One of my oldest and dearest friends is the type of person we all strive to be. She’s intelligent, kind, loving, patient and understanding – a beautiful person inside and out. After college, she married a wonderful man who, like her, desired a large family. Together, they raised three really great kids. And one totally rotten one.
For nearly all of his eighteen years, this bad seed son has caused his family much grief and pain. He was a willful and disobedient toddler, a selfish and demanding grade-schooler and a defiant, angry and uncaring teen. Today, he’s a drug-addled, thieving boy who seems to delight in making his parents miserable. They must have really done something wrong when raising that one. Or did they? If they are such bad parents, how do you explain the three kids who turned out great?
While I can totally understand the guilt my friend and her husband feel over their son, his problems probably really aren’t all their fault. Although prevailing wisdom suggests that, barring some sort of mental disorder, all kids are products of their environment and screwed up kids are the result of screwed up parents, experts are beginning to recognize that sometimes a kid is just bad.
In an article at the New York Times, Dr. Richard A. Friedman, a professor of psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College in Manhattan, says that just as not all kids will grow up to be geniuses, not all kids will grow up to be good. His colleague, child psychiatrist Dr. Theodore Shapiro, agrees.
“The central pitch of any child psychiatrist now is that the illness is often in the child and that the family responses may aggravate the scene but not wholly create it. The era of ‘there are no bad children, only bad parents’ is gone.”
Of course, this isn’t to suggest that my friend and her husband were perfect parents. But the existence of those three good kids would seem to indicate that there was something in this boy that was different from the start. And while his being difficult likely did influence the way they responded to him, that cannot be the only explanation for how far from the norm he strayed.
Even if my friends could accept that they are not the reason their son is so bad, it would be little comfort. We all want our children to grow up to be happy, healthy and well-adjusted adults. But as this kid proves, sometimes our best will never be enough.
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