Friday, July 10, 2015

Child-rearing: A Crapshoot

A few years ago, I was sitting in the teacher lounge with a young, relatively new teacher who was pregnant with her first child. The conversation at the lunch table that day was about mischievous acts our students had done in class. The new teacher was still in that phase when she said to herself, "My child will never do that." I looked over at her and said, "Don't think that your child will be any different from any of these kids." 

Seven years and two additional children later, that teacher sees what I meant by my declaration, and we have often laughed about the truth in my statement. We parents can do everything all child-rearing manuals tell us to do, but these little people will turn into adults who will make right or wrong choices. At that point, it won't matter what we did, said, or taught them.

Raising kids to be good people is such a crapshoot.

Sometimes you get everything right and your kid grows up to be a good, caring, productive person -- a Mother Teresa or Gandhi.

Sometimes you get everything right and your kid grows up to be a real selfish ass or sociopath -- a Jeffery Dahmer or Adolf Hitler.

So what happens? Why is it that some kids who are raised by the same parents in basically the same way turn out great or not-so-great? As a parent and former teacher, I have often wondered what the secret is to raising those kids with dynamic qualities and what happens in a child’s life to cause him/her to be a really bad person. I’ve taught students who became doctors, lawyers, a US Congressman, preachers, etc. I’ve also taught some who became addicts, felons, bums, etc.

Yesterday, I was reminded how unpredictable people are when I heard some terrible news about a young man who was my student eight years ago when he was a 9th grader. He was such a handsome young man, the type that made girls swoon. However, this young man was not the type of person you would want your daughter to be around. He's the only student I remember throwing out of my class because he was obviously stoned. He begged me not to send him to the office because he had been in trouble often and he knew he was close to getting thrown out of school. 

He was suspended for ten days, the normal punishment for this offense, but he never came back to school. I hate to see any kid quit school, but my attention was soon on other students.

Yesterday, I read about my former student in the local newspaper. At age 21, he was arrested for two counts of premeditated murder, burglary, and possession of a firearm by a felon. He had already served two years in prison for fraudulent use of a credit card and theft and had been released from prison just three months ago. He is accused of brutally killing two young men during a robbery. He tied them up, put them in the bathtub, shot them in the head, killed their dog, and set the apartment on fire. 

What happened to this handsome young man I knew eight years ago? How did he become such a monster? Is he just a bad seed who people knew would turn out to do horrible acts or was he led into this lifestyle by others and addiction? What did his parents do wrong? Could they have stopped him or changed the direction of his life?

I wish I knew the answers to these questions. I might be better at child-rearing than I am.

This young man is included in a very small number of students I have had in class who turned out to be truly bad adults. Most of them “get it together” by the time they reach age 30, and I’m happy for them, their families and society. However, the few who turn out to be dangers to society make me sad and curious as to why they turned out like they did. 

We humans continue having children and most of us attempt to raise them in the best way we know how. It's just that sometimes everything goes to hell.

Raising kids, and life in general, is just a crapshoot.