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How Do Your Kids Act When You're Not Around?

When my daughter was in kindergarten they had a weekly "share day" when each child could bring something to school—a book, stuffed animal, favorite toy—and spend a few minutes showing it off to their classmates. After one of the days I missed, I got a call from a parent who was there. She said she knew, as a mom, that we always wondered how our kids did when they weren't under the watchful eye of their parents, and she wanted to let me know how impressed she was with my kid's presentation that day. I was happy to hear it and a bit relieved—you never know what kind of mayhem can go down when a 5-year-old gets center stage.

Don't we all wonder how our kids act when we're not around?

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While I was pretty sure my daughter wasn't going to drop her pants, flip the bird and drop any f-bombs while she showed off her favorite teddy bear to the class, it was nice to hear that she could hold her own when her mom wasn't in the back of the room, gesturing for her to stand up straight and smile. I was so grateful for the grace of that mom's gesture, which is why I still remember it some 14 years later.

Show-and-tell with a bunch of kindergarteners is one thing, but as our kids get older their behavior in public becomes more of an issue. Recently there was a story in the news about a woman whose teen daughters had been very disruptive in a movie theater. After the mom found out about it from her son who attended the movie with the girls, she issued a plea via Facebook to find the people her daughters had disturbed—another mother and her daughter—to apologize and let her know her daughters were being punished for how they behaved.

I really didn't want any of those moms thinking I had raised a monster who asked for juice every five seconds.

Many kudos were given to both these women for how they handled the situation, but I also think some props should be given to the son who reported the incident back to his mom in the first place. Sure, his siblings will probably never invite him along to the movies ever again, but he did his parents (and ultimately his sisters) a huge service by shedding light on how these kids behaved when unsupervised.

I think that as parents, how our kids behave when they're away from us is a concern because ultimately their behavior reflects back on us. My girls still joke about the fact that every time I dropped them off at a friends house, I always had these parting words: "Low maintenance!" which meant that I didn't want them to be the kid that constantly complained, whined for snacks or tortured the dog. Sure the parents' sanity was important, but I really didn't want any of those moms thinking I had raised a monster who asked for juice every five seconds.

Now that they're older, I don't expect anyone to report back to me on how my kids are behaving, but that doesn't mean I don't worry about it. Recently my 19-year-old ran into one of the editors of this very website at Starbucks (I knew because they were emailing and texting me simultaneously) and my first reaction was to message my daughter, "Be nice to her!" to which she replied, "Why wouldn't I be? LOL." I wasn't actually worried that she was being obnoxious or rude, but I still can't help but be neurotically overconcerned that my girls are morphing into Lindsay Lohan when I'm not around. (Just to be sure: Note to editor—she didn't fall asleep on your table or help herself to your latte, did she?)

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I guess the dilemma is: When we encounter kids outside of their parental supervision, what obligation do we have to report back to mom and dad? Obviously if they are doing something illegal or can possibly harm them or others, it's imperative that we speak up, but what about just witnessing some childish antics or annoying behavior? After that mom's call to me all those years ago, I do make it a point to give positive feedback to parents when I've had a pleasant encounter with their kid, but I've found that it's always a slippery slope when you're calling out parents for their kid's negative behavior.

Personally, I'd want to know if that "share day" went down badly. How about you?

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