In the hundreds of inches of type devoted to the Waseca student’s alleged plot to terrorize his community, scarcely an inch has been devoted to his parents. This omission was also true in the articles about the teens who broke into a Minnesota house and were murdered and in Gov. Mark Dayton’s discussion of education last week in his State of the State address.
Meanwhile, across the Internet, one can find hundreds of sites devoted to “not judging” parents. Feed your kids junk? Don’t judge! Yell at your kids? Don’t judge! Everyone is a loving parent. Stop the mommy wars! (If you don’t believe me, you can look for yourself.)
For years, many people suffered at the hands of a highly toxic and shaming judgment. Most of this judgment came from the Christian church, but much of it simply came from people who were angry and who’d been abused and who passed that abuse on to others. This form of judgment is unhealthy and sad and shouldn’t be perpetuated.
However, we have now completely thrown the baby out with the bathwater and have decided — in our “hakuna matata,” “I’m OK, you’re OK” and “God (or Oprah) should give me a car” world — that everyone is wonderful. And God forbid that we should comment on someone else’s behavior, especially if they are having a difficult time.
Unfortunately, this approach to social relations is collective suicide. Judging, in the best sense of the word, is about making discriminating assessments between actions in order to determine what is good and what isn’t. This function is absolutely necessary in order to have healthy relationships, healthy children and a healthy society. Furthermore, it is possible to acknowledge that everyone is valuable and wonderful and that everyone is capable of actions that are neither of these things and need correction.
A parent whose teenager is hiding numerous guns and bombs in his room without their knowledge is being a bad parent. A parent whose teenager is breaking into someone’s house on multiple occasions without their knowledge is being a bad parent. A parent who isn’t participating in their children’s educational process and isn’t doing everything they can to support their child’s education is a bad parent. This doesn’t mean these parents are fundamentally bad people, it just means that their parenting isn’t very good and needs correcting and improvement. If we as a society aren’t able to make this assessment, then we are a bad society and aren’t doing our job to help people grow and improve.
The “no judgment” habit is, of course, filtering down to our children. Increasingly, we now refuse to correct kids or tell them when they are doing a bad job, because we are afraid of hurting their self-esteem. A couple of years ago, I coached a junior high basketball team, and it quickly became clear to me that the kids had never been told when they were doing a bad job. The first time I told them, they were shocked. But they soon realized that critique followed by instruction yielded results: A team that had never won more than two games in a season went on to win 11 out of 16.
Positive judgment is a good thing. Because all of us have a shadow side and are capable of all manner of evil, we need to be assessed and corrected; otherwise the shadow can run wild and take over our lives. When we see things going awry with our kids, we must look at parenting behaviors and correct them. Of course, sometimes horrible things happen to the kids of good parents, but, frankly, this is the exception. The ability to reflect, judge, change and grow is the only possible way forward to a great society, and while government intervention or school counseling can be helpful, they will never be as effective as good parents.
Daniel Wolpert, of Minneapolis, is the executive director of the Minnesota Institute of Contemplation and Healing.