When Bad Parenting Affects Good People

Was Nancy Lanza's poor judgment the root cause of her son's shooting spree in Newtown, Conn.?

(The Root) — The massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., is still at the top of the news cycle, weeks after Adam Lanza, 20, murdered 20 unsuspecting schoolchildren and six teachers and administrators with weapons purchased by and registered to his mother, Nancy Lanza. The young man shot her in the head four times in her home as she slept before heading to Sandy Hook to embark on the second-deadliest school massacre in U.S. history.

Nancy, described as a gun enthusiast, has become the recent object of fascination, with many wondering why she would keep guns in her house at all and take her son to the shooting range, knowing that he was “troubled.”

While I’m not interested in embarking on a “blame the mother” narrative, particularly when very little is known about the Lanza family dynamics (i.e., Adam’s relationship with his father, brother, grandparents and so on), I do think that Nancy’s actions are indicative of a practice that I call “when bad parenting happens to good people.” (In this case, “good people” could refer to Nancy or the victims of the Newtown shooting.)

It’s a reality seen as pretty much standard by people who work with or are regularly exposed to children and young adults. It is the idea that common sense isn’t always common, especially when it comes to parenting. As a college-level educator, I have the opportunity to see great parenting and bad parenting, up close and personal.

There are all types of parents, with diverse ideologies, philosophies, worldviews and approaches to parenting. Some take a laissez-faire position, allowing their children to explore and experience college life without much interference or direction. Other parents have a hands-on approach, staying in constant contact with their children and dictating nearly every movement they make.

It’s obvious when parents have taught their children boundaries, self-control, integrity and a sense of responsibility for their actions. Meanwhile, it seems as if other parents have not taught their kids much of anything — such as to speak when spoken to, which in my book constitutes having basic manners.