One of the things that surprise me the most in North America is that people see upbringing and its results as completely unrelated. How many times have I observed in horror a TV show where parents of a teenage drug addict were being consoled by Dr. Phil, Oprah or any other psychobabbler of the moment with “I know you are good parents and you love your child.” And the audience is shedding tears of compassion for the poor good parents who are cursed by this messed up, addicted kid who had probably been dropped in the midst of this happy family from an alien spaceship.
Seriously, though? How can anybody be a good parent if the result of their parenting is so abysmal? Everything we do is normally judged by the results we manage to achieve. Will you thank a chef who slaves over your meal but sends you stinky, uneatable slop in the end? Will anybody tell me I’m a fantastic teacher if my students don’t speak a word of Spanish at the end of my language course? Will I celebrate the students who produce a garbled mess instead of a final essay at the end of the course? Will it change anything if they claim that they worked very hard writing it? Obviously not.
If the result of parenting is a kid with severe issues* like, say, extremely low-self esteem (which manifests itself in anorexia, bulimia, drug addiction, alcoholism, etc.), then how on God’s green Earth can anybody claim the parenting itself was anything but horrifyingly bad? If a teenager goes and shoots up a classroom, how does it make sense to pity his parents instead of questioning what they’d been doing to him all his life to get him to this point**?
I understand that this is a culture that values resourcefulness and self-sufficiency. I’m as much into the “pull yourselves by your bootstraps” mentality as the next person. The moment we reach adulthood, we can only blame ourselves for not handling our issues. But to expect this from a child or a teenager who, by definition, cannot have the freedom or the resources to take care of themselves is quite ridiculous.
The end result of a good upbringing is a genuinely happy, self-sufficient, socialized (not to be confused with sociable), mature individual. You can’t be considered a good parent if you are not even in the ballpark.
Then again, there is always television and video games to blame in case something goes wrong.
* Obviously, I’m not talking about the normal teenage moodiness and acting out. If anybody is interested, I can give my recipe of bringing up a moody, seemingly difficult teenager in a way that doesn’t make everybody’s life a total misery and produces great results. My teenager is now 29, so we can comfortably say that the results of the upbringing have manifested themselves in full.
** In the case of Columbine, this book makes the answer to this question abundantly clear without ever proposing to do so.