Negligent Parents, Lawbreaking Kids: Stunning Article on Parental Accountability

LZ Granderson writes a weekly column for CNN, and this week’s entry was stunning. Granderson laments the lack of accountability for the parents of children who commit horrible, unspeakable crimes. He begins,

“A detail in the fatal shooting of 14-year-old Shaaliver Douse by a New York Police Department officer earlier this month has been stopping me from grieving his death. The tragedy happened around 3 a.m.

Why was a 14-year-old boy out that late without his mother, Shanise Farrar, who called the shooting an assassination? Or his aunt, Quwana Barcene, who said the bloody gun police say was found near his body was part of a cover up? Where was the supervising adult who should have been with a 14-year-old boy walking the streets of New York at 3 o’clock in the morning? “I’m not saying that he’s the best one, but he’s my angel,” his grieving mother said.

Her “angel” was a suspected gang member who police say was chasing and shooting at an unidentified man when they encountered him. Her “angel” was arrested last month for attempted murder of a 15-year-old. Her “angel” left their apartment around 8 p.m. and she had no idea where he was until the next morning when detectives informed her that her son was dead. I want to mourn for her loss, I really do. But as callous and as heartless as this sounds, I just can’t get past what awful parents she and the boy’s father were. Children may be born angels, but with all the temptations out there in the world, it takes work to try to keep them that way.”

Granderson gives examples of other crimes perpetrated by children, then quotes the reaction of the parents. Their statements are stunning – unanimously talking about their children in glowing terms. I’m honestly not sure how to feel about what he is saying. If my child did some terrible thing, it wouldn’t change the way I feel about them. I’m sure I’d be saying the same things as these parents.

It’s important to remember that society plays a role in this type of injustice as well (a point Granderson mentions but does not tease out). Poverty is linked to violent crime. We cannot simply point the finger at the parents, because we all perpetuate a system in which economic and social justice does not exist for all. Want a simple example? U.S. Median household net worth for whites: $110,00. U.S. Median household net worth for blacks: $4,955 (2012). The average fifteen year old African American kid is living a completely different life than the average 15 year old white kid. Same goes for their parents. I have a hard time judging.

Still, Granderson is a leader in the black community, and he makes a good point. He’s emphasizing the importance of accountability not just after the crime, but accountability before the crime, in the home between parents and children. Our problem, he believes, is that we don’t do accountability anymore in our society, we do blaming.

“Parents are supposed to instill a sense of right and wrong in their children and then keep up the due diligence necessary to make sure they don’t veer off that path. When parents don’t do that, we end up with three 15-year-olds assaulting and breaking the arm of a 13-year-old on a school bus in Florida. “This is life. I am sorry what happened to the victim,” Julian McKnight Sr., whose son Julian was one of the boys accused in the attack, said after a court appearance. A second appearance is scheduled later this month. “It’s just the way it is. My son ain’t never been no bad person, he just got mixed with bad people, that’s all … he sorry.”

I am not a perfect parent with all the answers. But I do know that it was the father, and not the son, who was apologizing — and that, my friends, is our problem in a nutshell. We don’t teach accountability, we don’t expect accountability and I’m not even sure we even know what accountability looks like anymore. Some of us have become so addicted to pointing fingers at others for all the wrong that happens in our lives that self-assessment has become synonymous with blaming the victim.

What do you think? Do parents bear the blame? Does society bear it with them? It’s conventional wisdom to say “there are no bad kids, just bad parents.” Its that true? Could it also be true that sometimes good parents are playing a game in which the deck is so stacked against them that they literally cannot be good parents?

Granderson has me thinking, and I appreciate the article. Mostly what I’m thinking right now is this:

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I take counsel in my soul
and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?

- Psalm 13

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About Tim Suttle

Find out more about Tim at

Tim Suttle is the senior pastor of He is the author of several books including his most recent - Shrink: Faithful Ministry in a Church Growth Culture (Zondervan 2014), Public Jesus (The House Studio, 2012), & An Evangelical Social Gospel? (Cascade, 2011). Tim's work has been featured at The Huffington Post, The Washington Post, Sojourners, and other magazines and journals.

Tim is also the founder and front-man of the popular Christian band Satellite Soul, with whom he toured for nearly a decade. The band's most recent album is "Straight Back to Kansas." He helped to plant three thriving churches over the past 13 years and is the Senior Pastor of Redemption Church in Olathe, Kan. Tim's blog, Paperback Theology, is hosted at Patheos.

  • j.oliver

    I commented on the piece: This article is infuriating to me. It is arrogant and thoughtlessly myopic. I am a proud father of three, and I love every element of fatherhood. My family is today ensconced in the suburban middle class, but I can easily recall when my first priority was simply staying alive. These “negligent” parents are rooted poverty – poverty of mind, of aspiration, or resources. It is all they know. Can I stand here and fault them for embracing parenthood – the one love, perhaps the only hope they can imagine – without “proper” planning? How dare we condemn them for failing to bequeath what they did not possess? Such vitriol is poisonous, snobbish, and small-minded.

    • Tim Suttle

      Glad to hear your comments, Jovan. I want to hear more about poverty of aspiration. I think you are onto something there. I wonder how much flack Granderson is taking for his article. I read down through the comments this morning looking for yours, and they are mostly positive, and a bit nauseating. It’s interesting to me that it what most comments seem to respond to was the tone he took – a kind of judgment or blaming of the parents… not a lot of them talking about how the deck is stacked against many good parents, although a few did. I gave up before I found yours. I wanted to see how people reacted to what you wrote. peace, ts

  • Rebecca Trotter

    When I did prison ministry pretty much every single kid I met came out of an abusive home. People who think that problem is that kids aren’t being taught right from wrong are deluding themselves. I never met a kid who hadn’t been taught right from wrong. It’s been 20 years since I was doing prison ministry (outside Chicago in the early 90s at the height of drug and gang violence in the inner cities). So perhaps something has changed, But odds are good that what I saw there still holds and this message that it’s up to parents to get a grip on their kids is actually counter-productive.

    Most parents whose children do these sorts of things are sorely lacking in the tools needed to discipline properly. As a general rule, they are dealing with a lot of stress themselves and fall back on what they know from their own upbringing: fear and violence. Many parents believe that establishing control through fear is what will keep them on the straight and narrow, but paradoxically, it actually makes it more likely that the parent will lose control over their kid later on. As I explained in a blog post I did a while ago on the subject:

    “A child who has been controlled by fear quickly figures out that the teachers at school cannot do anything nearly as bad as what they are used to at home. So once they aren’t afraid, the fact that they have never actually been taught how to behave and why they should (other than to avoid pain) comes out. They start acting up. The school struggles to deal with their behavior. . . Then when a kid who is difficult to manage gets on the streets, the gangs often swoop in. They like kids who act out and are so used to getting their ass beat at home that they take their initiation lumps with pride. And they are very upfront about the fact that they will put you in the hospital if you step-out-of-line. Which makes the belt wielding mom look like child’s play to deal with. At which point the mother who started off thinking she was going to keep her baby out of jail loses any control she ever had over the kid.”

    Without teaching parents how to parent with love, affection, and positive regard along with boundaries, calls to hold parents accountable for their kid’s behavior is very likely to exacerbate the problem:

    “People who live in poor, high crime areas generally want their kids to avoid going to prison. And . . . they believe that spanking a kid and putting a fear of authority into them is a necessary first step. Few people simply enjoy beating children. Nearly always, the sort of abuse that the kids I saw endured started with a parent who understood almost nothing about normal child development and began spanking early and often in order to make sure their kid was brought up right. However, the problem with spanking is that it doesn’t actually teach anything and second of all, the kid becomes immune to it fairly quickly. The first time you smack a kid’s hand it’s a shock and the kid freaks out. The 20th time? A small price to pay for a chance to climb on the counter. So, kids keep misbehaving and parents have to escalate in order for the spankings to continue suppressing the undesired behavior. Which creates a great vicious cycle in which parents become increasingly frustrated and intent on forcing compliance. Since most parents really believe that spanking works, when it doesn’t work they assume that it’s a sign of a really rebellious child who needs a bigger dose of the cure.”

    I am a firm believer that what we really need, along with social justice, is parent education. If it were up to me, parenting education would be taught in every high school. Simply telling parents to get control of their kids is not the answer.

    (The full post I wrote on the link between parent violence and delinquency is here:

  • Rick Miller

    I love how they equate black animal thug violence on poverty. It’s funny, I know of a lot of extremely poor White areas such as the Appalachians that does not have this type of violence nor would I fear to walk those areas at any time day or night. blaks on the other hand, where ever they congregate I would fear day or night. It is NOT the lack of money that causes this but the sub 70IQ of these violent beasts. When will these bleeding heart liberals finally admit that these people are just not fit for a civilized society and no amount of hand wringing or money dumping will ever change their inferior DNA.