Resources for Creating a Safer, Saner, More Loving World

When a Child Kills, Public Blames the Parents

by Seth Eisenberg

Randy and Amy Loughner were out shopping in Tucson Saturday morning when their son, Jared Loughner, 22, exploded into a violent killing spree that claimed six lives and seriously injured more than a dozen others, including U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords. Neighbor Wayne Smith, 70, told a local television reporter the parents “feel guilty for what happened” and want to know “where did they fail.” In a statement yesterday, Randy and Amy Loughner confirmed they too are suffering over the devastation caused by their son.

Jared Loughner Mug Shot

Jared Loughner's mug shot after Tucson murders.

Roxanne Osler, whose son had been a friend of Jared Loughner’s, said there were many signs in advance of the murders that the young man was troubled.

“I wish people would have taken a better notice of him and gotten him help,” she said. “He had nobody, and that’s not a nice place to be.”

After Dylan Klebold murdered 12 classmates and a teacher at Columbine High School in 1999, his mother, Susan Klebold, said she often wanted to die.

“I was nearly insane with sorrow for the suffering my son had caused, and with grief for the child I had lost. Much of the time, I felt that I could not breathe, and I often wished that I would die,” Klebold wrote ten years later in an article for O Magazine.

O Magazine: “I Will Never Know Why.

The public can be quick to blame parents when a child hurts others. Although studies show single-parents more likely to see youngsters struggle in school and get in trouble, every parent – single, married, or raising a child in any other situation – needs skills to stay connected with a child and each other.

For parents who both grew up with loving, actively involved parents, that may be as easy as following the example learned from their own mothers and fathers. For others, relationship skills training can make a lasting, positive difference.

Learning to release the energy of negative emotions is one of the most important skills parents should know. While other exercises teach positive communication styles important to encouraging confiding, trust, and empathy, once that foundation is built, being able to help youngsters safely empty their emotional jugs can save lives: their own and others.

The spouse of a military veteran recently wrote that despite years of psychological and medical treatment for a husband suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), it wasn’t until they learned these skills that he began to heal from the traumas of his life. Many high school and middle school teens have also been grateful for the chance exercises such as Emptying the Emotional Jug offered them to feel relief and connection with others.

While the best way to learn relationship skills is by participating in a class either online or in-person, instructions for Emptying the Emotional Jug are included in an article published last year after Billy Lucas, 15, committed suicide.

See “It Gets Better with Listening.

As parents, we can’t wait for more shootings, stabbings, and other tragic events before reaching out to help our children. Today, as the people of Tucson and America pause to remember the victims, every parent should reach out to connect, embrace, and better understand the children we raise.

Seth Eisenberg is President of the nonprofit PAIRS Foundation in Weston, Florida, an industry leader in relationship and marriage education.

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January 2011
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