While I'm away, readers give the advice.
On angry parents, and intervening: My stepfather physically, verbally and emotionally abused me until I fled at 15. His power trip was mostly conducted at home, but sometimes it would happen in public, and sometimes it would happen in front of his loser buddies. The years I lived with him were so hard, but it was vastly worse when someone would see it happening and do nothing. Then, the problem wasn't my stepfather — the problem was the world.
I'd have taken 10 extra beatings with a smile if any stranger had ever stopped and communicated, directly or indirectly, that I was right to believe that what was happening was wrong. I can assure you I got those 10 beatings anyway — they happened all the time and on any pretext — just without the quiet anesthetic victory that a stranger's concern might have been.
For reasons that are probably obvious, I am enormously conflict-averse as an adult. But I hope so much that if I ever see a child suffering in any of the ways I suffered, I will be able to stand and speak. I hope anyone would.
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On reporting harmful behavior to authorities: The attitude that the helping professions and institutions are out to get you is pretty harmful; I see it in teenagers' unwillingness to tell anybody when a friend has an eating disorder or drug problem, and in adults' unwillingness to get depression treated, and in parents' unwillingness to pursue extra resources for kids with special needs.
A lot of times the adults prioritize the way the system will affect them — make their day awkward, or whatever — over the needs of the child. If Child Protective Services, for example, is doing its job correctly, there is no possible way the child's situation will get worse as a result of their investigation, and there are a lot of ways it could get better — support services, parenting coaches (again, Not The Bad Guy; actually really helpful), even just a warning to the parent to watch it. So long as the child is still leaving the house to go to school, I think it's good for borderline parents to know that They Are Being Watched, except in really extreme cases.
Wait, do I hear people thinking, if the parent needs that, take the child out? They won't. They can't, unless the kid is in imminent danger. Which is probably for the best, but you certainly don't need to worry about it when you call CPS to let them know your neighbor keeps leaving the kid home alone or in the car.
A Mandated Reporter