Radical parenting technique: holding your kids responsible for their behavior

Here’s an email I received after my show today:


I’m a middle school teacher. I don’t live in your area but I heard your conversation today. I’d like to say that parental denial is a HUGE problem for teachers. I deal with their kids all day and when I attempt to tell them about the trouble their precious children cause in the class so often they resist. They REFUSE to believe that they are raising children with crappy attitudes who behave badly in the classroom. Some kids refuse to do ANY work and then their parents blame me for it. What happened to holding your kids responsible?? Sorry to rant but this really gets to me. I give my all for those kids but some of them just have NO interest in cooperating and their parents just aid and abed them. What is wrong with some of these people?? They want to find a thousand people and things to blame for their kids behavior…. except they never want to blame… THEIR KID.
Please don’t use my name if you use this.

I responded to this person privately.

But let’s explore the themes in her/his message.

You see, generally, when a kid acts like a jerk, we, as a country, engage in all sorts of philosophical contortions and mental gymnastics to figure out who we can blame for his jerkiness. Johnny cuts third period, or picks on the overweight kid in gym class, or shouts vulgarities at his teacher, or otherwise acts inappropriately, and we begin to weave our tangled Web of Blame; desperately attempting to pin the guilt for his malfeasance on some third party. Should we point to the teacher? Or the school system? Or TV? Video games? Perhaps the medical establishment ought to be called onto the mat for this one? Maybe the politicians in DC? What about the UN? The wealthy elite! Society! Society is to blame! Soon, we are hovering high above planet Earth, indicting all of God’s creation in this complicated game of Whodunit.

Yet, somehow, one lucky guy manages to shrink out the back door, while the rest of us smack each other with broken bottles and pool cues: Johnny. Johnny, the kid who actually did the bad thing. Why is it that we can blame the entire universe for a kid’s behavior, yet the kid who committed the infraction isn’t even included in that universe? Why can’t we ever explain the bad actions of a child by coming to the conclusion that the child chose to act that way, and ought to be the sole individual implicated?

Sure, he could have horrible teachers. Or he could be a victim of an unfair system. Or there could be a conspiracy against him.

Or, you know, he could just be a human being with free will who chooses to do the wrong things.

Sometimes there isn’t any need to add complexities to an issue that is really quite simple. Your kid is a human being, he has a brain, he makes choices; occasionally, or (in some cases) often, he makes the wrong choices. Sometimes that wrong choice needs to fall on his shoulders. We can discuss societal, systematic, and environmental factors that contribute to the overall picture, but his free will transcends all of that.

I am no apologist for the public school system. I’m not the president of the Government-Run Education Fan Club. I’m not in the club at all. In fact, I often find myself at odds with its more active members. I’m a home school advocate, but even I can recognize the impossible position we put teachers, like the one who emailed, in when we start from the premise that OUR special snowflakes could NEVER be responsible for their own actions. We discussed this predicament on my show today; I reiterated my “sometimes kids are just jerks” thesis, which also prompted this message from a concerned woman:

“Matt… what an awful thing to say. Kids can never be jerks.”

Yes. That’s real. An adult human actually typed that sentence. “Kids can never be jerks.” And we know what she really means when she says it: MY kid could never be a jerk.

This is the sort of parent that teachers have to deal with on a daily basis.

Teacher: “Ms. Johnson, your Billy cussed me out this afternoon when I tried to get him to take a test. His actions were inappropriate.”

Ms. Johnson: “Inappropriate?! How dare you! If he refused to do his school work right before verbally assaulting you, I’m sure he had a good reason. I’ll be reporting your bullying to the principal!”

I especially feel sorry for middle school teachers. God bless these brave souls. I’d rather be a guidance counselor to serial murderers at a maximum security prison than teach English at an American middle school. Good Lord in Heaven, middle school students can be absolutely horrible. They might be OK on an individual basis, but you mix all of them together, with all of that puberty and all of those hormones, and you’ve got the ingredients to bake yourself a Lord of the Flies flavored cake. Kids can be challenging at any age. People, in general, can behave badly when put together in large groups. It’s the mob effect, and it’s a very real phenomenon. But there’s something about middle school — it’s just different; it’s worse. A lot worse.

A case could be made for abolishing middle school entirely and banishing them all to a desert island, or another planet. You simply can’t put these kids in groups of more than four without half of them turning into rabid raccoons. Last week seven middle schoolers came to my door selling candy bars for a fundraiser for their soccer team. I turned the hose on them. What choice did I have?

I remember my days in 6th, 7th and 8th grade when parents would come to visit during class time. I’d look at the dad of the kid who made the substitute teacher cry only a few days before, or the mom of the girl who spends all day thinking of new ways to ostracize and humiliate her less popular female classmates, and I’d think, “do you people realize that you’re raising barbarians?”

Answer: no. But only because they don’t want to realize it.

I also recall being somewhat of a problem kid at that age myself. I didn’t do my schoolwork, I acted out; I wasn’t quite the terrorist that some of these kids become, but I had my moments. Do you know what else I remember? CHOOSING to act that way. I had a mind. I wasn’t a robot. I wasn’t an animal. I knew it was wrong to shirk my schoolwork and misbehave, but I did it anyway. My parents were awesome, most of my teachers were competent, but I still CHOSE to go against them. I chose it. I was responsible, and nobody else. Immature? Sure. Pre-programmed and destined to be a jerk, even against my own will? No. My parents understood this and so they held me accountable. I’d come home with a less than impressive report card and try the whole “the teachers hate me!” routine, but my mom and dad, refusing to be outwitted by a 12 year old, didn’t take the bait. I cried to them. “My teachers say I’m a bad student and they yell at me! Waaaah!” They weren’t sympathetic. “Well, stop being a bad student and maybe they won’t need to yell at you.”

This is in stark contrast to the way some other parents might respond. “What?! They YELL at you?! Nobody should ever yell at my pumpkin, I don’t care what you did!”

I don’t know. Maybe I was the first, last, and only middle school brat to purposefully and knowingly misbehave, but I doubt it. Maybe I’m the aberration. Maybe my experience doesn’t apply to anyone else. Maybe I was the Universe’s Only Guilty Adolescent, but I find that hard to believe.

I’ve read some of the stories about this “Knock Out Game” that a bunch of teens have started playing. Apparently, they sneak up behind unsuspecting strangers and attempt to knock them unconscious with one punch. That’s it. That’s the “game.” A bunch of cowards, of course, and they ought to be thrown in prison; I don’t care if they’re “minors.” The age of reason comes considerably sooner than your 18th birthday, and humans with the capacity for reason understand that the “Knock Out Game” is vile and evil.

But maybe we ought to consider why we seem to be producing so many “kids” who are so utterly detached and cold. Could it be that, among other things, we aren’t effectively communicating the message that YOU are responsible for YOUR actions, and those actions have consequences? Maybe we should think about introducing our little angels to things like work and responsibility. Maybe we should get them acquainted with duty and discipline. Maybe, just maybe, when the teacher calls to tell us that Susie is a disruptive delinquent in English class, we should direct all of that frustration and disappointment at Susie, not her teacher. Maybe Susie ain’t quite the saint you fancy her to be. Maybe you’re severely damaging her chances at success and happiness in life by shielding her from the aftermath of her own horrible decisions.

Maybe your kid gets in trouble at school because he chooses to do things that will get him into trouble. Maybe he chooses it on purpose, even though he knows better. Maybe it’s his fault, and nobody else’s.

Just something to consider.


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217 Responses to Radical parenting technique: holding your kids responsible for their behavior

  1. Judy says:

    I’m a first time reader, but agree with Matt and many of the responses on my favorite subject…parenting. My experience is – if you get it right and raise them well, your life will be easy when they are adults & parent your grandkids. It’s kind of a generational thing, I believe. Judging from my upbringing & those of my parents, I’ve concluded that kids need a conscience & to know “right from wrong.” This is usually learned through “trial & error” (Hannah’s “Reality Discipline”) and seeing that their actions have consequences for which THEY are responsible. Add to this, the old fashioned “fear & guilt” that also figured into many of my decisions growing up! My parents were strict, but fair. I respected them & felt guilty when I disappointed them & I feared the consequences of a bad choice. Today, it’s rare to see a child or young person nervous or fearful of an authority figure, like a parent, teacher, principal, or even their boss. They resist rules, standards, uniforms, deadlines, dress codes, and responsibility. Who is at fault? #1 – I think parents are responsible for teaching their kids values, manners, work ethics, respect for others, self worth, honesty, etc., etc. but parents absolutely have to model the correct behavior for this to work. How often do kids see or hear a parent lie, cheat, demean, etc.
    But, in their defense, parents have to learn this if they weren’t raised this way, or misbehavior moves into a new generation. #2 School officials & teachers inherit the problems from our homes & I “get” what all of you educators are saying. With the breakdown of respect & accountability has come a defensiveness from parents whenever anyone criticizes, corrects or even suggests they or their child has done anything wrong. In turn, after dealing with four decades of this increasingly combative environment, and libel rules, our teachers & administrators have their hands tied, and feel frustrated over discipline problems & uncooperative parents. This often leaves the “good parent” without the benefit of the doubt (see Deleen) because it’s assumed they are going to attack. #3 Society has become too busy, too self serving, & too “live & let live” to be concerned about the details that used to make for refined children, thus a refined society that older generations strived for. Educated people, professionals, moms & dads, students, clerks, and shoppers choose to dress, (“tat”&”pierce”) however they want, wherever they go, and you’d better not say one word or even roll your eyes at their appearance. Right here, I must add that “not having money” is no excuse. My mother’s family was extremely poor during the Depression, and she taught us a lot about how they kept their pride, were clean & neat, and taught well. Character is priceless.)
    Personal pride, respect for the occasion or for an event (funeral, wedding, concert) is no longer considered a reason to dress up. Personal comfort & choice have become personal “rights” and therefore trump common sense, rules, standards, and certainly, traditional thinking. I must say, my opinions are based only on years of personal experience & observation. We raised three sons & two daughters (including boy/girl twins) all of whom are educated, hard working, married & raising three kids of their own, in much the same way they were raised…with the same results, good grades, mannerly, respectful, and hard working in their activities. (and all involved in church) I was always active in their schools and did substitute teaching. I’ve seen a definite change in parental attitudes over the years and am very concerned about the future…for both underprivileged & over privileged youth.

    • Lori says:

      I had a son who refused to do homework thru Junior High and High School. I was distressed and during in Junior High years, I tried everything punishments, monitoring his every move, withholding privileges, incentives, endless lecturing and nothing changed. One day something dawned on me. The one thing I had not tried was natural consequences. So I talked to him and told him that from that point on I would treat him with the expectation that he knew what he needed to do and I would only remind him once after school to do his homework. If he chose not to do it, he would suffer the consequences of that choice. I could tell that he didn’t believe me. But I was true to my word. It didn’t take long for his teachers to call me. They would say things like, “Your son, T____ is a great kid and he does well on tests but he won’t turn in his homework. His grade is hovering between a D and an F. I just don’t understand why he won’t do it.” I could tell by the teacher’s hesitant tone that she was nervous to break this news to me. I said, “Yes, I know that T______ is choosing to not do his homework. It is frustrating for us as well. Trust me when I say that we have tried everything and it hasn’t worked. So, we are letting natural consequences teach him. Please give him the grade he deserves.” Consequently, our son attended summer school every summer and he barely graduated. But guess what? As he entered adulthood and taking on adult responsibilities he began to figure things out. He still isn’t one to use planners but he’s discovered his own ways to manage his time and self-discipline. I don’t think he would have learned it without the sting of consequences and I’m not sure we would have any relationship left had I continued my relentless course of force. He has since graduated from college and is doing very well in his chosen career.

  2. Ellen Pitts says:

    I think you’re missing a big part of the issue here. I am a mother of four kids. We have home schooled for most of their educational career, but for two years we put them into private school and watched the incredible changes that took place in them personally. Their attitudes changed, they began to fight with one another. I witnessed them become just like the other children i have witnessed who attend traditional schools. Habits that we had taken years to lay down (kindness, responsibility, caring for your personal space) went out the window mostly due to time constraints. In many cases, school creates the problems they expect the parents to solve. Yes, I think kids should be personally responsible for their own actions. But often schools create habits of irresponsibility by creating a standard that the students can’t meet. So they stop trying. Teachers forget that students have lives and responsibilities outside of school. They have chores and relationships with parents and siblings that take time and effort to maintain. Ultimately I pulled my kids out of school because we spent every moment of every day preparing for school. When kids rebel against the system in such large numbers maybe we need to consider that the system is asking something of them that it doesn’t deserve to have. Instead of listening to the kids and altering the system to fit their needs, we beat them into submission and expect them to obey.

    • Mike says:

      Can you explain what you mean by “creating standards that the students can’t meet”?

      • WillC says:

        Many kids nowdays have hours of homework assigned every night. Parents, in many cases, must help and tutor them with their homework, even if it is checking to make sure they are doing the assigned work. I have nine grandkids and the two who are in middle school have loads of homework. I think that schools sometimes go overboard in assigning too much homework in order to make standardized test scores look good and to make up for time lost during school days because of student misbehavior in class. We have many Spanish speaking kids in our schools whos parents don’t speak English well and who have only a rudimentary education so they are unable to help their kids with homework. These kids, unless they are bright and academically inclined, are set up for failure.

    • xyz says:

      whine whine whine–cry me a river lady–what do you think their boss is going to expect of them as employees??

      • Janet says:


      • Amy says:

        Oh please, go to ANY OTHER COUNTRY on this planet and you will see kids with more responsibility and more school work than US kids could even dream about. The problem is that school has become all about socializing and very little about learning.

    • Janet says:

      You said, “Teachers forget that students have lives and responsibilities outside of school. They have chores and relationships with parents and siblings that take time and effort to maintain. ”

      Are you serious? I’m the parent of three kids and you know what? Your kids’ job while they’re living under your roof IS school… period!

      • Lissa says:

        Do you do your job 16 hours a day, 7 days a week? Or do you make time for your life and responsibilities outside of work? Do you have chores and relationships with your spouse and children that take time and effort to maintain?

        Yeah, thought not.

      • Kady says:

        Janet: Just wanted to log in and comment that you made me cheer at my desk.

        Monday-Friday 8am-3pm, plus work to do at home? Hell that sounds like my job in a nutshell. Anyone who questions that is kidding themselves.

        My parents gladly sat and helped me with my homework because they wanted me to succeed and they both had full-time jobs. Anyone complaining about how much homework kids have these days clearly has reconstructed their memories of how it was in the past. Just because it cuts in to YOUR “me time” doesn’t mean that it is any more than you were assigned as a child. If you don’t want to raise a child and teach them lessons at home that are germane to what they learn in the class, buy a goldfish the responsibilities are more your speed.

      • Sparsile says:

        The homework for most kids these days is a waste of time. Homework at school does NOT prepare kids for a real job in any sense. A real job requires creativity, responsibility, and maturity. Homework policies do not promote any of these qualities.

      • Having been a teacher for many years, school is not a child’s job. School is the teacher’s job. Education is the job of all involved in the life of the child. So, how do we free up a child’s after school life? Get down to the basics in the educational setting. I can count on ONE hand the times that I brought homework home from k-6. Why? Because at some point in time, the curriculum was exacting and simple. You can’t read at the level you’re supposed to??? Stay back a year. You don’t have your multiplication tables memorized, 1’s through 12’s, by the end of 3rd grade? Stay back a year. You don’t have the emotional level of maturity of those around you as seen by choice behaviors? Stay back a year. I graduated with 411 people. 411 people that had been held to standards and benchmarks of achievement, behavior and ability. I have watched for many years as teachers and administrators have become more, what I call “fluffy”, in what they believe school should be. “A place to explore, create, indulge, etc….” These are all wonderful, but where is drill, repetition, mastering, more drill, etc… It’s gone for most. Homework started coming home in the 8th grade, and it was minimal.
        I pose this question to everyone out there…. If your child comes home and says “I need help on this homework.”, don’t you think there is a problem with this statement? Why do you need help? Was the concept not introduced correctly? Is the level of mastery of the concept not cohesive with what’s being asked? Got a problem with this happening all the time with your kid? Then something has been missed.

        Kid’s are responsible for their behaviors and choices of behaviors. Schools are responsible for the imparting of knowledge to these children. Have a problem with the prior? Go to the kid. Got a problem with the latter, go to the school. Got a problem with both? Then bring on the round table discussion. BUT… don’t expect me, as the teacher, to ever back down from stating the truth regarding a child’s behavior. I’ve been yelled at, spit on, assaulted with food, assaulted with fist… all by parents who couldn’t believe that their child was capable. And guess what…. I’ve heard from EVERY one of these past students AND parents years down the road in apology. As the child matured into holding themselves responsible, they did just that.

  3. Penina says:

    It starts as early as preschool, people. I’ve been teaching for over 10 years, currently 5-6 year olds in Kindergarten, and while there is a vast difference in a kindergartener’s and a middle schooler’s ability to control themselves, they are still able to be responsible to some degree. Yet the parents still see them as babies. In my class we have a rule, posted on a bulletin board, that we go over frequently – “Be Responsible”. They’re expected to bring their homework folders to and from school, take care of materials and be responsible for their actions. Kids tell me all the time, “he TOLD me to push that kid off the slide”, and I tell them that they have their own brain, they know what’s right or wrong, and chose to do the wrong thing. I don’t care who told them to do something – if it’s wrong, don’t do it. They’re still learning, but I feel its so important for them to see themselves as the owners of their actions, not as followers in in group mentality. Kudos for this post, teachers everywhere are gonna love this!

  4. Ahh Matt,
    What a topic! Not only am I a Mom to 3 little darlin’s (all grown up & responsible young adults now) I’m a Special Ed Tutor in a public high school. The community that I live & work in is rather low income so dysfunction seems to be a fairly common thread among “my customers”!

    I can’t even begin to tell you how ill-behaved students are on a daily basis in HIGH SCHOOL! I agree with you that Middle School is a horrible age group but high school is nearly impossible to manage anymore.

    The students have been shielded from any type of accountability for so long that when they get to my school — THEY ARE LARGE & IN CHARGE! They know every right and how to twist the system in their favor in every way imaginable. Kids can be JERKS! They have no concept of the value of another human being. They curse and misbehave with adults/students/little kids on the bus or whoever they wish to mistreat all with little to no repercussions.

    Poorly behaved students seem to be the norm (I’ve been in the education business 25+ years) and they hold all the cards. Schools are held hostage by threatening parents and governmental procedures (yea, thanks for that) and not a lot gets accomplished in holding kids accountable for their actions.

    Gone are the days when school’s graduate kids that are lovingly invested in humans. Those days are a thing of the past. Teachers are tied to teaching to state tests and following all the red tape rules (many of which prevent them from making a positive impact personally on their students).

    I’m at the end of my education days. I will not miss the blatant misuse of education time from unruly students with excuse making parents. I will miss the ones who loved to learn and behaved like they were expected to.

    Sad sad sad!

  5. Without a doubt, too many people seem to think that kids are mindless zombies that can only think and feel as an accountable human being once they turn 18. They shouldn’t have to ever lift a finger to do anything or care about anyone besides themselves while they are legally a child. But then we expect them to suddenly be responsible and productive and a good person? No, I do not think that rotten kids are entirely a parent’s fault as it is horrificially difficult to try to teach your kids when so many kids are allowed to be terrible. But we as a society desperately need to teach kids consequences for their actions, repsonsibility, respect, appreciation, caring, etc. Too many kids are allowed to be so wretchedly selfish, lazy, disrespectful, unthankful. Even TV shows and movies show this to be acceptable. Society says if we discipline our kids, we are abusive. If we don’t kill ourselves spoiling them and giving them everything they want, we are selfish and uncaring. Don’t ever tell a kid no because you could damage their self-esteem. People think they are being so wise, when in fact they are being incrediby short-sighted and foolish. Kids grow up to be selfish, irresponsible, spoiled, entitled, lazy, worse than worthless adults. I have seen kids raised by well-meaning parents that just allowed their kids to be monsters, and they did not just grow out of it. Our kids will only grow up to be decent people if we teach them good values, and hold them accountable when they choose the bad.

  6. Terry Wills says:

    I’ll tell you one thing, when my little guy is old enough for school and if we choose to put him into public school, I’m going to tell each and every one of his teachers that if they have a problem with him, here is my number and I’ll make sure it doesn’t happen again. I’ll also make sure I check in with his teachers on a regular basis to see how he is doing and address any problems that need to be. Public school teachers need all the support they can get.

  7. fabthink says:

    Hi Matt, that sounds like a lot of reasonable thoughts. Helicopter parenting is something that, in my opinion could lead to the described behaviour during the unobserved (“free”) moments. Why do parents believe they have to control every second of their children’s lives? Why are they surprised (or in denial) when the kids are breaking out? Funny enough, that people who got raised without boundaries ending up having trouble for the rest of their lives communicating them by themselves:

  8. Luscinia says:

    Matt responds to an e-mail. Matt says something sarcastic. Matt posts an entry from less than a season ago.

    • BillowsPillow says:

      Sorry to be so cliche, but where is your blog? Are you posting to it three to four times a week, while also planning and hosting a radio show? Not to mention that there are plenty of topics, this one near the top of the list, that deserve regular revisiting so we don’t think that bringing it up once is sufficient.

      • Luscinia says:

        If you really need it, look up “lo rez moon lit” for some thoughts on loons, swans, and box turtle intimacy.

        And, no, no they don’t. Bringing it up once is more than sufficient.

  9. Emerald says:

    THANK YOU. If we’re honest with ourselves and look back to our own childhoods, we know the truth: We chose to do what we chose to do. Sneak snacks before supper? Buy someone a present? Skip class? Give out a valentine? All our choices, even when we were young. Tease someone? Make them cry? Stick up for a friend? Throw them to the wolves? Befriend an unpopular kid? All our choices, too. Time hasn’t changed kids. The way adults perceive and treat them has changed, and adults have the power to change it back. Kids as a population will do as much or as little as we ask them to, and it takes the mindset of a society to allow those changes to happen or fade away.

  10. Love your logic on parenting children. It’s difficult to find logic in most parenting styles today. Sometimes, the parenting books, websites, magazines, and blog posts don’t have an ounce of logic in advice offered. If our child behaves inappropriately, perhaps as parents, we should ask ourselves, “Would I want another child to treat my child the same way (as your child treated another)?”, “Do I (as an adult) like to deal with irate customers that know the bigger scene he/she makes (talking to you, irate parents), the faster his/her opponent gives in just to avoid further confrontation? As a role model for my child, do I need to show other adults more grace in stressful situations or am I the irate customer?”, and finally, “Forty-five years from now, do I want my child to demonstrate the same love and logic toward me as I have modeled for them?”. Parents, please use love and logic from the birth of your child until they have reached adulthood. Children have the ability to make simple choices from infancy and quickly learn that his/her choices influence their world. As a parent, be a good role-model and discuss interactions with others, “Because I / YOU made this choice, I / YOU affected another person in this way.” We all make mistakes, it’s time to own up to them.
    ~~Early Childhood Educator of 19 years

  11. Sometimes I wonder if it’s because parents feel like holding their kids accountable will mean that they have to be accountable too. I worked in a psychiatric residential treatment facility for four years with troubled teens and with all the screaming, hitting, attempts on my life, and the staffs; the kids were almost always way more mature and put together than their loveless narcissistic parents.

  12. Pingback: A three step cure for the “knockout game” | The Matt Walsh Blog

  13. AthenaC says:

    Totally agree (for once). How are they ever going to turn into responsible adults if we never expect them to be responsible as kids?

    My kids are not only responsible for their actions, they are responsible to take care of themselves – they do their homework, they do their own laundry, they keep their rooms clean, they keep their shared bathroom clean, they sweep the floors (because they usually make the mess), they can make basic meals for themselves (i.e. sandwiches or hot dogs, the oldest can cook her own eggs), and we can even depend on them to help out with dishes and the baby when my husband is sick. Now, the execution of all this isn’t always spot-on, but growing up is a process, right?

    The best part? They are 10 and 7 years old.

  14. Girondin says:

    How surprising should this behavior be, when our lives are moving in the direction where decisions and actions from younger and younger ages impact and direct the rest of your life? Society is moving towards people needing to effectively become machines in order to survive, let alone succeed. When you say that kids aren’t robots, there’s more weight to that statement than the surface belies. It’s not just that we can’t NOT blame them as if they had no control over their lives, it’s that we as a people actually need to move towards giving people back some control over their lives. Slow the “hustle”. There are, in fact, a lot of macro things wrong with this world, and these kids’ actions are just an in-your-face symptom of them. But the lack of personal onus for behavior placed on kids is one of those wrong things, and needs to end. It takes a village, especially these days when parents are so involved in their own daily hustle. We need to put misbehaving kids, and adults, in their places at all costs.

  15. Jen says:

    I read your blog all the time, and I love it (though I sometimes disagree!) but I’ve never commented. But this is an issue that has been bothering me for a long time. I used to teach high school music, and dealt with ridiculous parents like this often. I remember one kid in particular that never showed up for class, and was therefore failing. His parents came (with him) to parent/teacher conferences, and I thought “great, we can get to the bottom of this”, but instead of having a rational discussion, I was told the student wasn’t coming to my class because it wasn’t interesting enough for him. And he shouldn’t be failing. I should make my class more interesting. The said they were pulling him out of my class to put him in a more interesting one (was fine with me). I taught band – how can that class be any more fun that it already is? You show up every day and play music! The other 55 kids in the class seemed to think it was worth their time, though there were plenty of kids whose parents stuck up for them anytime there was an issue.

    We were actually told by the administration to stop calling one students’ parents because they gave a lot of money to the school and we didn’t want them to stop. I loved my students and my job, but I was happy when the Air Force moved us out of that state.

    I now stay at home with my one-year-old, and while I miss teaching a lot, I love this time with her. Maybe what that woman meant when she said that “kids can never be jerks” is that “babies can never be jerks”. I would agree with her there. Babies are not jerks. But then they turn into kids, and they can be jerks! Isn’t that what you’re supposed to do as a parent? Teach your kid not to be a jerk? That’s my plan anyway, to do that to the best of my ability. I get it, I don’t want to yell at my daughter and make her cry, but at the same time I also don’t want her to play in the street!

    Thanks for being logical, Matt.

  16. kellydegrassie@gmail.com says:

    Hey Matt,
    Usually I’m right there on your side; but today, I can’t join you on this one. Kids, teens, toddlers, can only choose to be virtuous if their parents show them how to be virtuous. I kid’s behavior is more his/her parent’s fault than his/her own. You can’t expect a young person with underdeveloped reasonings faculties to choose the Good when goodness has not been demonstrated. I was a teacher before I had children. Parents don’t want to acknowledge their kids’ behavior, because they know it is a reflection of the poor job they did raising them!

    • BillowsPillow says:

      Quit pretending that pre-teens and teenagers aren’t real people with their own minds. Just because someone’s parents “didn’t raise them right,” doesn’t mean the rest of us cannot still hold them to a higher standard. Do not coddle them; expect more of them.

      • Kelly says:

        Exactly. Your “I had a crappy childhood” excuse isn’t going to hold much water with the judge trying your felony case. At some point you have to say, “Wow, my parents sucked, but I want to have a good life. How am I going to get there from here on out?” People who are incapable of making moral choices because mommy didn’t love them really need to be weeded out of our society. Of course, they weed themselves out by ending up dead or in jail.

  17. I remember a not-so-proud moment when one of my four children “mouthed off” to their teacher. In front of the whole class. Got some laughs from the 4th (?) grade class peers. And a letter home (and call from the office) to me about the whole incident. I was not happy. She/he might have had a reason. I don’t remember now if it was valid or not, but that wasn’t the point. My hubby and I sat our child down and explained why that was totally unacceptable, that you are not to disrespect an adult, especially one that I’ve give authority to over you. So the letter was requesting an apology letter to be written by my child and given to the teacher the next day. I decided to take it one step further. I signed into the office the next morning and went to class with her/him. Both office staff and the teacher were surprised when I demanded that my child read the letter of apology out loud to the teacher, in front of all the peers. “Oh they don’t have to read it out loud, just giving it to the teacher is enough..” “Not for me.” was my reply. I feel that if the disrespect is public then the apology must be public as well.

  18. Kelly says:

    My “special” student (read, “has an IEP and therefore has more legal rights than your kid, seriously, no matter what) punched a girl in the face today. When we called home to let his mother know, the first words out of her mouth were, “Well, what did that girl do to make him so mad?” I wanted to say, “Read up on visitation procedures at the local prison, since your kid will be there in 5 years”. I also have parents who call to yell at me when their child loses homework. Um, excuse me? Your child’s homework is your child’s responsibility, especially by 3rd grade. When are you actually going to insist your child be responsible? 5th grade? 8th grade? Sophomore year of college? Baby steps now will go a long way in raising a decent human being, so give it a whirl, okay?

  19. MAnderson says:

    One time during her junior high years, my oldest daughter didn’t get off the bus and the neighbor girl stopped by and told me that my daughter had after-school detention and would need a ride home later. I got in my car, drove to the school, went into the detention room and sat right next to her. She was mortified, the other kids were laughing and she wanted to know what in the heck I was doing there. I told her that if she was misbehaving at school it must be because I, as her parent, had not taught her how to be a decent human being and how to show respect for others…so I must be responsible for her choices…so I deserved detention too. She sat there for a minute…then turned to me and said, “No mom, you and dad taught me all that…I just did remember it very well.” She was embarrassed in front of her classmates but she recognized that she had acted inappropriately and deserved to be embarrassed. She also shed a few tears…also humiliating in front of her classmates. I got up, gave her a big hug, walked out the door…at the door I turned around and said, “Oh, by the way, you will be walking home today.” I am sure she wasn’t a perfect angel after that but she never had detention again and we are so proud of the beautiful woman she has become.

    • MAnderson says:

      And I didn’t post this to toot my own horn. I firmly believe that parents need to teach and model appropriate behavior and respect through out a child’s life. But…children must be held responsible for their own actions and face the consequences of their decisions. If more children were allowed to face the natural consequences of their choices, we would have a lot less of these horrendous “games” going on in the world.

  20. Samantha Jane says:

    I am currently having problems with my daughter in school. Lying about her homework and rarely completing the tasks she is asked to complete, by the teacher. Also, some outright defiance. I let the teacher know whatever she needs to do to let my daughter know there are consequences, to go ahead. She has 100% of my support. My daughter also lost privileges because she received a bad report from the teacher. No book order or favourite hot lunches at the cafeteria for the month, was part of her punishment! I refuse to do her homework for her or ride her to get it done. If she needs help, I’m there (she doesn’t as she is normally an A student so she’s just being lazy) but it’s really about her not taking responsibility and expecting us to do things for her as if she was a much younger child (she is ten). The other day, she missed the bus even though she was up early enough and I always told her she is walking to school if she misses the bus. So, she walked to school. Took her 40 minutes and it was cold out but she hasn’t missed the bus since that morning. These are all normal behaviours for a ten year old. They will push the adults in their life to see what they can get away with because all little humans will choose the path of least resistance, unless we teach them this IS the path to a hellish life. The key is how I respond to this as a parent. I feel that by supporting the teacher and being involved in the discipline, and following through, I am preparing my daughter for the real world. Her father and I are not always going to be here for her so it’s important to us that we teach her how to be responsible and feel the consequences when she isn’t doing what she needs to do. So sorry to hear that so many parents aren’t following the basics but all I can do is be responsible for my own.

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  24. Dorothy says:

    This is a tough one for me. On the one hand, I completely agree. The kid should be held responsible for his actions. Duh (I so eloquently state). On the other, I have been on the wrong end of more than a few lies, and I’ve been the one no one believes. I tried to talk a friend out of stealing in elementary school. She got caught by the teacher and told her I was the one stealing and she was trying to stop me. I was being picked on by a kid and when he got caught he said I called him a retard. I got slapped because a group of girls didn’t like that I was assigned to their team in PE. We were both suspended because I apparently missed where I hit her first (her friends backed her up, of course). I don’t say all this in an attempt to garner sympathy, but to put forth an example of why blaming a kid right off the bat could be the wrong move.

  25. Samantha says:

    This is great! I was held responsible for my actions as a child and so are my children (ages 8, 5, 3). Kids know what is right and wrong. Todays parents need to stop worrying about their child’s feelings when it comes to punishment. If you don’t take charge now it’s going to hurt the CHILD later in life!

  26. heyshawntae says:

    My daughter, like most these days, tried to blame the teacher when things didn’t go well. (The teacher is horrible, he hates me, she ignores me, etc.) She’s a good kid and was never accused by teachers of being disruptive or disrespectful. As painful as it was to see my daughter struggle, my response was typically, “Wow, that stinks. In the real world you will have unreasonable bosses, uncooperative co-workers and authority figures who don’t see things your way. You don’t usually get the option of running away from those situations. You need to figure out a way to work through it.” Sometimes she hated me for this approach. She had plenty of friends who’s parent would rush to the school to have their child moved from a class where they weren’t favored. In these cases I would take the extra step of having a parent/teacher conference to discuss the academics of my child and get the teachers take on the situation. Sometimes, the teacher only needed to know that someone was paying attention and “their attitude” would miraculously improve. In all honesty though, there was a teacher or two who clearly disliked children and it pained me that they were even allowed to work in a school. Unfortunately, in those cases, my daughter walked away with more of an education in coping with difficult people than the subject at hand. It’s a lifeskill you don’t learn from pleasant accomodating people.

  27. Heather says:

    Hmm…I agree with a lot of what you say about parents these days not holding their kids responsible for their actions yet I have a couple of things to say.
    It kind of sounds like these parents are overly protective of these kids but in my experience (working with kids in juvenile probation and learning in my classes for Psychology in Grad school) there can sometimes be a lot more to it. Socioeconomic status plays a large part in it. I can see how people of high class can feel like their kids are perfect, never holding them responsible and creating an air of entitlement.
    HOWEVER, there can also be those at the other end of the spectrum. When people are raised with parents who are drug addicts or alcoholics, who are teen parents themselves, who don’t have an education…well, it creates a vicious cycle.
    I’m not making excuses for anyone of these kids. I had my oldest son when I was 18 just out of high school. I was a single mom and I struggled hard emotionally and financially but I NEVER doubted the things his teachers told me.
    When he got in trouble with the law at 17 my response was “Well, we will hire an attorney and see what happens but you know what you did and you know it was wrong so we will see how this plays out!”
    He got probation for 6 months, had to do community service for 30 hours, had to write a letter of apology and had to write an essay on the topic for which he got in trouble. He had a clean record so he got off lightly BUT he had to complete it all or he’d go to prison. I didn’t argue with the judge and I didn’t help him complete what he needed to do.
    He learned that there are rules and VERY real consequences for every action. I’m glad he learned that!

  28. Melissa says:

    I spent a year as a school secretary. I witnessed everything Matt described and more. I could tell you stories upon stories of getting yelled at and cussed out by parents because the school dared give consequences to their little darling who blatantly broke the rules (which, by the way, were clearly outlined in the handbook every parent received at the beginning of the year). I could tell you about the time I had to walk away from my desk and go hide in the principal’s office, shaking and on the verge of a panic attack, because a parent had gone so ballistic on me. Over something that was not even remotely my fault or my responsibility. Or the school’s, for that matter. I could tell you about parents who treated school like daycare, picking up and dropping off their children as they pleased and completely flipping out and threatening to sue if the school said anything about it. After working there (NEVER AGAIN) I no longer wonder why we hear stories on the news about things like this “knockout game”. It’s sad, but it’s true.

  29. Theresa says:

    Oh my!!! This is so true! I always dread the appearance of certain families at the parent-teacher meetings because of their accusing attitude towards myself and everyone else in the school. I especially love the parents who try to tell me how to teach and how to deal with all the other kids the in classroom, ignoring my comment about how their child usually is the one provoking his classmates. Thank goodness for those parents who ask you what they can do to make sure their child always behaves! I love teaching, but, I really dread parent-teacher meetings!!!

  30. Helen Smith says:

    Both my husband & I would never have consider coming home and complaining about being disciplined at school – it would have meant a second punishment at home!

  31. Amy says:

    Amen Matt! But sadly the type of parenting you described takes time and energy that few people in our society are willing to fit in around their jobs, hobbies, friends, chores, etc.

  32. texasgirl31 says:

    Hell yeah Matt!!! Beautifully said! Another thing, I’ve never been so disgusted with how disrespectful these kids are!! If I’d spoken to my parents or teachers the way these lil punks do I definitely wouldn’t be alive to comment on this issue today!! Good job:)

  33. Mary says:

    I work with both junior high (middle school) and high school students. About 3 years ago I started a wall in my classroom that is covered with various designs of the letter “u.” Along with these letters are a variety of small posters that focus on choice, attitude, and responsibility. The “U’s” generally get at least one student in each class to ask why they’re there. I try to convey to them that even at their ages, they have the greatest amount of power in their lives. They are the ones who choose (or not) to do what a parent or teacher–or even friend–asks them to do.

    I think that the primary instance that got me to thinking about how much we leave out the responsibility of students themselves came from a discussion in a graduate class about how so many individuals with various “disabilities” (physical, mental, economic, family life) succeeded. The primary point of the lesson was that they all had mentors. But what impacted me more was that each of those individuals put forth the effort to get where they were. Even the best mentor can’t succeed for someone else. The individual HAS to put forth the effort. In some ways it is the same concept as recognizing that those who suffer from addictions can only truly beat the addiction when THEY decide they want to change–regardless of the number of and quality of help programs, the existent of mentors, or the love of family and friends.

  34. Jay Phillips says:

    So very true. That is one reason why I left the teaching field. And yet I still see children misbehaving almost everyday and much of it comes from the fact that their parents are not even watching them. And it doesnt help to “punish” a child, then turn around and get them something they want.

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  37. Motherish6 says:

    I have nothing particularly earth-shattering to add to all this. I am a homeschooling mother of six kids ranging in age from 19 mos. to 19 years. I currently teach weekly writing classes for a local homeschool group. Despite dealing with what most teachers would consider the “cream of the crop” in terms of students and families, I can tell you that no one is immune to this. It’s less about personal circumstances and more about personal choice. The kids who do best in my classes are those whose parents hold them most accountable and have no illusions about their children’s status as sinful creatures.

    Last year I was nearly undone by a family who, while professing to have the highest standards for godliness..and, well, pretty much everything else in life, refused to hold themselves or their dear, sweet daughter accountable for completing her weekly assignments correctly or on time. These homeschooling parents actually chafed at my suggestions that they (gasp) spend time each day going over their daughter’s assignments with her. Oh, there were all kinds of excuses, and their sweet poppet was caught in numerous deceptions, but in the end, it was all my fault. When I committed the cardinal sin of pointing out that their daughter had “chosen” to disregard directions, the fight was on. My person, my abilities, my very faith were crucified in the form of a five-page email to my employer (thoughtfully cc’d to my inbox). Thankfully, she is a wise woman. She knew them for who they were and asked them to leave our group. Forever.

    I’m grateful to Matt for discussing this topic, as well as so many others. I’m a fairly new reader, but I’m hooked. It both amuses and saddens me that the common sense with which Matt writes is viewed as controversial by anyone. As a society, regardless of what we say we believe, we are all too much like the proverbial boiling frogs. We have become accustomed to the “way things are.” Rather than being grateful when someone like Matt comes along and points out that we’re slowly being cooked to death, we become angry and defensive. We’re comfortable. And we’ve been told that being in the pot is safe. It’s for our own good. Really. And besides, getting out of the pot might take some effort. And what would the other frogs say?

    Keep up the good work, Matt. You are exactly the kind of person I hope my children have the courage and tenacity to become.

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