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Growing Leaders Blog

on Leading the Next Generation


Parents: Stop Defending Your Child’s Bad Behavior!

A 2013 Labor Day party of 300 teens turned into a crime. As many as 300 high school students broke into the New York home of former football great Brian Holloway and vandalized it. They painted graffiti all over the walls, urinated on the floor, and stole property. What’s crazy about this incident is that Brian and his son could watch it in real time on social media, as the teens tweeted out pics of their criminal activity as it happened. Needless to say, six of them were arrested on charges, and police said more arrests were expected. Perhaps hundreds more.

This act of vandalism and burglary is pitiful, but I suppose someone might say in response, “Ah, too bad, but… teens will be teens.” What troubles me most is how their parents reacted. Brian Holloway offered to drop all charges if the kids would simply apologize and clean up the mess. It didn’t happen. He invited parents to come and discuss the evidence of illegal drugs and alcohol at the party. The invitation fell on deaf ears. “I expected 100 parents to show. Only one showed up,” he told ABC News.


photo credit: IMG_1810 via photopin (license)

With no one apologizing for the crime or the drinking and drugs, Holloway re-posted the pictures the teens took—the ones out on social media already—on a website:

Parents Acting Poorly

That’s when the parents got ugly. Rather than apologize to Holloway for their children’s behavior, some parents have contacted their lawyers to see what legal action they can take against the former Patriots offensive lineman, local affiliate ABC News 10 reported.

Did you catch that?

The parents’ greatest interest wasn’t correcting their children — it was protecting their reputation. They hoped to prevent it from spreading too far and wide on social media. I’m sorry, but you can’t have it both ways, moms and dads. Your kids are growing up in a world where bad behavior gets posted online. (Often by the perpetrator!) Further, we live in a world where technology enables us to track down crime more swiftly than ever. They had every reason to come clean. Instead, here is what these parents taught their adolescent children:

  • When you commit a crime, don’t make it right. Cover it up.
  • When you commit a crime, just don’t record it. It gets messy.
  • If you do post your crime on social media, just enlist an attorney and defend your behavior by posing as a victim.

These teens will be adults soon. Look at what we’ve taught them about adult behavior. It’s shameful.

Correction Over Protection

The best way we can prepare students for the world that awaits them is not to prevent their permanent posts from being re-posted. The best thing we can do is to lead them to make restitution for their misconduct to their victim (in this case, Brian Holloway) and to let the social media reactions take their course. Teens can learn no greater lesson than to feel the consequences of social media on bad behavior… if you care at all that they stop.

We’ve migrated into a culture that only looks out for number one, not for the interests of others. We care more about how we “look” than about right and wrong. In our fear of social media posts or even litigation, we fight for our own reputation and image. It’s become our prime goal, even higher than justice.

If you think this is an isolated incident in New York, think again. Our 2014 research of 17,000 public high schools students revealed that ethics weren’t even on the radar screen for most teens. Adults have somehow taught them to cover up what’s wrong instead of teaching them to do what’s right.

The Landscape vs. The Selfie

We all know what a “selfie” is. It’s that photo we take of ourselves when we’re having a good hair day, or when we’re doing something fun that we want to capture. A landscape, in contrast, is a bigger picture. It’s a photo we take when we step back and can see more than a single person. We see the horizon. When it comes to life, we’ve got to help kids see the landscape, not just the selfie.

What Parents and Faculty Can Do:

  1. Expose them to realities that enable them to see the big picture. Help them to empathize with the plight of others, not just themselves.
  1. Discuss getting beyond legality (the bare minimum) to morality (our highest aim). Teach them to take the high road with others.
  1. Walk beside them as they face consequences for their wrong action, but don’t remove them. It’s the best way to teach how life works.
  1. Steer them to practice the opposite of what the parents did above: justice, empathy and responsibility over self-preservation.

What are your thoughts on this issue? How have you helped your kids learn how to take responsibility for their actions?


  1. charlene.fonseca on July 16, 2015 at 8:53 am

    I’m thankful that you are stepping in side with Brian Holloway who doesn’t need to be fighting this on his own. If kids are going to post, they need to know that “we” don’t need to be protecting their posts. Posts are public, period. “You boast, you post?” Then we share, too.

  2. CJ Stewart on July 16, 2015 at 9:49 pm

    This is a powerful post.

  3. Tom B. on July 17, 2015 at 5:23 pm

    Agree 100%. But how aggravating this article was to read. As Elton John put it, “It’s a sad, sad, situation, and it’s getting more and more absurd.”

  4. Marisol on July 18, 2015 at 9:48 am

    Chances are the students behavior has been modeled by the parents.
    The apple has not fallen far from the tree sad to say. 🙁

  5. Nicole on October 26, 2016 at 7:49 pm

    Some advice on helping kids to be honest


  6. Nicole on November 21, 2016 at 7:47 am

    Watch child having a tantrum. There’s hope for the children.

  7. Aimee Walthall on May 16, 2019 at 4:44 am

    As an educator of almost 20 years, I can say with confidence that some parents are reading this and still siding with the kids and parents who committed the crimes.

  8. Cassie on July 11, 2019 at 4:51 am

    Interestingly I’m a former teacher. I quit because I was fed up with parents (yep then first) and students (I taught 6-10 year olds) behaving badly.

    Today I was out with my two young children. We stopped at a food court for a drink. Four preteen boys aged around 8-12 years kept climbing into a child ride on toy (the kind you pay for and are only intended for 3-6 year olds). I thought they were there alone as their behaviour escalated with one of trying to forcibly topple the ride. Low and behold the mother is a few meters apart and starts laughing and smiling at her children’s behaviour and even snaps a few photos.

    They moved on until she found someone to chat to – turning her back on the children who then headed for a large super sized game that was fenced off and closed for the day.

    At this point I had called the plaza management because it appeared the ride was no longer operational. As I walked towards the mob I have the teacher stare and the boy who was halfway over the fence backed down and they stood with heads hung. I told them sternly to “behave more appropriately than what you have been.” And moved on.

    Suddenly the mother is now invested in her children and tracks me down wanting to know what I said to her children and what they were doing (I still have my 4 year children with me). I explained and her answer: I don’t have a problem with that. You shouldn’t discipline other people’s children.
    Me: if their behaviour was appropriate I would have no cause to.
    I disengaged from the discussion because experience has taught me that if a parent fails to acknowledge (and lets face it – she saw the first part and blatantly encouraged it) their children’s poor behaviour there is no point discussing it because they will believe their own delusion.
    With my back turned she continued on how I shouldn’t interfere blah blah which I ignored. She then hurriedly left the plaza with her four children.

    Children see, children do. These children were of an age that they should be aware of right and wrong. The parent in this case clearly has not set and enforced boundaries for her children’s behaviour as evidenced but her utter failure to say or do anything. My children saw what they did – and children, especially those younger, will copy.

    To me her reaction was a reflection of her acknowledging her own lack of discipline and ability to manage her children’s behaviour. Her children clearly are used to “mummy fixing it and believing us.”

    I have no issue with my children being told off by others. If they’ve done the wrong thing and I don’t see – I’m not going to have an issue with a parent telling line to stop or be nice etc.

    In the real world you need to be taught what is appropriate behaviour based on where you are. If you refuse to allow a stranger to reprimand your child (not talking physical contact here) then how do you expect a teacher to their job with disrespectful kids calling out, fighting, doing what they want – because if the teacher complains I’ll let mother and she’ll swoop in and get that teacher in trouble (and sadly this is what happens a lot). How will child learn to take criticism as a teen in their first job?

    Our job as a society is to work together so the tide lifts everyone. If we have blinkers on to everyone else – everyone will sink eventually.

    • Thomas on July 29, 2019 at 9:26 am

      Excellent example. Many of us have been in similar situations. I was at a casual restaurant recently, and far across the room was a table with an adult woman and 6 children, aged roughly from 5 to 12. She was encouraging them to shout, laugh and scream. After more than 5 or 6 minutes of escalating and disrupting noise, I calmly went to the table, looked at each one, and stopped with the 5-year old who sat next to the woman.
      I said, “Oh, here’s the adult at the table,” and began to address the child, “Please, this is a public restaurant and all the noise coming from your table is very disruptive to the other diners.”
      The adult, then, quickly stepped in, “Don’t you speak to my daughter,” and continued to admonish me the best she could.
      She finally said, “Stranger danger!” to which I couldn’t help but laugh.
      I am an elderly retired physician who couldn’t pose much of a treat if I wanted! I simply smiled and said,
      “I hope you will rethink this episode when you get home.”
      End of story.

      • Nadeem Athar on February 18, 2021 at 11:35 am

        That mother you described is quite rude (not to her kids but to other people) and is foolish by encouraging her kids to shout,laugh & scream so some parents wonder why they get blamed and in some cases punished for their kid(s)’ poor behavior. In this case it’s too bad that this mother & her kids didn’t get kicked out of the restaurant so if it did happen it may not be those kids’ fault but their mother’s fault if they all got kicked out of the restaurant.

        Finally I hope that this women’s kids don’t grow up to become criminals otherwise she may have herself to blame.

  9. Helen on August 9, 2021 at 10:26 pm

    Parents who defend their children’s bad behaviors are only teaching their children that it is okay to do wrong. No wonder there are many problems in society.

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Parents: Stop Defending Your Child’s Bad Behavior!