How To Raise An Unethical Child



“Ask Amy” features a parent who asks the advice columnist to add her authority to the parent’s concerted efforts to pass along her own ethics deficits to her college age daughter, which, I fear, is unnecessary at this point. The daughter’s ethical compass is probably already damaged beyond repair.

It appears that the daughter, in a drunken state, spilled champagne on a laptop belonging to “Laura,” a college friend. The laptop was lying on the floor of the friend’s dorm room, and the keyboard was drenched in bubbly. Ethically challenged Mom thinks Laura is being mean and unfair to expect the daughter to pay full price—$850—to get the besotted machine working again. The indignant mother protests…

  • It was an accident! (So? One is responsible for that damage one causes to another, accidentally or not. This, by the way, was negligent as well as accidental.)
  • She offered her $200, which is all my little girl has right now! (Gee, that’s too bad, Mom. Unfortunately, the rule is not “pay what you can,” but rather “pay for what you took, bought, stole, or broke.” It’s called fairness and responsibility. You should have taught your kid that by now, but that would require learning it yourself.)
  • It’s her friend’s fault for not having a better warranty on her computer! (Her friend accepted the risk of damage she was responsible for, not damage caused by your drunken daughter.)
  • Why was the computer on the floor? (It was her floor, and her computer. “Why was that kid in the way of my speeding car?”)

Amy couldn’t mess this one up, and didn’t, telling the excuse-spouting mother that…

“…people still have to be responsible for the consequences when property is damaged because of accidents they caused. It is not for you to second-guess the warranty choices “Laura” made when she purchased this computer. Nor is it appropriate for you to blame Laura for leaving her laptop on the floor in her room… Your daughter owes her friend $850.”

We know how this will turn out, don’t we? Mom will pay for the computer, telling her burgeoning ethics-free clone that Laura is just an unreasonable and greedy fool. The daughter will see herself as a victim, and go on her merry way through life, ducking responsibility and blaming others for her misfortunes. “Laura” will be one of the first of many ex-friends to decide that Amy is untrustworthy. Those ranks will be swelled by ex-employers as well, and maybe ex-boyfriends and husbands. Meanwhile, Amy will happily add her votes to those of other similarly afflicted Americans who elect leaders that have proven themselves untrustworthy as well, on the grounds that that their various episodes of incompetence, dishonesty and irresponsibility are just mistakes or “accidents.” Anthony Weiner, like Mark Sanford and too many others to name, is counting on it.

Good job, Mom!


Source: Washington Post (“Ask Amy”)

Graphic: Rap Genius

36 thoughts on “How To Raise An Unethical Child

  1. Laura’s mom’s attitude is probably at the 50th percentile, especially for middle class to wealthy families.

    These type of property damage accidents happen all the time, and many people will try to get away with it, or not accept blame, or offer a pittance for replacement.

    My experience is that poorer people understand the value of the loss and would make every effort for restitution.

    • I’d be careful about placing a halo around wealthy people and demonizing poor people, or placing a halo around poor people and demonizing wealthy people. Unless you’re a paid political consultant developing talking points for your Republican, in the first instance, or Democratic, in the second instance, paying clients.

      • Understood. Just basing my opinion on my experience.

        I once was rear ended by a poor Hispanic kid who didn’t have insurance and I asked him what he was going to do about it. His Grandmother came to my house with a check and I’m guessing a very stern discussion to the kid about being responsible.. I almost felt bad for accepting the money, but I was out 500 in repairs.

        I was also side swiped by some pos kid in a BMW who begged me not to call the police and promised to pay for damages.. I ended up getting about 20% of the cost of repairs.

        I have several more instances that reinforce my original opinion.

        • Yeah. There’s no shortage of anecdotal evidence to support your view. Anecdotes don’t prove anything, of course, but the observation makes sense. It doesn’t have to be an instance of demonizing one side and sanctifying the other. It’s just a function of humankind’s relative inability to step out of one’s own frame of reference. There are limits to sympathetic imagination, so on some level we all operate under the assumption that everybody else’s experience matches our own. If two hundred dollars doesn’t mean a lot to you, you’ll naturally expect that the loss won’t be a big deal to me. If twenty dollars is tremendously important to me, I’ll have qualms about asking you to part with it, because I’m envisioning your outcome through the lens of my experience.

          • I can give you plenty of anecdotes about poor creeps and very wealthy decent people. I think we’re on the horns of the conflict between “stereotypes are politically incorrect and therefore verboten” and “stereotypes only exist because they must have some basis in fact.” Very, very dicey territory fraught with the risk of violating the Gene Autry Cowboy code dealing with not thinking thoughts that are racist and prejudiced.

            • Your anecdotes about poor creeps and wealthy decent people wouldn’t contradict our observations about specific behaviors. To be clear, my comment had nothing to do with one group of people being creeps and the other being decent. It referred to their comparative perceptions of the value of money. Any such perception is compatible with any ethical makeup whatsoever.

              • But recall, my objections/cautionings came from Jj and then you having made a leap from the post speaking about bad behavior to opining about what that behaviors says about the net worth of the people behaving badly. I think the leap had nothing to do with the subject of the post and is very dangerous, potentially destructive thinking. Aren’t you just generalizing? And isn’t generalizing unfair to people and therefore unethical?

  2. At first, I thought this post was simply an expansion of the previous one about the Hunt family’s furious enabling of their out of control daughter. Anyone who’s shocked by this sort of parenting should be a teacher for a while. In the house I grew up in and the schools I attended, teachers were always right and kids were wrong, oft-times regardless of the facts. That’s just the way it worked and kids had to govern themselves accordingly. By the time I was teaching high school, many of the parents only showed up at parent-teacher conferences to lobby on behalf of the kids they’d messed up. It’s terrible and I assume it’s only gotten worse in the last thirty years since I ran away from the teaching profession screaming.

    • I worked at a high school (didn’t last long) and I saw exactly this kind of behavior on the parts of parents and students. Very well to do families with absentee parents – both working full time jobs in order to keep their little darlings in BMWs and boob jobs. Not only were these kids growing up completely unsupervised but were also growing up with a grotesque sense of entitlement. And if the little darling got in trouble and mom and dad had to be called to the school? The school administrators were met with a tirade and a “How dare you….”

      We left that school district and moved far, far away.

      • Other Bill and Alicia. You took the words out of my mouth. By the time I left (2009) it felt like i was working in some alien planet. I still recall asking students if they had any sense of shame…and how could anyone have a sense of pride without also knowing the other side. I can’t imagine where were headed but it doesn’t look good.

  3. I remember when I was in college that my friend’s mom had a microwave that was ancient — it was huge, made scary noises, and everyone would leave the room while in use out of fear that it would blow up. Well, one day it did blow up while I was using it — and I didn’t abuse it, I just used it. I bought my friend’s mom a new microwave. It probably cost me a full week’s salary (I don’t remember exactly), but I do remember it being a hardship at the time — especially since I was on the hook for tuition, books, etc. It was the right thing to do though and I’m glad I made the offer without having to be prompted.

    That being said, aren’t there certain obligations that come with being a host? I have one friend who has spilled a ton of red wine on my rugs (she’s not a drunk — just a clutz). I’ve never asked her to pay to have them cleaned, but I have joked that I might make her use my daughters’ sippy cups. She also babysits for me so the idea that she she should even offer to pay for damage would be foreign to both of us. When I host a party, I generally expect a certain amount of wear and tear, but where should the line be drawn? I happily replace broken wine glasses, and clean rugs — but probably wouldn’t be too happy about my laptop — and would anticipate that the friend would “offer” to replace it, even if I turned her down or we reached a compromise. I also wouldn’t leave my laptop on the floor though if I had people over. If I was inviting 20 somethings over, I’d probably put away electronics away. If I am hosting a play date for my toddlers (more my speed these days), I put everything breakable away.

    • That’s the way it’s supposed to work: the guest offers to make restitution, which is appropriate, and the host has the option of being magnanimous or not. Spill wine on the rug? “Send me the bill!” “Don’t be silly! It was an accident!” Back out into your host’s car, inadvertently run over the dog, drunkenly destroy a Tiffany lamp, ruin the Picasso? “Send me the bill!” “I will, thanks.”

      • Too funny Jack. “Ruin the Picasso?” I need to move in your circle. Mine is more like: “Ruin the Renoir print in a cheap frame?” No worries — that broken wine glass cost more — and you don’t need to pay for that either.” 🙂

        • MIne is more like: Guest’s dog peed on the marigold we bought at the box store 3 weeks ago and had not planted yet? “Just let me keep the dog.”

    • Beth, I think your friend’s mom was awful for taking your money to replace a junky old appliance. She was the adult. You were a kid on the verge of young adulthood. I think that was inexcusable on her part.

  4. One of my guilty pleasures is watching Judge Judy while I cook.
    (It’s either that or The Temptations at high volume.)
    Every other episode has parents / kids with EXACTLY the same attitude and logic you mentioned.
    Ducking responsibility and totally devoid of morals.
    Just watch it and see!
    And then be afraid, very afraid.

  5. Of course, why would we expect anyone to take responsibility when we have an entire administration that won’t?

  6. Maybe. Typically, there’s more to these situations than meets the eye — hence the ethical question. This family was always supportive to me and my other friends — and constantly opened up their home and summer home to us because they had a generous nature. We probably ate far more in groceries over the years than the cost of the microwave — although it did hurt me financially at the time. I wasn’t the typical guest to the extent that I had microwave privileges — and I also knew it was on its last legs, so buyer beware maybe? This family had serious $ and it wouldn’t have hurt them remotely to pay for it, but I did the right thing which was to offer. Even if they took my money, they still were pretty great to us over the years in other ways. I probably wouldn’t have even remembered the incident but for Jack’s post.

  7. The only justification I could see for not paying the full $850 is if the laptop was worth less than that due to depreciation.

    Auto insurance companies follow this policy, where, if the cost of repairs would exceed the value of the vehicle, would simply pay cash for the value of the vehicle.

    If the laptop, due to depreciation, was worth less than $850, then the daughter would only be on the hook for some amount less than $850. If it is still worth more than $850, then of course the daughter would be on the hook for the full $850.

    The age of the laptop is the information that is missing before I could agree with Amy.

    • I’ve always been undecided on the logic of depreciation costs.

      Sure my laptop may now go on the market for 1/2 of its original price, but what if I can’t find it on the market at all??

      Now I’m still out several hundred dollars to make up the difference *against my will* just to get myself something that is on the market because of conditions that are *not my fault*

        • I’m no sure if that means you do like the notion of depreciated value or don’t.

          After further meditation on it I am now opposed to the notion that a person only owes a depreciated value for something they broke that belongs to another.

          They either owe full repair cost or owe original value of the item, not what the market says that item would go for now.

          The person who lost said item (against any desire they wanted) now has to find a new item because it is often difficult to find their exact item still on the market.

          • Then why do not auto insurance companies always owe the full repair costs?

            Are they really required to buy a brand new car if a twenty-year-old car covered under their policy is wrecked under circumstances that would require replacing its value?

            • I know why auto companies do it. You’ve got no disagreement from me on how they operate.

              I just don’t see it as right.

              The person who’s property is destroyed may not have been in the market for a new item like that for 10 more years, being fully satisfied with their current product… in other words to them it is just as valuable as the day they bought it. But now they are suddenly in the market for a replacement item against their wishes. The market does not always provide the exact same item, so inevitably the person is forced to purchase an all NEW equivalent of that item, which means they will be forced to come out of pocket the balance of the cost of the item after the depreciated compensation for the old item is subtracted.

              So, the aggrieved individual is still paying money for something that isn’t their fault.

              • So, the aggrieved individual is still paying money for something that isn’t their fault.

                Under the auto insurance companies’ logic, the clients lost that money as the item depreciated.

                You do have an interest idea though. Why not forbid insurance companies to deduct depreciation from property loss claims?

                • I think that would result in them adjusting their prices accordingly, almost to a point where individuals would be better off saving a portion of their income for their own contingencies.

  8. Left my keyboardprint on your previous post by mistake (trying to catch up). It is/was: If the damage included the hard drive containing the roommate’s hard work (it IS the end of the school year, no?), then the price should exceed the cost of the computer, depreciation or not. . . . Fat chance damager’s mom ever considered that. Hope roomie backed up.

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