Killer Kids: Blame the Parents?

Hi Readers — This note came in response to my ParentDish column, “New Study: Parents Stink.” Sometimes I am just, well, blown away by the logical leaps people take:

“I am a mother of a 26 year old man and a 13 year old boy. I give my 13 year old as much freedom as I think he needs but I always know where he’s at and who he’s with. This may be hovering but it’s better then him showing up at school one day and blowing everyone away and I had no idea he had been planning this.”

I agree: Most things are better than having one’s kid wake up and kill everyone at his school. Especially when it’s a big surprise. (I hate surprises!) And of course, if he does indeed do this, it’s all the parent’s fault.

That belief — that everything my kid does, good and bad, stems directly from MY parenting skills — is the kind of belief that drives us nuts to begin with. I wish she’d read my book, or at least Chapter 11:  “Relax! Not Every Little Thing You Do Has THAT Much Impact on Your Child’s Development.”

Meantime, whatever this woman thinks of “Free-Range Kids” (and me), I actually don’t condemn parents who want to know where their 13-year-old is and who he’s with.  I just think it’s pretty wacky to believe that if a parent is a little less informed, that kid will wake up, go to school and kill all his classmates. — Lenore

23 Responses

  1. Well, I vaguely remember a PD article where the parents of the Columbine boys were being ruthlessly attacked. “Why won’t they tell us what they had done to cause their kids to get like this? I mean, if we knew what they did wrong, we could all make sure our own kids don’t do that.” Whackos.

  2. I think this is a slightly different piece of the free-range issue than what we normally discuss. The fear/assumption that if you don’t know every thought in your child’s head, if you don’t spy on them, if you don’t take every opportunity to find their drug stash/weapons cashe or to catch them in the lies they are obviously telling: this attitude shows a disturbing level of distrust in one’s offspring. A fundamentally different problem than fearing the big bad world… the difference between treating your child as perpetually helpless and treating your child as a potential monster. Of course one mindset might lead to the other: if you never trust a kid to be capable, how can you trust them to make moral judgements?

  3. […] Killer Kids: Blame t&#1211&#1077 Parents? « FreeRangeKids […]

  4. So … the kids who go to school and shoot up the place do so because they slipped the leash that one time? Really? All this time I was laboring under the delusion that such actions are the result of long-standing mental disturbance and not necessarily poor parenting. (Granted, one can lead to the other, but that’s not always the case.)


    As far as shooting up the school… by the time your kid gets to that point, they’ve been spending much of their day AWAY from their parents, IN SCHOOL, for years. Why blame the parents?

  6. I discovered my 3-year-old’s secret hiding place for little stuff she wants to keep from her sister. I cleaned it out reluctantly, thinking, shouldn’t she be allowed to have a little privacy? When she’s 13, I don’t see myself going through every inch of her room looking for . . . whatever. I hope that instead, she’ll talk to me about what is bugging her and I’ll be a wise listener. Even though I didn’t have many heart-to-hearts with my parents as a young kid, the floodgates opened when I was around 13, so I hope this is what happens with my kids, too. If not, I will look for constructive ways to promote discussion. Spying will be a last resort.

    My parents didn’t need to know where I was all the time. They just required that I go to school, do my chores, and show up for dinner and curfew. I think that if my parents had tried to keep a tighter leash on me, I would have been motivated to try to get around the restrictions somehow, making poorer choices than I actually did.

  7. @SKL: Amen.

  8. This discussion reminds me of the radio commercial I hear a couple times per week for home drug testing kits. The mother voices her concerns and asks her son if he’s done any drugs and he says he hasn’t. Then the commercial says, essentially, your kids can’t be trusted and you should treat them like criminals and test them before they get arrested for real.

    Right up there with the “If you don’t use our brand of batteries to track your child’s movement, your kid will be snatched by a stranger the instant you turn your back” commercial.

  9. Didn’t we talk about perceived risk vs. actual risk a while back? I can remember only about 6 school shootings in the past couple of years (worldwide and most of those weren’t even by 13-year olds). WIth a school-going kid population of billions, I don’t think it’s a realistic risk to worry about.

    That woman should trust her kid not to blow everyone up. Statistics are on our side.

  10. Even children under considerable stress usually don’t become killers. Probably because the stress is a challenge towards which to put all one’s resources. I suspect neglect is a major problem for the growing brain/mind and, in the spirit of nature abhors a vacuum, the neglected child will turn towards any ideation their emotional responses stimulate and the media around them might feed. And once those ideations have gotten to a really strange place, all sorts of things might happen. Robust resilient children come from a co-existence with robust challenging adults. We are families and communities after all. Independent children and adults make better communities.

  11. my mom always wanted to know where we were and with whom. it wasn’t hovering. she didn’t fear our murderous potential. actually, it was largely a courtesy issue. if she needed to find us, she liked to know where. if we didn’t show up when we said we would or call to update her, she wanted to know whose house to call to avoid bothering the police. i wonder if it is possible that the commenting mother in the original post was using an extreme example?

  12. I thought Lenore’s larger point here wasn’t “You shouldn’t know where your 13 year old is all the time”, but more that there isn’t a single parenting style that all parents should follow. It’s possible to be a good parent knowing where your 13 year old is and not knowing where your 13 year old is (all the time).

    The problem is with the advocacy for this sort of effort on a parent’s part in order to ensure the kid doesn’t blow up a school – as though this is what it takes and anyone who doesn’t do it is basically asking for trouble.

  13. I think the parents often share blame. If your child is threatening rape and other violence against other children and you do nothing you are responsible. The teachers and administrators who ignore threats are responsible. I lived with that terror for 5 years K – into the beginning of 5th grade.

    Then he kicked me in the throat. I didn’t tell anyone. Why would I they weren’t going to do anything. Mom was picking me up that day to go get some shoes. When we got home the lady looking after my baby sister asked if mom had taken me to the doctor. Seems the phone was ringing off the hook with other parents demanding to know what my parents were going to do about bully.

    When Mom asked me why I didn’t tell I said because none of the grown ups will do anything. After tomorrow he won’t be able to hurt me ever again.

    Mom called Dad and
    1. All guns were removed from our house, knives and poisons were locked up.

    2. guns were taken to our lawyer’s house and our lawyer drew up paper work to sue the boy’s parents and the school district. (We had them on record saying I liked being beaten up or else I wouldn’t irritate bully)

    3. There was no school Friday – and I was held out on Monday

    4. My doctor was called and an appointment with a therapist was arranged ASAP.

    5. Therapist was told my Uncle in Canada suspected I was being s3xually abused.

    6. My parents had a meeting with bully’s parents and high level administrators. There was a bunch of boys will be boys and she is likes it BS – then my parents pulled out the paper work.

    1. Criminal charges against the boy and his father (old law about controlling your child now off the books)

    2. Charges against the district level administrators and specific school board members included – failure to protect a child, child neglect, child endangerment, failure to report child abuse. (My doctor had already filed reports against the school)

    3. Civil suit for sexual harassment and discrimination.

    At the time our lawyer was partners in firm that included one of the most famous lawyers in Texas.

    The boy never touched me again. He disappeared from school n 6th grade. The district bent over backwards from that moment forward for my family down to and including my 2nd cousins’ 2nd cousins.

    The boy never got help. I ran into one of his buddies in University – The bully was arrested for serial rape.

    To this day I don’t know if I was threatening to kill myself or him – I seriously thought about both and I was only 10 years old. I just had reach my limit on the abuse. My parents did the right thing. His parents are morally responsible for the rapes and abuse. I hope that when they are in hell they and He feel all the pain they caused for the rest of eternity.

  14. I love Lenore’s use of sarcasm. (“Why yes, I agree that most things are better than your child being a mass-murderer…”) Sarcasm is another wonderful thing that is becoming politically incorrect nowadays.

  15. I hope her son never finds that comment and attributes it to her. Would be pretty devastating, I think.

  16. […] Killer Kids: Blame the Parents? « FreeRangeKids […]

  17. Re: School Shooters – mental illness – and Bullying

    I’m continually amazed by how many people overlook the data about school shooters and the influence psychiatric medications played in pushing them over the edge. It’s NOT about mental illness – it’s about drug side effects.

    Bullying has been with us since time began.

    Guns have been around a long time too.
    School Shooters appeared after the advent of Psychiatric Drugs.

    When a person is taking a medication that might CAUSE aggression, mania, abnormal thoughts, dreams, and REM Behavior disorder, you have a recipe for horrible actions that are not really a parenting issue.

    It’s an “Ignorance Issue” – on the part of doctors, parents, teachers, everyone who is out of the drug side-effects information loop.

    You can find over 3,000 cases of violence including school shooters at:

    You can also read chilling stories about this topic in Dr. Peter Breggin’s timely book called:


    His website – – is a goldmine of info.

    I have some good videos at the bottom of my own website homepage about school shooters that might make you want to check into this.

  18. The idea of everything being the parent’s fault always surprises me. Growing up in a family with 6 siblings, I got to see firsthand how different we all were and are. My parents didn’t raise us differently and yet we all had our own personalities and weaknesses and strengths. I am convinced that if you put us in the room with other random strangers, people would not be able to pick all of my siblings out as being raised by the same parents.

    Parents can only do so much. After that, the child has to decide how to behave and what to do with their lives.

  19. AMEN, MAEMAE!!

    My brother and I were both raised in the same household, by the same parent, and with the same values.

    Bro: good kid, never smoked, never drank, never did drugs, always attended school, graduated, married with 2.5 kids (seriously), owns his home, has a steady job, is a devoted church-goer, and active in the community.

    Me: smoke cigarettes, was a pothead in high school, skipped most of high school, ran away from home twice, dropped out of school (have my GED instead), started college at the age of 28, divorced, rent my home, not anywhere near religious, not active in my community, and pretty much an all-around rebel.

    Who is to blame for the different choices we each made in our lives? Our mother? Absolutely not. Our mom was a free-range parent. She gave us the knowledge and tools to make the right choices, but more importantly, she gave us the responsibility of living with those choices. That is what I think is lacking in the generation behind me. They never have to be responsible for their actions, because there is always someone else at fault.

    It’s the parents, or the teachers, or the school bully, or the neighbors. Joe Camel was the reason children smoked. The Budweiser frogs were to blame for teenage drinking. Ugh, where does the insanity end??

  20. That the woman equates her son’s freedom with the possibility of him committing a school shooting says less about her son that it does about her knowledge and rearing of her son. She truly doesn’t understand.

  21. I don’t want to go all the way and say that it’s the parents’ fault if a kid goes off and shoots people, BUT, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say that parenting has *something* to do with it at least *in many cases.* At any rate, while it’s probably not your “fault” if your kid shoots up a school, it probably is your fault if your kid is the kind of kid who might shoot up a school and YOU NEVER NOTICED ANYTHING ODD.

    However, it’s just a huge stretch to say “I have to be a helicopter parent or risk missing the fact that my kid is deeply disturbed until the day I get the phone call that he blew up a school.” There ARE such a thing as warning signs, yes, you have to actually KNOW your child. But that’s not the same as governing every second of their lives and never letting them be independent, SHEESH!

    That’s what’s silly about this — the idea that the choice is between smothering your kid, and entirely missing the fact that he’s become anti-social or depressed or creepy or whatever. It doesn’t have to be your “fault” for you to be able to notice that something is amiss.

  22. Kimberly— wow. That’s intense. And your teachers were waaaaay out of line.

    It sounds as though the reaction you got from the school kept you from talking with your parents. I’m glad they found out in time to get you some help, but boy oh boy, Yet Another Reason To Homeschool.

  23. … what?

    The more I read this blog, the more I find stuff that does not make sense.

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