“Not my kid”

Posted May 10 2011, 1:30 pm in ,

Recently, my friend, Harley May, posted a heart-wrenching essay about teen attitude gone so horribly awry, it clouded my vision and made me want to pound some heads together. If you haven’t seen the essay, go read it now.

You’re back? Great.

Are you furious? Disgusted? Wonderful. We’re on the same page. Now ask yourself this: Whose fault is it those teens displayed such an appalling lack of character – theirs or their parents?

Ah. Not so black and white now – not for me.  I’m the proud mom of two teens. I also wrote a novel in which the main character comes from a fine family with two loving parents and grandfather. Despite this, he was a bully who did something so cruel, a child took his own life. Throughout the entire novel, I maintained his parents weren’t responsible – that “Dan” made the mistake – that there is a point when all children make up their own minds about what’s right and what’s wrong and despite how well-raised, well-loved, and well-cared for they are, they choose wrong. I’ve always believed this and that’s why I wrote the story this way.

But what if I’m wrong? What if that’s just a handy cop-out? After reading Harley’s essay, I was surprised to find myself churning out some pissy thoughts about these teens’ parents. Kind of like Columbine, when everyone rushed to the papers and televisions to look for that one thing, that one difference between “us” and “their parents” so we could relax under the belief that our children would never do such a thing. What if that’s all just a delusion?

Ever since I read Harley’s essay, I’ve been reading all I can get my hands on about teenage behavior. Some scary stats:

I can’t figure out if I’m supposed to excuse behavior that’s less than acceptable because teens’ brains aren’t mature or continue to hold them to standards that may be biologically impossible for them to achieve. I can’t help imagining how I’d feel had it been my sons who treated Harley so despicably.

What’s your take on the blame-the-parents issue?



6 responses to ““Not my kid””

  1. Name Withheld says:

    I’m withholding my name for reasons which, I hope, will soon be clear. This is not to protect me, but to protect the privacy of my son.

    Because my son is a problem kid. Sometimes he’s a really BIG problem kid. Over the years I’ve been called to school for meetings to address his behavior. Sometimes it’s low-level stuff, mouthing off to teachers or name calling to other kids. More often, it’s more horrible. And when I say horrible, I mean blood-curdling threats or cruelty. Racial and sexual epithets. Awful stuff.

    And yet, my son has wonderful parents. And I’m not necessarily talking about myself, though I am one of them and I work hard. He has a mom and dad, and a step-mom and step-dad. All four of us on are board, working together, to raise him. He has aunts and uncles and grandparents. He has therapists, and teachers.

    If you met him, nine times out of ten, or ninety-nine times out of a hundred, you’d think, “What a sweet, funny, engaging kid.” You’d wonder why I don’t let him come over to play with your kids. Why he can’t join you at the movies. “Well,” I say, “We have this thing going on…” Non-specific. Because how do I say, “He can’t go with you because I can’t be sure he won’t get mad about something and threaten to set you on fire.”

    He’s a good kid. He’s a bad kid. He has good parents. He has parents who can’t seem to figure out how to help him. He’s watched like a hawk, but still finds a way to drop bombs in other people’s lives. So far, it’s all verbal, but I am haunted by the thought that one of these days it won’t be a meeting with the principal I’m called to, but the police station.

    Who’s responsible? I don’t know. I mean, I feel responsible. His other parents feel responsible. We question ourselves daily. We try new things. For a while, maybe something works. Maybe not. If a month goes by with no phone call from school, we smile nervously to each other and ask, quietly, if we’ve crossed some threshold.

    My kid could easily have been one those kids at the pool who was so awful to Harley May. I can picture him in the moment. He’d be the one committing the act. He’d even know it was wrong.

    What can I say? In the end, I blame myself.

  2. Patty says:

    Thank you for posting such a brave comment. I can’t pretend to understand all you’re going through but I do understand that bone-deep WORRY.

    I guess all we can do is stay vigilant.

  3. Harley says:

    I believe Mr. Name WIthheld is doing a superb job with his child. My heart goes out to you and all the other parents.

    Patty, this is a great post and if I may travel down another trail of thought in this comment section, which one of us could redo our teen years and deserved to be smacked in the mouth a couple of times? Granted, some of us don’t come out on the other end that well, but I know if I were being judged by my actions as a teen, I’d be in trouble.

    When I coached varsity tennis players last year, they were great kids. Your mileage may vary for every child, every parent. No situation is the same.

    Great post. Thanks for linking.


  4. Patty says:

    Thanks, Harley but the credit is yours. I was insanely angered by how you were treated and because I have teens of my own, frequently wonder if perhaps I trust them too much? How do they behave when I’m not around to witness it?

  5. Jeannie Moon says:

    Since I spend the better part of my life with teenagers I can tell you that those kids may have perfectly lovely parents. I can also tell you their behavior was an aberration. Most teens today are hard working, thoughtful and polite. Truly. The future is not in danger.

    What Harley May encountered had little to do with the age of the people who took her daughter’s ball. That nasty girl will probably grow up to be a bitchy woman. Sometimes people are mean. Sometimes they’re jerks, regardless of age.

    In my experience, most parents try to do the right thing but sometimes it’s just not enough.

  6. Patty says:

    I think that’s my biggest worry, Jeannie. That there’s just no way of knowing. I think my kids are great young men. I have no reason not to trust them. I just can’t help hearing that nagging little What If voice.