Where were the parents?

In an op-ed in today’s Star Tribune Daniel Wolpert of Minneapolis, who runs a religion-based organization, defends the practice of judging the parents in news stories where a child has done wrong.

Clearly, Wolpert is talking mostly about the parents of John LaDue of Waseca, Minnesota. He’s the 17-year-old boy charged with a plot to set off bombs at schools in Waseca, then shoot kids trying to flee. Reportedly, he planned to kick off his day by killing his parents.

How does something get that far? How do parents not see a problem? How do teachers and school staff not see a brewing problem? How do his friends not see that something is wrong?

In the Internet age, judgement is passed in seconds, even when we don’t know the answers to important questions. That doesn’t stop us from reaching for the pitchforks.

Says Wolpert:

However, we have now completely thrown the baby out with the bathwater and have decided — in our “hakuna matata,” “I’m OK, you’re OK” and “God (or Oprah) should give me a car” world — that everyone is wonderful. And God forbid that we should comment on someone else’s behavior, especially if they are having a difficult time.

Unfortunately, this approach to social relations is collective suicide. Judging, in the best sense of the word, is about making discriminating assessments between actions in order to determine what is good and what isn’t. This function is absolutely necessary in order to have healthy relationships, healthy children and a healthy society. Furthermore, it is possible to acknowledge that everyone is valuable and wonderful and that everyone is capable of actions that are neither of these things and need correction.

A parent whose teenager is hiding numerous guns and bombs in his room without their knowledge is being a bad parent. A parent whose teenager is breaking into someone’s house on multiple occasions without their knowledge is being a bad parent. A parent who isn’t participating in their children’s educational process and isn’t doing everything they can to support their child’s education is a bad parent. This doesn’t mean these parents are fundamentally bad people, it just means that their parenting isn’t very good and needs correcting and improvement. If we as a society aren’t able to make this assessment, then we are a bad society and aren’t doing our job to help people grow and improve.

We don’t know the extent to which LaDue’s parents reached out for help. While we don’t know the response they got if they did, we do know that in Minnesota, and elsewhere, the resources for parents can be few. All one has to do is listen to hear the constant stories of parents who’ve tried to get help for their children, only to run into closed doors and cold hearts.

Did that happen in Waseca? We don’t know. And that’s the thing about passing judgement. Before we pass it, we should know what we’re talking about.

A commenter proves the point. He asks all the right questions, and then doesn’t bother waiting for the answer:

So many unanswered questions….guns and ammo are expensive. Where was the money coming from? How did he pay for the storage unit? Did he have a job? How did he pay for all the purchases of bomb-making materials that he ordered off the internet and who signed for the packages? Wouldn’t someone in the house notice all the deliveries from chemical companies?? WTH?? Wolpert is right, this sounds a whole lot like bad parenting to me.

In the minority, another commenter makes the obvious — and unpopular — point:

Things are rarely as simple as they seem. Go ahead and judge if you want, but unless you have the all the facts, there’s a good possibility that you’re judging them wrongly. I’ve often found that even when it seems like there couldn’t possibly be an explanation, when you have all the facts you understand how something inexplicable happened.

It’s usually better to have some compassion for a family having to go through an extremely difficult time, all while in the public eye. I’m not saying don’t judge, and I get the author’s view about how kids need to get an understanding of consequences and being judged, I just think he chose a poor anecdote unless he has more access to all the facts than what I’ve seen published.

The world is a simple place when you don’t bother with the details.