Suffering the antics of an embarrassing parent is practically a rite of passage for most children. Some behaviors -- bad outfits, awkward dance moves -- are forgivable, and may perhaps make the parent even more endearing to a child in his or her later years. Then, there are behaviors that are downright inappropriate and demeaning, such as screaming and cursing at a child's sporting event. Sports dads, in particular, have been heavily criticized in the years following the 2002 involuntary manslaughter conviction of Thomas Junta, who killed the referee at his son's hockey game.
Violence is thankfully rare at children's games, but most of us have witnessed a parent going off on everybody from the coaches to other people's children. This behavior can be so embarrassing that some parents have been banned from attending their children's games and activities. However, what can a parent do when the school or organization refuses to stand up to the other parent? Organizations are particularly hesitant to step in when the parents are divorced, since a parent's right to see their children is clearly defined through a court order. Banning that parent from attending events could be an infringement of his or her parental rights, which could lead to considerable legal complication in the future.
In their desperation, parents have asked the courts to intervene on behalf of their child's best interests. A recent example is the matter of D.W. v. M.W., in which a mother asked the court to prohibit the father from attending their son's Little League baseball games. The reason was his “inappropriate public criticizing and disparaging of the coach's baseball-related decisions and abilities in an embarrassing and demeaning manner,” which the father denied. On the surface, this seems like a personal dispute that should be worked out between the parents. However, the mother's allegation that their daughter has been repeating the demeaning remarks, which was witnessed by the other parents and posted on the father's Facebook page, was concerning to the court. Such behavior was likely to be detrimental to their children's psychological well-being, as well as that of the other children.
Instead of banning the father outright, the trial judge opted to lay down a list of ground rules for how both parents were expected to behave at the games. These rules included conditions such as not publicly demeaning one's child or any other child in public, not demeaning officials such as coaches and referees, and not engaging in public disputes with the other parent, or any of the other parents. The judge also stressed that parents must comply with the rules and regulations set down by individual leagues and organization. These are, after all, private organizations that are free to set their own rules concerning appropriate conduct from both the parents and children.
Although this ruling may not seem like a ruling at all, it does the show the court's attempt to protect the child's best interests while preserving each parent's parental rights.