The “Not My Kid” Syndrome

I speak to a lot of school and parent groups.  Often times, parents do not realize that I know about a lot of their kids because I see one or two clients in the grade.  These clients vent to me about bullies, mean girls, cliques, weekend parties and the most hated teachers.  Without a doubt one parent will raise their hand and say something along the lines of:

“It’s not my kid, but I have heard…”


“My kid doesn’t do drugs, but he is being pressured to by other people in his class. What should we do?”

Of course, this is the mom who, unbeknownst to her, is dealing weed to all of the kids in the grade.  The “Not My Kid” Syndrome is a particularly dangerous attitude for parents to have.  Here is why:

1) It is often wrong

I often say at the Parent Association meetings, “The people in this room, are often the people who do not need to be here.” Parents who keep their eyes and hearts open often have kids who really are ‘not doing it’ (whether that is drugs, sex, porn…).  It is the parents who do not show up at the meetings because they think they do not need to, or the mother who raises her hand saying “it is not her kid” who invariably has the cause of the problem.  I have seen this over one hundred times with parents I work with and it is very sad.

2) It encourages judgment and closes communication

Let’s say you have the “Not My Kid” syndrome and your kid really isn’t doing whatever it is you say they are not.  The problem is still that this attitude encourages judgment.  When you talk to your kid or your friends about the awful thing your kid isn’t doing you are closing all lines of communication for your kid or friends to talk to you about it.  Your kid might not be doing it now, but they might do it later and you want them to talk to you about it.

3) It shifts the focus to the parent

Of course, kid’s actions do reflect somewhat on the parent, but when a parent insists to other parent’s or their own child that it is “not my kid” it puts the focus on you and your parenting skills, as opposed to focusing on what your kid is going through.

4) It makes a grey issue black and white

Many times it is not as simple as my kid is ‘doing it’ or ‘not doing it.’  A kid might not be smoking pot, but they might be at parties surrounded by pot in questionable neighborhoods.  Your daughter might not be having sex, but she might be having promiscuous, unprotected oral sex at parties.  Or, less extreme, just wearing very low shirts and using her sexuality inappropriately at school.  True she is ‘not doing it,’ but there are still other things around this issue going on.  Parents with the not my kid attitude often close their mind to the other grey issues around the big one.

I know it is scary to think about your kid doing anything dangerous or inappropriate, but keeping an open mind to talking to them about it and not feeling like a ‘bad’ parent if they ‘are doing it’ is extremely important to their healthy development and your relationship.

4 Responses to “The “Not My Kid” Syndrome”

  1. Marjie Knudsen
    May 13, 2010 at 6:37 am #

    Thanks for the great post Vanessa!
    There are many gray areas that parents do not see.
    The fear that parents have of being the ‘bad’ parent will not help them at all. It’s not about you as a parent anyway, it’s about your child and every child. The more we see this as a combined effort, the better we will be at communicating the solutions.
    Kids and teens are pretty smart, for the most part, they know what they’re doing is acceptable or not.
    Many teens need to know what to do to help fight peer pressure or even help prevent bullying, they just don’t know how. There are many ways to help others out on a daily basis. Here is a great list from the Center for Social and Emotional Education:
    10 Ways to be an Upstander –
    If the child knows you are calm and focused on solutions for everyone, they are more likely to come to you for help.

  2. liz
    May 20, 2010 at 12:07 pm #


    Thank you so much for this post. I only hope that all parents will read it, take it to heart and pass it on to every parent they know.


  3. Michael
    June 14, 2010 at 12:39 pm #

    I agree with Vanessa, the amount of parents out there who not only pretend that it’s not their kid, not even mentioning the amount of parents who naively think it’s not their kid is far too high. I can attest to this because I’m a teen myself and this is a common excuse parents will use especially when faced by other adults. Parents need to face the music on this one, not only must they be more cognizant of their children’s doings, but they should learn to expect that their teens is most likely like all the others.

  4. Vanessa Van Petten
    June 17, 2010 at 8:29 pm #

    Thank you so much for the comments! I also hope people read and take to heart.



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