The Beautiful and Damned? Parents Make the Difference.

In the last two hundred years, the world has speculated,with varying ideas, about what makes a person great, and what makes another a failure. Here's just a small smattering of some of these ideologies, of which, I am taking many liberties:

  • Phrenology: the size of the head, and different bumps on the head control a person's intelligence, personality, and temperament.  
  • Social Darwinism: like evolution of species, only that the strongest and fittest should/will survive.  Purely a DNA crap shot. The basic thinking behind eugenics and the Holocaust.  
  • Marxism: In terms of the individual (not the political theory), the obstacle holding back the proletariate (or working classes) is the wealth and power of the upper classes.  The class you are born into is holding you back, not your individual drive, etc.  
  • Capitalism: A sink or swim system, where everyone has the opportunity to fill a hole in the economy.  Ingenuity, hard work, and investment of capital into one's dreams, as well as demand and luck, play a large part in one's success.  
  • Freudian Theory of Development: children develop into different psychosexual stages before adulthood. Like all things Freudian, it is overly sexual, and if one doesn't get past certain stages, he or she can have an "oral fixation" or "anal fixation" etc., that can limit their advancement.  
  • IQ testing: A pure measure of one's ability to solve complex questions and riddles, or intelligence, is what separates the wheat from the chaff.  Later studies have shown that there is a small correlation between success and a high IQ, but barely quantifiable.  
I can see why my grandpa's generation would
want to "have" Lauren Bacall.
The world desperately wants a measuring stick to find what turns some people into haves, and others into have nots

And one variable, that is always mentioned, but never explored in great detail, is the role of the family.  

Working in a low income school district, the greatest variable, in my opinion, as to the success or failure of a child, is the involvement of his or her parents/guardians.  Most of my students come from broken situations. A parent who's passed away, a parent who did time in prison, a parent who isn't working so the child is living with grandpa and grandma. Not to mention the single parents, the foster-home kids, and the kids whose parents are homeless.  

I'm not blaming their parents for their situations. Life plays funny tricks on our dreams. Partners in parenting take off, jobs dissolve, misdemeanors catch up to us, etc. Choices, mostly ones of passion and desperation, lead to consequences.  One of those, sadly, is children. And these children get dragged around through a vicious cycle of bad decisions, which, in turn makes them bad decision makers. 

And while some will say that this is solely an issue of class and poverty, I say hogwash. I have plenty of poor kids who make good decisions and have good grades. I have wealthier kids who act like brats and fail on purpose, and poor kids with nice clothes and "bling" that make horrible decisions.  You'd think there is nothing quantifiable about why a kid is successful or not, until you call their parents.  

Of coures this happened at Walmart.  
I've had moms cry on the phone and ask me "what to do?" about their out of control 7th grader.  I've had parents cuss me out for having the audacity to call home, who then blame everything on "the system."  I've seen on average, less than 5% of my student's parents at parent teacher conferences.  And of the few that show up--their kids are usually academically and behaviorally, my favorites.  These kids are the ones I doubt I've ever had a worry about their futures.  

There are plenty of kids, however, who I fear for their future.  Not just employment, but their emotional, physical, spiritual, well-being.  Kids who can't seem to get anything together.  Kids who can't even organize a notebook, let alone a bank account, or a dependent.  And yet, these are the first I see to add to our population.  Which furthers the spiral of bad parenting.  

Don't get me wrong. Even in a poverty district, I see many open-hearted, loving, generous, kind parents and volunteers. Even these parents, sometimes, are burdened with a difficult child, whether it is in behavior or academics.  There are bad apples, even where the soil is most nourishing.  But, mostly these "type" parents have kids who are absolute joys in the system. Kids who any teacher feel privileged to educate.  

So in a day in age of high stakes testing and increased pressure on everyone to succeed, my plea to parents is this:  Get involved.  Turn off the television and limit video games to an hour a day.  Get your kid involved in activities beyond school.  Find their passions and motivate them to do well there because it usually translates to other areas as well. Don't be afraid to take away their phone/computer, especially when they prove untrustworthy in their online/social activities. Teach them empathy, and discernment towards others, especially friends. And if a friend proves a bad influence, be willing to transfer your kid to a different school to "save" them. You rule the roost, not your child. You hold the keys to their future even if you have a busy job, or are doing it on your own, or are not financially able to pay for many perks; if you show interest in your child's schooling and activities, he or she will respect you for it (eventually).  

Lastly, we are entering a new era of the "barely there" parents vs. the "helicopter parents."  While it is clear when a parent is not fulfilling their side of the social contract, there are other parents who are overstepping the natural boundaries of parent/child.  Often dictating every part of their child's life, not allowing them to branch out on their own. Be aware that your child will most likely rebel against your micromanaged lifestyle, and find the laissez faire world of the barely-there parents, appealing.  

I'm systematically against eugenics except in
the case of Uruk-Hai, who should not have kids.  
My children are still small.  I don't claim to be a parenting expert, as I have no idea how my kids will turn out. But dealing with young adults has taught me, that parenting, is ALMOST everything.  A single parent who is involved in their child's life, gives that kid a chance, despite starting life at a disadvantage (yes, I did say single parenting puts a child at a disadvantage).  A parent who shows interest and enables the pursuit of their child's ability to sing or dance or play music or hit a baseball or paint or do advanced calculus, is on the road to more successful parenting.  

So, even though there is some truth that DNA, and IQ, and how much money you make as a parent, and what neighborhood and school your child attends, and whether your kid successfully navigates each stage of human development, the real determining factor as to if your kid is successful (whatever that term means to you), is whether that kid has a loving parent who cares and is playing an active, but not over-bearing, role in their child's future.  

I guess we don't have to go to heaven to see the lion
lay down with the lamb (or in this case antelope).  
Some of you may be thinking, I just read a long diatribe of nature vs. nurture, heredity vs. environment,  that could have been summed up in a few words. Yes, you're right. But for me, I think I used to believe that DNA was mostly responsible for our outcome, and now, after all these years, I think it is nurture, that is the true determining force that leads to our CHOICES that equate who we are.  


  1. Chris I couldn't agree with you more about parenting. In full disclosure, I don't have children, so I know I'm speaking from the sidelines. It does often baffle me, when in public, at the lack of solid parents I see with kids.

    1. Sideline speakers are always welcome. Although, I will say the job is harder than I thought before I had kids. A few times I criticized parents, only to find I did similar things once I became a parent. Having said that, there are many parents that need someone to call them out on their unskilled behavior management.

  2. I have the phrenology category down, yo. I always found that one funny, because I have the biggest head ever - literally big (as in hat size), not figuratively (as in ego). So that must mean I'm smart...? However, in Social Darwinism I would be the big loser. Poor immune system, depression, alcoholism. Had I been alive a hundred years ago, I wouldn't have made it to twelve years old.
    The nature-vs-nurture debate I suspect will go on until the end of the world. People are complex, and a myriad of factors contribute to how a person develops. However, I do echo your plea to parents - be there for your kid. Maybe not for everything (helicoptering is bad news bears), but for the important things.

    1. My brother in law has the lumpiest head ever (so much that when he shaved his head they called him "Lumpy"). He would be a phrenologists dream patient.

      People are complex. Which is why when I'm writing characters in a story I always ask myself, "Do I care about this person, or are they paper thin?" If they don't have any depth I try to go back and add to their story, or cut them out of the story.

  3. The internet keeps deleting my comments!! So here's take three: I absolutely agree!! Us teachers get a firsthand look of the consequences of absent vs. involved parenting. I've been subbing pre-K at a private school the last couple of days, and in my little class of 14, I can tell that all their parents are there for them. Their academics are higher than some of the first graders I've taught in the past. It always broke my heart to see a first grader struggle because their parent(s) didn't read or practice sight words with them at home. Anyway, I could go on and on too...I just wanted to say that I wholeheartedly agree!!

    1. You're not the only one who keeps getting axed out of my comments. I'm about to blow this whole thing up, and start with a different commenting system/blogger template.

      Parents who read to, vs. parents who don't. Abilities in future life are well documented.

      Thanks for sticking with my annoying website.