“This is not a dysfunctional family,” the lawyer for 16-year-old Alex Hribal, the 16-year-old boy accused to stabbing 22 people at his high school insists. “They’re like the Brady Bunch. These parents are active with their two sons…” He adds, “He had no history of mental illness or troublemaking, didn’t abuse drugs and was no outcast at school… must be something inside this young man that nobody knew about.”

Exactly. Something inside this man. We so often search for observable manifestations of behavior that we forget that there is something even more vital and powerful that determines our actions: our inner landscape.

And then, the question that compels the true question here: Is being active with our children what truly “effective” parenting involves?

Lots of parents are highly active with their children, running them from one event to another, cheering them on. These children are often successful, obedient, achieving students. They follow, they comply and they succeed in the tasks society sets out for them. Yet, the elephant in the room, the true “driver” of our behavior — our inner worlds — is often starkly ignored. Despite all the time we parents and educators invest, often there’s a complete disconnect from the child’s own essence. Activity is imposed, rather than originating from the child’s unique center.

The root of the problem is that society has an agenda for kids, which parents, schools, and other organizations then carry out. We want our children to grow up to be a certain kind of person, to turn out a specific way. We want them to fit into our idea of how people should be.

All of us need a sense of direction in our lives. A child with a sense of direction in life that comes from within themselves doesn’t set out to injure other people.

The sixties were all about a generation that said, “enough.” The younger generation rebelled against the old ways. Though perhaps not on such a mass scale, in one way or another many of our children are rebelling today. It can take the form of something as simple as an eye-roll — or cutting class.

While most of us submit to being shaped by others because we have a need to please — a need to be liked — among those who rebel, the rebellion sometimes takes the form of violence toward an institution that particularly symbolizes conformity, which is why so many violent acts are aimed at schools.

Many of our schools are big on discipline in various forms. This stems from the idea that raising children is all about shaping and molding a child to match what we believe they ought to be like. We “discipline” them into being the model child we picture.

To back up the school’s agenda, in the hope of achieving our goals for our children, as parents we constantly have to stay on our kids. For instance, we make them do their homework, often sitting with them for hours. Having to keep kids in line is considered “normal.” But does anyone really imagine this is a healthy way to be a family — that it leads to happiness for our children?

It’s said that the student who attacked his fellow pupils with two kitchen knives “couldn’t seem more normal.” But that’s just the point. How healthy, emotionally, is what most of us consider “normal”? Most school kids are “normal.”

Schools are a place where society’s standards and expectations are enforced. But, with some notable exceptions, they aren’t happy places to which our kids love to go — indeed, can’t wait to go.

One of the parents, Amanda Hurt, whose son Brett was stabbed has begun asking some of the right questions. “We need to look and say, how are our children coping with social skills these days? How are they being tested in the world for negative or positive ways?”

What this parent is saying in effect is, “Let’s take a look at ourselves as a society.” This is a fundamentally different approach from the often-hostile manner of the authorities — whether law enforcement or school authorities. It takes the focus off the individual as if they were somehow uniquely dysfunctional and puts it on the system — the family, the school, the wider society.

Said Amanda Hurt’s son of his attacker, “I feel he has some issues to work out.”

When apprehended, Alex Hribal made statements to the effect that he “wanted to die.” All of which points to the fact that he was cut off from his true self. He doesn’t know who he really is. Because of this, he can’t value himself, which is why he also couldn’t value those he knifed.

And that’s the problem with “normal” families that we consider to be “functional.” We are raising kids who don’t know themselves, don’t really know who they are. When a teen runs rampant like this, there’s a message for society in the behavior. He’s making a statement. Instead of seeing him as a rogue exception, we ought to look for the message because he was only acting out what many others experience.

Our entire society has some issues to work out, which makes it all the more sad that our approach to parenting in most cases is precisely the opposite of “working out” our issues. Instead, it’s about controlling, disciplining, and suppressing. We don’t want to put the spotlight on ourselves, which is what’s necessary.

The family may have been the Brady Bunch, but so many “Brady Bunch” families are in truth homes in which children feels disconnected at an emotional level.

What are we teaching our children? To conform? Or are we connecting with them so that we can inspire them to be true to themselves? When we attempt to force conformity, we generate anger — and sometimes rage that spills over into tragic social behavior.

Dr. Shefali

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