When Bad Parenting Affects Good People


(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.

Nancy Lanza is an example of this phenomenon. Her poor judgment and profound lack of common sense as a parent (keeping guns around a "troubled child") had tragic consequences for a lot of people, including herself. To be clear, not all children with Asperger's syndrome are dangerous, but parents who are overwhelmed and in over their heads (dealing with children they are not trained or equipped to handle) certainly are troubled and in need of help. Parenting doesn't come with a manual, which is why parenting classes exist.

You don't have to be a school psychologist or a college professor to identify everyday examples of bad parenting. Head to the local grocery store or department store, or spend a few minutes at the airport waiting for a flight, and you'll see that good parents are not born; like good children, they are made.


While some cultural critics are willing to try to find the correlation between bad deeds and either guns or exposure to violence in media, some aren't as willing to explore the correlation between the rise in violent acts among young adults and the type of parenting they receive. Why?

Maybe it is because many of us would find our own parenting styles implicated. What happened in Sandy Hook and continues to happen in Chicago and other cities teeming with violent crime has to be dealt with on multiple levels, and parenting or the lack thereof should not be left out of the equation. Otherwise I fear we'll continue to see examples of bad parenting happening to good people, long after the tragedy in Newtown stops being a hot news story.


Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D., is editor-at-large for The Root. She is also editor-in-chief of the Burton Wire, a blog dedicated to world news related to the African Diaspora and global culture. Follow her on Twitter.

Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D., a media scholar, is digital editor in chief at Grady Newsource and a faculty member of the Cox Institute of Journalism, Innovation, Management & Leadership at the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia. She is founder and editor in chief of the award-winning news blog the Burton Wire. Follow her on Twitter here or here.

Share This Story

Get our newsletter