Equivalent Statements

 
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Where do all the "f+ck you mom, it's all your fault, you f+cking bitch, I hope you die" kids come from?
There certainly are a lot of kids expressing this view, more and more every year. Existing wilderness therapy programs and residential treatment facilities are frequently full and new outdoor behavioral health and therapeutic boarding schools are opening all the time. I know where to suggest that they get help. I'm interested in where these kids come from. What are their homes like? Are their parents doing something wrong? How does a 17-year-old get to a place where he can look his mother in the eye and say, "f+ck you, mom, it's all your fault, you f+cking bitch, I hope you die"?
There is an argument that leniency on the part of parents engenders out of control, under achieving, unmotivated, spoiled rotten, pot smoking, school failure, school refusal, angry, depressed, acting out kids who use the language quoted above. The reasoning goes something like this: No one in my generation spoke to his parents that way. What those kids needs is a hard slap. The cure for "entitle-isis" and "affluenza" is a spanking. With a belt.
And maybe that's the answer. Maybe all that is needed to put the "f+ck you, mom" kids back on the right path is a swift kick in the butt. Maybe the parents of the "f+ck you, mom, it's all your fault, you f+cking bitch, I hope you die" kids should have been more strict, taken less gruff, imposed "consequences for behavior", been tougher from early childhood.
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Maybe.
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Here's another idea about what engenders the "f+ck you mom, it's all your fault, you f+cking bitch, I hope you die" kids: Maybe they are just repeating a message they have heard from their parents for their entire lives.
I know this sounds over the top crazy. I'm not saying I have a definitive or complete answer to where the "f+ck you, mom" kids come from. But hear me out: How many parents frequently communicate this information? "Did you hear the latest about the Impeccables? You've known them since pre-school. Their daughter applied early decision and is enrolling at Yale; their son was admitted to medical school at Brown. With a $30,000/year scholarship. She has never gotten anything less than an A all though high school. In his senior year of college, he was third author on a paper published in a juried journal. Their kids are so great, amazing in every way."
Can you perceive how talking about the attainments of the Impeccable Family might have some collateral damage? Could reveling in the accomplishments of the early decisions and published papers communicate "They're great, you're not"? Could the parents constantly mentioning the Impeccable Family be saying, "You're not okay as you are" to their kids? Could the children be hearing a thinly veiled, "F+ck you"?
I wish the Impeccable family every success. Maybe their parenting strategy was insisting that their kids come in first on every measure. Maybe that was the appropriate tactic for their kids. Maybe the following cliché worked in their home: "You got a 96 on your exam? What's the matter? Don't they give 100s in that school?" And indeed, this line of parenting may be reasonable for a child who is capable of producing perfect scores, of being first every time. Everyone knows the story of the accomplished orthopedic surgeon whose parents had high expectations. "We never accepted anything other than first place." Less well-known are the narratives of shattered families with broken children. "We had high expectations but our children always fell short so we didn't love them" said no one ever.
Expecting that your child will be in the 99th percentile is doubtless an admirable goal. Unfortunately however, the arithmetic is unyielding: most children, indeed 99% of children, cannot be in the top one percent.
In a very real sense both family members are saying the same thing, one inadvertently the other directly. The mom who says to her normally achieving kid, "The Impeccables just won another math competition" and the "F+ck you, mom" kid are on the same page: "I reject you and everything about you. Nothing you do, say, or think matters to me."
Maybe "do the best you can" is a desperately better message than "be the best." A continuous barrage of "Johnny was graduated at the top of his class; Susie was admitted early decision to Yale; Enrique got a perfect score on his SATs;" could very well lead to the following equivalent statement: "F+ck you mom, it's all your fault, you f+cking bitch, I hope you die."

4 thoughts on “Equivalent Statements

  1. Laura Ketner

    Absolutely right. Julie Lythcott-Haims laid out this argument as well as many other dimensions of parenting issues such as lack of boundaries and entitlement in her great book “How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success”. My whole town is reading it and I’m hoping it can help reduce the flow of teens into those programs.

    Reply
  2. John Calia

    David, this piece is stunning! As in: I am stunned. It has taken me all day to find the wherewithal to respond. Your analysis of the root cause is familiar to your regular readers (like me). However, I wonder if there is more to it than that. Many children, including me, were subjected to the constant push of our parents. The majority of us never behaved the way you describe in your post. So, I have two questions: (1) How can we determine the other factors that contribute to this behavior? and (2) Since you suggest the root cause began years ago, how do you fix it in a 17 year old?

    Reply
    1. Crystal

      I would like to know your ideas on that question as well.. how do you “fix” it, or go about trying to talk to a 17 year old now.. and make him realize what kind of future he has in store if he keeps on the same path he’s on now!?!

      Reply
  3. Janet M Lorenzo-Garcia

    LOL! LOL! LOL!

    As usual, laughter is the best medicine!

    In other words, no matter what you do, you get what you get, be happy with what you get, because at least you got, love what you got, you did your best Mami y Papi, and thank goodness I’m getting closer to the finish line………….thought I’d never make it over!!!

    🙂

    Reply

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