in a normal, robotic adult tone of voice? Is it always annoying to use a baby voice when talking to babies?

—Baby Voice

Dear Baby Voice,

He can suck it up. If you one day have an adorable child, it will be fine (and utterly common) for one of you to speak in a slightly high-pitched tone and say cutesy things while the other says “Good day, Elizabeth. How is your toy giraffe this fine May morning?”

He’s just a weirdo. Whom you love.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My youngest son (Harry) is friends with a little girl (Daisy) in his nursery. Daisy’s older sister is having a birthday party, and Daisy’s mom has invited Harry so Daisy has someone to play with at the party. Daisy’s mom also invited my daughter, even though she’s older than the birthday girl and they don’t know each other. When I asked for gift ideas, the mom said that no birthday present would be necessary because Daisy being happy that Harry is there is gift enough.

This is so extraordinarily nice that I feel I must do something to thank her. Do I ignore her wishes and buy a birthday present anyway? Or give Daisy’s mom a thank-you gift?

—Presents or Presence?

Dear PoP,

Do not buy a gift. Daisy’s mom has been so exquisitely direct because she doesn’t want more stuff. You can send a nice note to her thanking her for being kind enough to accommodate both of your children, but you have no obligation to do so.

—Nicole

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