By Darlena Cunha
July 22, 2015
IDEAS

Darlena Cunha is a contributor to TIME

Over the past few days, we’ve seen that Americans—or at least many of those engaged in Internet comments sections—think it’s OK to yell at a baby. Not just OK, but laudable.

After Darla Neugebauer, the owner of Marcy’s Diner in Portland, Maine, yelled at a 21-month-old child for crying, the child’s parents complained on social media, and many came to the diner owner’s defense.

According to these commenters, kids these days need to toughen up. They are all special entitled snowflakes. This teaches the child a valuable life lesson: that she is not the center of the universe. And the parents are even worse. They’re indulgent, they’re weak, and they never care if their spawn is throwing a tantrum. Thank goodness a stranger finally had the temerity to do what irritated adults having to share a space with a toddler have wanted to do for ages.

It takes a village, after all.

That refrain has been circling the Internet. It takes a village to raise a child. So the Internet is raising one from afar.

Only, we have no village. This adage stems from a time when real-life communities actually existed, when neighbors and friends and extended family lived close together. It refers to a time when people could discipline someone else’s child if necessary because they had earned that right by being a presence in that child’s life long before any reprimand occurred. These village adults knew not only their names, but their ages and who their siblings were and how incredibly irrationally frightened they were of bees. They had asked the kids for help gardening or mowing lawn, and they had offered emergency child care when their parents needed help. They were, in all actuality, a village working together to raise the children.

A diner owner pointing and yelling at a child she’d never seen before in her life and will likely never see again is not “a village raising a child.” It is an adult reacting to a toddler like a toddler and totally overstepping her bounds as a business owner and a professional. A further dress-down on social media is not a life-lesson for the family members, who were likely tired and frazzled, just passing through on their way to visit family in another state. It seems to be the ranting of someone so entirely fed-up that she could no longer contain herself and took out her angst on an innocent, albeit hungry, baby.

It’s an understandable reaction: Who hasn’t wanted to tell a disruptive kid to shut up? But most of us haven’t. Because we know we are not that child’s village. It is not our place.

Our “village” raised the businessmen and women who shout on their cellphones at swanky lunch places as though the details of their lives are more important than anyone else’s dining experience. It raised the party-goers who drunkenly interrupt others’ meals with their self-centered revelry. It raised Neugebauer to think that going off on strangers as a professional in her business setting is not only acceptable but necessary.

I, for one, would rather raise children to respect others, have empathy for others, and reach out in obvious times of need. Any parent with a crying child for more than a few minutes needs a helping hand, not a tongue-lashing. It takes a village. So let’s bring the village back.

Contact us at editors@time.com.

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