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The 7 Times It’s Okay to Judge Other Parents

Generally, judgment is bad and parents should feel bad for doing it, but these are the exceptions.

Parents of all stripes should support one another. Helicopter parents should walk hand-in-hand with free-range parents. Parents who swear by cry-it-out should sit in peace with parents who co-sleep. After all, almost every person has the same goal: creating healthy, productive citizens. That said, there are some parenting practices that are counterproductive. Most of these practices are tied to discipline, and often serve to make kids behave worse, not better. And some are linked to health and safety, which should galvanize any parent to step in.

So even though it’s unhealthy (and unkind) to judge other parents, here are the six cases in which it is totally OK to judge—and even step in—to prevent destructive behavior.

At this point, the data stacked up against spanking children is pretty substantial. What’s more, studies documenting the detrimental effects of spanking are pretty robust. Take, for instance, the 50-year long longitudinal study that followed 160,927 children and examined the outcomes for those who were disciplined via an “open-handed hit on the behind or extremities”.

The study concluded that these children behaved worse after the spanking (contrary to the punishment’s desired effect) and experienced no less than 13 detrimental behavioral outcomes, on average. These included mental health problems, antisocial tendencies, and aggression.

So, yeah. Judge parents who spank their kids. Science says that’s just fine.

While there isn’t a smoking gun study that shows yelling will cause a child to suffer poor outcomes as an adult, child behavioral psychologists are consistent in saying that a raised voice certainly doesn’t help. There are some very good reasons for this understanding.

First off, yelling shuts down communication. If the goal is for a parent to get a child to listen, yelling produces the opposite effect. Does the kid hear the parent? Sure. They can’t help but hear it. Does that mean they’re taking in the message? Unlikely. Besides, children learn by watching their parents. Angry, yelling parents tend to raise angry, yelling children.

The world needs fewer angry, yelling people right about now. So judge away.

Shaming a child is another poor form of discipline, which can leave long-lasting scars. Children who feel shamed by their parents internalize that shame and come to feel bad about themselves rather than their behavior. Clearly, that shame is sticky. Most of us still feel a pang of shame when we recall an event from our childhood in which we were shamed by our parents.

Now, shame and guilt are worlds apart. Guilt can be useful. It’s rooted in empathy and soothed by making reparations. A parent elicits guilt by helping a child understand how his or her behavior affects others. A parent elicits shame by telling a child that he or she is a bad person.

So when you see parents shaming their children—make ‘em feel guilty.   

Leaving Kids in Hot Cars
A parent who leaves his or her kid in a car seat, even when the weather is moderately warm, is putting that child at significant risk for pediatric heatstroke. Cases of pediatric heatstroke in cars have been documented at temperatures as mild as 70 degrees and, in 2017, there were 42 pediatric heatstroke cases in the United States. Leaving your kid in the car is never okay.

Yes, some parents may be forgetful. Others may leave their children in the car intentionally. Either way, giving them some side-eye and some vocal judgement could save a life.

Being Anti-Vax
Refusing to vaccinate your child puts that child and the entire community at a wildly unnecessary risk. Blame, shame, and judge every anti-vax parent you know. Full stop.

Being an Aggressive Sports Dad
That awful dad, who swears at the ref and tries to “motivate” kids while tearing down the other team, makes the youth sports experience deeply uncomfortable for everyone. Parents who bring their kids to the ball field for simple fun and teamwork should not hesitate to judge dads who take tee ball too seriously. Seriously.

Laissez Faire Parenting
There are very many parenting styles, and all of them are looking to achieve the goal of producing a good adult. But Laissez Faire (literally translated “let them do”) Parenting leaves kids unregulated. The children are given no rules, no discipline, no structure and little guidance. As such, they are allowed to do whatever they want without consequences. It’s just this side of neglect and can often be mistaken for it.

Lassaize Faire parents will ultimately raise brats. These kids grow up to be pretty confused and entitled adults, unable to process their own emotions and set personal boundaries, much less recognize others’. Kids need structure and limits, parents who fail to provide them shouldn’t whine when they are judged by others.