Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Toxic children?

New York Times: "When good parents plant bad seeds" (hat tip: Had enough therapy? blog):

For years, mental health professionals were trained to see children as mere products of their environment who were intrinsically good until influenced otherwise; where there is chronic bad behavior, there must be a bad parent behind it.

But while I do not mean to let bad parents off the hook — sadly, there are all too many of them, from malignant to merely apathetic — the fact remains that perfectly decent parents can produce toxic children......

For better or worse, parents have limited power to influence their children. That is why they should not be so fast to take all the blame — or credit — for everything that their children become.

If you are a parent with a "toxic child," I recommend reading Joshua Coleman's book, When Parents Hurt: Compassionate Strategies When You and Your Grown Child Don't Get Along.


Blogger TMink said...

"For years, mental health professionals were trained to see children as mere products of their environment who were intrinsically good until influenced otherwise;"

What a crock! From 20 years in the field, 50 years life experience, and 4 children with the oldest being 15, I can definitively say that children are born little bundles of iniquity and it is their family's duty to try to turn them into citizens.

Anywone who thinks that children are intrinsically good is not a parent and has little interactions with children!


9:18 AM, July 14, 2010  
Blogger Larry J said...

There are also a lot of toxic elements in our culture that parents have little control over. Once your child is old enough to go hang out with friends on their own, you don't really know what they're up to much of the time.

Add to the mix that kids are taught to call social services if they're mad at being disciplined by their parents.

9:33 AM, July 14, 2010  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

While that may be a decent book, I just can't stand books titled "When.... : ....." I'm also not convinced we need these books so much as a strategy for living a compassionate life in the first place, along with a bit of good old fashioned discipline. Problem is that so many parents themselves have no discipline, so how can they instill it in their offspring?

There is such an over saturation of "self help" books on the market one does become a little cynical about them after a time. I also get tired of this "toxic" person Oprah talk. Your kid is "toxic," you made him that way. Good luck "getting along" with that.

10:42 AM, July 14, 2010  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Perhaps I should have said "little discipline." Not many people have no discipline.

10:46 AM, July 14, 2010  
Blogger Cham said...

I was in a McDonalds yesterday in a very nice section of town. 2 mothers were there with 5 small kids between them. The kids found an empty table about 20 feet from the moms, proceeded to climb on the table and chairs, scream at the top of their lungs and kick each other, all of this while the seating area was completely filled with customers. The moms watched from a distance and did nothing. I'm sorry, you can't convince me that all the bad behavior is due to junior's bad genetics.

11:17 AM, July 14, 2010  
Blogger Helen said...


I'm not trying to convince you. I think it is not necessarily an either or problem. Some kids might be born bad, their parent's lack of discipline makes them worse and they seem like "bad seeds." Or perhaps they are born fine and the parent;s lack of discipline makes them unruly and obnoxious. But I don't think you can rule out good parents who just have bad kids.


I understand about the self-help books. I used to feel rather cynical about them also. However, if you approach the books with learning something valuable from some that are decent, it can often help make a bad situation tolerable. And Coleman does not tell parents not to use discipline, etc. He actually seems to advocate it as do many other good books such as those by Stanton Samenow in "Before it's too late."

12:33 PM, July 14, 2010  
Blogger Topher said...

Another weird factor in this problem is that for some people, bullying and social control knows no age. In my school days I saw adult teachers wilt in the face of a well-played social dominance game by kids as young as ten years old.

If the genetic lottery puts a beta or mid-range parent in charge of a very socially gifted/dominant child, the parent will be hard pressed to "be the boss." And dominance at that age is a feedback loop that reinforces itself.

12:38 PM, July 14, 2010  
Blogger DADvocate said...

I've been convinced that kids are born with dispositions towards certain behaviors, etc for quite some time. Simplying looking at my own kids and those of others, I see tremendous variances in some areas as well as the familial similarities.

Fortunately, the variances for my kids have been all good ones. But, I'm convinced that some kids have bad tendencies. iI a parent doesn't deal with them skillfully, things will turn out poorly. Yet all their other kids may be just fine.

12:56 PM, July 14, 2010  
Blogger Borepatch said...

Yes, but as the parent of a child brought back from the edge of disaster by Risperidone, don't throw the baby out with the bath water.

But there's a lot of "What did you do to him" that used to come our way. It gets old really quickly, especially when it's from family.

2:07 PM, July 14, 2010  
Blogger Niko said...

The order of birth of children is undervalued, also I find Berne's 'transactional analysis' as a good prism through which to view behavior.

4:41 AM, July 15, 2010  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Psychologists and psychiatrists apparently overlooked the meaning of the term "predatory species" during their rather extensive training. Everyone you ever met, and all those you've never met are natural born killers. It's up to parents and community to teach children to care about others. Children learn that other people matter by observing their parents ( and other adults) consistently and spontaneously leading by example. Bad parents identify themselves by demonstrating bullying, condoning bullying, and by blaming the victim. When bad parents and bad communities work in concert, they create gems like this guy:

10:06 AM, July 15, 2010  
Blogger TMink said...

What Bacon said.

But some people are neuroligically disturbed and no amount of parenting will fix them.


1:56 PM, July 15, 2010  
Blogger Joe said...

I've always leaned toward nature over nurture. One I had my four kids who are about as opposite from each other as you can get, I became firmly in the nature camp--I figure we're about 85% nature.

That said, adults can do negative things to children that can affect them badly. My wife clearly has attachment issues caused by her abusive mother and a father who was absent (overseas in the military) for the first eight years of her life. (Very recently her dad's unreliability was put on blatant, undeniable display--she'll like head back into denial in a few months, but you never know.)

4:15 PM, July 15, 2010  
Blogger Earth Girl said...

As an adoptive parent of special needs brothers (from Child Protective), I pray that nurture can trump nature. They are 20 years old now so it is too soon to tell if their "you weren't raised that way" behavior is just immaturity or genetics.

6:31 PM, July 16, 2010  
Blogger Allison said...

One reason parents blame themselves for toxic behaviors in their children is alluded to in that last sentence: parents are now taking credit for their "good" children, so they get put in a bind where they then feel more guilty about the "bad".

That's because the rules of parenting have changed. Parents are expending much more energy/time/money than ever before to mold their children, yet doing that makes it almost necessary to live in denial about how limited your control is. And then when you get a peach, you want to take credit, to reward yourself for your hard work, to feel good about your parenting. We are increasingly valuing our selves by our childrens' successes. No wonder that when things go wrong, we take it so hard.

1:43 AM, July 17, 2010  

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