Brutally Honest: Is it OK to discipline another parent's child?

Story highlights

  • In Brutally Honest series, Kelly Wallace tackles provocative parenting questions
  • A new show on NBC explores what happens when someone slaps another person's child
  • Parents say that disciplining a stranger's child in public is a tough call

Kelly Wallace is CNN's digital correspondent and editor-at-large covering family, career and life. Read her other columns and follow her reports at CNN Parents and on Twitter.

(CNN)Picture yourself with members of your extended family, coming together to celebrate a birthday, when one of your family members disciplines your child by slapping him or her in the face.

I'm pretty sure if that happened in my household, it would be a race between my husband and me to see who could get to that family member first and tell them in no uncertain terms exactly how much we didn't appreciate what they did.
The idea of disciplining another person's child is certainly a provocative question in the modern world of parenting, where we tend to take every parenting decision way more seriously than our typically much more laid-back parents did in the '60s and '70s.
    The concept is also the storyline for a NBC series premiering next week called "The Slap," based on an Australian novel and television program by the same name.
    Though the series looks compelling, the whole notion of slapping or hitting another person's child tends to depend on whether you support physical discipline yourself, based on my very unscientific sampling of opinions from mothers and fathers across the country and in my social networks.
    "I would not spank my children," said Janeane Davis, a mother of four and founder of the blog Janeane's World. "I do not spank my children. I do not think someone else should."
    Jennifer Bosse, a mother of two and freelance writer who blogs at Defining My Happy, says she would never spank nor ever allow another parent to spank her child as a form of discipline, "regardless of circumstances."
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    But Laura Beyer, a mom of two grown children, says she has "spanked, given time-outs, whatever it has taken to regain control of the situation."
    Take physical discipline off the table, and you get more agreement than disagreement from parents that disciplining other people's kids is not just OK; sometimes, it's a necessity.
    David Le Roy, a father of two boys and owner of a technology firm in Chicago, says he's had to do it pretty often.
    "A stern talking-to is as far as I would go unless the child was about to either harm themselves or someone else," said Le Roy, who created a Facebook group for African-American fathers in 2013.
    He talked about times when his friends were over and their kids were "buck wild." He had to raise his voice, give them stern warnings and inform the parent of their child's behavior, he said.
    "Some (parents) received it well and got off the couch and did something. One parent told me that this is how their daughter expresses themselves and that she is eccentric. Not in my house, LOL," Le Roy wrote in an email.
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    It can get messy, though, especially when other parents take issue with you doling out the discipline to their kids.
    Beyer remembers the time she was dating someone with an "out of control 'Jerry Springer-type' of 9-year-old" who would "kick, hit, punch and outright disrespect her father."
    The first time she had to step in, she told the girl she would take her cell phone away and put it in her room.
    The relationship couldn't quite weather the strain of the daughter's behavior and the discipline she felt she needed to administer, said Beyer, of West Allis, Wisconsin.
    "It caused a lot of dissension between us and led to an eventual breakup because he outright refused to take responsibility for her upbringing, always stating it was her mother's fault regarding her behaviors," she added.
    Tracey Koch of Lewiston, Idaho, said her husband once took a toy from a little boy who was using it to hurt other kids at their house, and the little boy's mother didn't talk to her for a while, although she never mentioned the incident.
    "I think it bothers people to have someone else punish their child. However, they don't want to necessarily admit it," said the mom of two and nurse practitioner.
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    Add me to the group of parents who doesn't want to admit that it rubs me the wrong way if and when someone else tries to discipline my child. I know it shouldn't, but for some reason, it does.
    Ego is part of it, no doubt.
    Rhonda Woods, a mom of three, believes that if you are going to discipline someone else's child, the circumstances need to be considered, and the discipline has to be defined.
    When her children have friends over, under her supervision, she treats and disciplines them the way she would if they were her own kids.
    "I tell all of my kids' friends, 'When you are at my house, you are my kid,' " said Woods, a real estate agent in New Milford, Connecticut. When there is an issue, she will inform the kids of any infraction, explain why it was wrong and help them problem-solve to figure out ways not to do it in the future.
    "I will admit that this isn't always done with an even level tone to my voice."
    What gets perhaps the most dicey, many parents say, is when you are in a public setting and you are faced with whether to discipline the child of someone you don't know.
    Bosse, the mom of two young boys, finds this the most difficult situation to assess by far.
    There was a time, she said, when another child continuously bullied one of her boys.
    "After watching and waiting for the other parent to step in, I finally had to walk over there and tell the child it was not okay," Bosse said.
    "I was very frustrated by that situation, because I didn't feel like it was my place to step in and speak to the child, but at the same time, I couldn't allow my child to be bullied that way."
    Davis, of Janeane's World, said that if a child needed to be disciplined in a public setting, she would say something to the parent quietly so the child could not hear it.
    "I would not discipline another person's child if the parent was present," she added. "If the parent chose not to or could not discipline her child, I would remove myself and my family from that situation."
    Woods has said things to children who are misbehaving in public, even if their parents are right there.
    "I firmly believe it takes a community. Most people are willing to stand by and judge and not help."
    Do you think it's OK to discipline another person's child? Share your thoughts with Kelly Wallace on Twitter or CNN Living on Facebook.