Through the Eyes of a Stranger: Where Do Bad Children Come From?

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.

36 thoughts on “Through the Eyes of a Stranger: Where Do Bad Children Come From?”

    1. Of course, people are more likely to go a certain way because of genetics. However, low self-esteem will manifest itself one way or another, unfortunately. A person who is genetically predisposed to alcoholism will go that way. And a person who isn’t will develop anorexia or anything else. 😦

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  1. Genetics is something that came through my mind. Both me and my brother have mental health issues. My brother is a heavy case and is on lithium. My mom did not know she would pass that to her kids, but she did.

    They knew self esteem was a problem with me (at school), but they were able to help me or fix the problem.

    And it did not help when gilrs started mocking me later on. We spend most of our times, far away from our parents at school. And then I learned in what kind of a world we were living in and it killed me.

    This lead me to become a huge alcoholic and smoke pot like a mad man. No way my parents could stop me. It’s a «miracle» they kept me from killing myself, to be honest.

    They were not perfects, but they tried to do their best. I do blame them for a lot of things, but I am not a pure product of my parents and it’s much complex than that. Like most of the issues we have to deal with in life….

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  2. This reminds me of my relatives. One of cousins was always a perfectly behaved child, (much less bratty than me and my other cousins), and my aunt was always boasting about her superior parenting, much to my other relatives’ annoyance. Then this aunt had another kid who was a lot worse than the rest of us (police were involved). Whenever my aunt complained about this kid, the others would laugh and tell her to perk up on her parenting. 🙂

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  3. In the case of Columbine, this book makes the answer to this question abundantly clear without ever proposing to do so.
    You often hint at curious things like that, but don’t give the answer. 😦
    If you could say, what was the problem?

    Imo, it’s both genetics and/or bringing up, depending on the case. What about sociopathic personality types? In some families other family members, including kids, are normal, but then is born a child like that. Adopted children often resemble their biological parents not only physically. I remember this case with 2 twins, brought up by different families, not meeting each other, but ending with extremely similar lives. Parents describe differences in temperament, in character among their children. With 1 child parenting is easy and hard to make mistakes, with another – much more challenging.

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    1. “You often hint at curious things like that, but don’t give the answer.”

      -I do that on purpose. 🙂 The father treated the kid horribly, following his every move and trying to improve him.

      “What about sociopathic personality types?”

      -That’s just voodoo science. In my opinion.

      “Parents describe differences in temperament, in character among their children. With 1 child parenting is easy and hard to make mistakes, with another – much more challenging.”

      -That’s just a scenario they impose because there is some sort of a need for it.

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      1. That’s just a scenario they impose because there is some sort of a need for it.

        I don’t understand. Do you claim that all people are the same in character? That there are no different temperaments? That it’s all 100% environment with 0% genes?

        *The father treated the kid horribly, following his every move and trying to improve him*
        Now I really want to see your post. Shouldn’t parents be strict and try to improve their children, meaning demand XYZ from them, not abusing them, as this father did?

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        1. “Do you claim that all people are the same in character?”

          -When did I say anything like that? My point is that there are families where everybody is “good” except this one “bad” person. That “bad” person is assigned the role of being “bad” because that’s what the family members need. Has nothing to do with what this person is really like.

          “That it’s all 100% environment with 0% genes?”

          -Of course, not. Do I look stupid, or something? 🙂

          ” Shouldn’t parents be strict and try to improve their children, meaning demand XYZ from them, not abusing them, as this father did?”

          -Any person who is capable of wanting to “improve” a child should not have children. We are talking about a teenager, too. A 17-year-old is very different from a 3-year-old and has to be treated in a very different way. I’ll write the post on teenagers when I’m done writing my posts on anti-semitism in the USSr.

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  4. It is a problem not the countries, and all mankind. People search for all life guilty what not to recognize the errors. It is easy to explain it. An error recognition, it not the end, and the beginning. After that it is necessary to change, and to change wants nobody, as habitual life comfortable.
    I as repeat a spell, “That have grown up, receive”

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  5. Have you noticed Western parenting at close quarters though? To me — and obviously this is deeply coloured by my cultural otherness — American parenting is characterised by helpless hand-wringing and passive agonising, which I don’t quite understand. There are a few exceptions, but these exceptions usually treat their sons (all the exceptions have sons) like they’re buddies with power over different decision-making areas. Like, the parent decides whether brushing and showering and sharing toys is important, and the son decides what he eats and when he plays and what clothes and toys he wants.

    I had a friend whose high-school and college-going children who had shockingly disrespectful manners by Indian standards and were incredibly selfish, in that they didn’t seem to care how their actions affected the people they lived with. Both of them expected her to pick up their extra bills and clean up their messes, but didn’t involve themselves with their family at all, except to grudgingly do detached chores sometimes (like taking out the bins). And they still had this strange dismissive irritability towards her and anything she said.

    Oddly, though she was always hurt by their attitude and read books to understand where she was going wrong as a parent, she didn’t object their behaviour. In fact, she once told me that these were ‘adult skills’ (the kids were 17 and 21) that they’d pick up when they had homes and partners of their own.

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    1. Like, the parent decides whether brushing and showering and sharing toys is important, and the son decides what he eats and when he plays and what clothes and toys he wants.

      How should it be in your opinion? Should children be forced to do what their parents want all the time? Have you written RE parenting in your culture vs USA? I would be very curious since now I honestly am not sure what the right way is in your eyes, except enforcing obedience.

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      1. I stinted on data 🙂 The three sets of parents I was using as a reference point — and there is a VERY big chance this behaviour is peculiar to them and not general — all complained about the poor food habits of their children (sweets, desserts, fried junk food, very very little fruits or vegetables) and expensive shopping habits (clothes, shoes, toys, school accessories)… BUT they kept indulging these habits anyway, because, as one mother explained, this was the ‘deal’ they made with their children and as good parents they should uphold the deal.

        It’s not that I don’t think promises to one’s children shouldn’t be kept, or that good behaviour shouldn’t be incentivised with little rewards (though you should think: does this make your child miss the inherent value of good behaviour?). But if you feel your ten year old’s wardrobe choices are a strain on the budget, or that your five year old cannot survive on jam alone, or especially if you feel such consumption-oriented materialism is bad for a six year old, then why on earth would you continue to indulge this behaviour? This is what I don’t understand.

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    2. Believe it or not, I actually agree with this entire comment. 🙂 I also oriented my teenager towards learned helplessness at first. She had no idea how to take the garbage or do the laundry until the age of 21. That was, of course, a huge fail on my part.

      But I saw the error of my ways eventually and stopped doing it.

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      1. You were not that much older than your teenager, Clarissa. It’s amazing you did what you did. I don’t think we can compare your involvement with your family — even if it was forced by the economic situation — with young people who think taking out the trash they helped make is a onerous task.

        Also, I must admit that when I was younger, I preferred doing everything myself because it was quicker than letting my younger cousins or family friends’ children fumble their way through it. I just wanted the necessary work done with so I could relax. I wasn’t being indulgent towards them, I was doing myself a favour. My parents, on the other hand, patiently watched me stumble and fall till I worked out the ropes, because after that initial investment of time and effort, they knew they had a self-sufficient child who could take care of herself, if the need arose. I’ve always been a fan of that model.

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  6. 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

    Yes, please! First, people’ll believe and listen more, if you offer not only critic. Second, I am curious. Third, it’ll bring you many new readers, especially if you name it right to be found by searches of desperate parents.

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  7. Every kid and every parent is different. My kids are great adults, at 22 and 26; both have jobs, no debts, great interpersonal relationships, and are happy. I like to think that I was an OK parent, but…maybe they were just exceptional children who survived mediocre parenting.

    Both kids had some troubles around age 12 (one with the law, one with depression/being bulled), but we worked through those difficulties and I think both gained some emotional strength and maturity from getting through those ordeals.

    I really didn’t do much in the way of discipline, just time outs; I know that doesn’t work for every kid. We did spend as much time together as my job permitted, and very little of that was spent watching TV.

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    1. Sorry for the unconnected question, but where did you get the avatar picture from? It’s so beautiful, I thought may be I could choose a similar one from that site or is it from a family album?

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      1. Actually, I found it by searching “kitsune” on google. If you can’t find it yourself, I’d be happy to email it to you.

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  8. Truthfully, I don’t know what to make of my upbringing. On the one hand, I’m quite happy with the way I turned out, in terms of being curious about the world, moderately intelligent, and capable of independence. But I also have to contend with a sometimes serious eating disorder, and I know for a fact that my mother’s behaviour towards me from a very young age was the driving force behind it. Then again, I think that those traits I like about me came more out of me learning to fend for myself as a teen than anything my mother did.

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  9. You’re being too hard on parents. The individual is responsible for their own actions. If it were the fault of “bad parents”, then all the siblings in a family would be the same ‘bad kids’, as parents (as normal people) don’t generally change their parenting strategies from child to child.
    My brother and I (less than 2yrs difference in age) were raised in the same house, by the same parents, under the same conditions, using the same techniques – and we couldn’t be more different in our personalities, ethics, politics, morals, etc . . . . Other than the fact we look alike, most people can’t believe that we are brothers.

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    1. ” The individual is responsible for their own actions.”

      -At what age? 3? 5? 11? 15?

      ” If it were the fault of “bad parents”, then all the siblings in a family would be the same ‘bad kids’”

      -I have already explained about the different roles that are being assigned within the family.

      “My brother and I (less than 2yrs difference in age) were raised in the same house, by the same parents, under the same conditions, using the same techniques – and we couldn’t be more different in our personalities”

      -So are my sister and I. 🙂 So?

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      1. You would look at my brother, and say he is “bad”, and that my parents obviously did a poor job. You would look at me, and say the opposite. So clearly, the parents cannot be the determining factor in whether or not someone is “good” or “bad”. I’m not talking about the roles assigned within the family (because there, I’m clearly the bad one because I moved away) but on the perception of STRANGERS exposed to the members of the family.

        So, are you talking about the parents of a 3yr child having a meltdown at the grocery store? Or the 21 yr transient drug addict? Or the 45 yr old 4x divorced unemployed alcoholic? When do you stop blaming the parents, and start blaming the person?

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        1. I think I made it very clear in the post that once a person turns 18, they only have themselves to blame for everything that happens to them. Even if the parents messed up royally, one can always go into therapy or do a multitude of things to repair the damage. This requires financial and legal independence, though.

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          1. I’ve never been in the contingent that believes something magical happens at 18yrs old, and *POOF*, your an adult. Adulthood is a continuum beginning when you start making decisions for yourself. This will vary from person to person, and from parent to parent, sort of a tug of war between controlling your children to letting giving them full independence. Always give them a little more control then they can handle. That way, they can do as Sam Beckett observed, “Fail. Try again. Fail Again. Fail better.”

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              1. The implication, if I’ve read your comments correctly, is that at 17 yrs & 363 days old, if you’re a total shit, it’s your parents fault. The next day, it’s your fault.

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  10. I completely disagree with you. You can move out before 18yrs old – you can build your own life as early as you are capable. I’ve known 14 year old’s who lived on their own. There’s nothing magical about 18. If it’s a bad situation, get out. If you think your smarter than your parents, then don’t let the door hit you on the ass on the way out.

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    1. “You can move out before 18yrs old – you can build your own life as early as you are capable”

      -That’s great. The moment a person has a life of their own, outside of parental control – both legal and financial – they can rebuild their lives and start being responsible for solving the issues caused by bad parenting.

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