Parenting

Should parents have to replace items that their kids break?

After an incident involving his wife's cellphone, Ian Mendes wonders who the onus falls on when a child destroys someone else's property.

11ParentsKids-August2012-iStockphoto

Photo: iStockphoto

Follow along as Ottawa-based Sportsnet host/reporter Ian Mendes writes about the joys of raising daughters Elissa and Lily. And with all those away-games, his wife, Sonia, deserves her own version of the Stanley Cup.

Last week, my wife returned home and announced that her phone was no longer working.

Sonia had been over at a friend’s house and lounging by the pool when they suddenly heard a “ker-splash” sound.

It turns out that our friend’s 18-month-old son had taken Sonia’s Blackberry from a nearby table and tossed it into the pool. (Ironically, his actions were a terrific satire of the plunging RIM stock — but I doubt that’s what the little guy had in mind).

Our oldest daughter was pressed into action to retrieve the phone from the bottom of the pool. For her, this was finally a diving exercise that had some purpose behind it. Most of the time, Elissa will dive to the bottom of the pool to retrieve little objects that we deliberately toss down there. But this was no play time exercise; there was real drama associated with this mission.

She returned to the surface with the phone and, as you might expect, it wasn’t working. Our friend was extremely apologetic and she offered to pay to replace Sonia’s phone.

Sonia refused to take her up on the offer and her reasoning was pretty simple: Did I mention that these friends of ours have a pool? Everybody knows the golden rule of friendship is that a friend with a pool can basically do no wrong.

But this situation does bring up the question I wanted to pose this week. What’s the protocol when somebody else’s child breaks your stuff?

In this case, it was an accident involving a toddler. To me, any child under the age of four can basically get away with a free pass if they damage your stuff. And the parents of that child should not be held responsible either. If you leave something out — like your phone or an expensive pair of sunglasses — and a toddler destroys it, the onus should be on you as the owner for not taking better care of your things.

Toddlers are walking time bombs and anybody who invites one into their home is basically signing a waiver that says they agree to any damage that may occur therein. Keep your valuables where little hands can’t reach them is a simple rule that should apply when hanging around anybody that still watches Dora the Explorer.

The parents of the child can offer to pay to replace a broken item, but in truth, you probably shouldn’t take them up on it when a toddler is involved.

Now, the scenario would be completely different if this was a seven-year-old boy who threw a phone into the pool. At that point, I believe the parents of the child should be held responsible for their actions. They should certainly make every effort to replace the broken article to the best of their ability. But if they are good friends — especially ones with a pool — you probably won’t take them up on the offer to replace the damaged item.

And if a friend’s teenager breaks something of yours, they can pay it off themselves by picking up an extra shift at Orange Julius.

Here’s a handy chart to remember who is responsible when a child breaks one of your items:

0-4 years old: Tough luck. You’ve got nobody to blame but yourself.

4-12 years old: Parents should offer to pay for damaged goods

13+ years old: The teenager should be responsible themselves. (*Unless their parents have a pool)

I should conclude by telling you that our story with the damaged phone actually had a happy ending.

I attempted to salvage the phone by leaving it in a bag of rice overnight, since that’s what Google told me to do. Unfortunately, that age-old trick failed to work its magic and the Blackberry was completely fried. And the Rogers store told me that had the phone broken just one week earlier, it would have been eligible for a full warranty. However, it had just passed the 365-day mark and they were unable to exchange the phone for free — even for a marginal Sportsnet celebrity who happens to be a Rogers employee.

But as luck would have it, I had a Samsung Galaxy II phone sitting around the house that was given to me during the Olympics in London last summer. I was able to take it to a phone shop here in Ottawa and have it configured to work in North America. It cost a fraction of what it would have been to replace the phone entirely.

And as a plus, my wife is now able to use an upgraded Samsung phone instead of a Blackberry. She can take pictures that are crisp instead of the blurry shots that made it seem like she was hunting Bigfoot on her old phone. And she can use things like Instagram and Vine instead of wasting her time on Brickbreaker. It’s like having your Hotmail account hacked and then being forced to switch over to Gmail. In the end, it’s worked out much better for her.

I will just have to remind Sonia that the next time she goes over to that friend’s house, she may want to leave her phone at home — at least until their son turns four.

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