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Excuses, Excuses: Do You Enable Your Kids’ Bad Behavior?

Dr. Patricia Nan Anderson


Poor little Justin Bieber is just the latest in a long string of kids whose bad behavior was aided and abetted by mom and dad. According to one source, young Bieber’s recent drunken race through Miami Beach was helped along by his father, who reportedly supplied him with drugs and alcohol and knew ahead of time about the intention to drag race but did nothing to stop it.

No one got killed, thank goodness, unlike the time Adam Lanza’s mother made certain her son had access to guns and knew how to shoot them. Numerous other parents in the news either professed to not know anything at all about their children’s slide into erratic and dangerous behavior or actively supported that behavior in ways that seem irresponsible in hindsight. We more sensible folks are left scratching our heads, wondering how parents can be so clueless.

At the same time, in less dramatic ways, many of us are making exactly the same mistake.

Your kid isn’t likely to make the 11 o’clock news. But lots of parents enable all sorts of bad behavior. You know at least one parent who…

  • Encourages his child to cheat, even showing him how to do it
  • Serves alcohol to her underage child, saying it’s safer that way
  • Leaves the house while her kids host a party in the basement
  • Leaves the keys to the house and the car with a teen and then goes out of town
  • Lies for his child to get him out of school or out of trouble with the law
  • Looks the other way when his child lies, cheats, steals, drinks, and carries on.

Perhaps that parent is even you.

How our children know right from wrong is shaped by the little things, day by day. Just as in everything else, actions speak louder than words, louder than our lectures and warnings, louder than Sunday morning sermons. Children understand what we really expect of them and what the real rules are by what behavior we encourage, condone and overlook.

Your child will tell you that “everybody does it.” Certainly every teen makes mistakes. Justin Bieber’s behavior, unfortunately, wasn’t so unusual that it would have made the national news if he himself hadn’t been newsworthy already. The problem comes when parents join in or look the other way. Yes, everybody does make mistakes. But, no, not every parent passes this off as “just nothing.” In fact, no parent should.

Just as our children’s behavior is shaped by little things, so are our communities. If we want to complain or gossip about the misdeeds of other people’s children, wail about how society is going downhill because of irresponsible parents, we must look first in the mirror. Are we one of them?


© 2014, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Ask for Dr. Anderson’s new book, Parenting: A Field Guide, at your favorite bookstore.

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Dr. Patricia Nan Anderson

Dr. Patricia Anderson is a nationally acclaimed educational psychologist and the author of “Parenting: A Field Guide.” Dr. Anderson is on the Early Childhood faculty at Walden University and she is a Contributing Editor for Advantage4Parents.