Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Dr. Helen on the Murder of Karabeth Borden's Parents

Dr. Helen posted a very nice entry in her blog regarding the murder of Karabeth Borden's parents by her boyfriend David Ludwig. What I'd like to mention is the tenor of the many responses she has received so far.

It seems that she triggered a rather charged debate on whether Karabeth was a victim or a participant in her parents' murders. My personal sense is that many of the responders to this blog missed the point that Dr Helen was making.

I didn't feel that she was trying to imply that Karabeth was or wasn't an accomplice in this heinous act. I think her central thesis was that this 14-year-old's behavior both within this relationship and after the murder is going to ultimately be demonstrated not to be as surprising and unpredictable as her "friends" suggested in media interviews.

I agree with Dr. Helen that this girl's actions belay severe disaffection and isolation on her part that, if anyone had been watching closely, should have been readily apparent. This blogger has made the excellent point that in our zeal to improve self-esteem and to promote children's individuality and freedom, we may very well be short-changing their development.

Teenagers (who are still children) seem to have virtually endless access to personal cell phones, private email and the internet with its ready access to dark and amoral websites, uncensured personal blogs, adult chatrooms, pornography, etc. The willingness of parents to tolerate such instruments of autonomy and independence betrays our ambivalence about enforcing limits.

Far be it for me to adjudicate what constitutes acceptable behavior. Fortunately, I'm only responsible for making that determination for my own child. However, the fact is that parents and the other responsible adults in a child's life (e.g. teachers and clergy) must set such standards. Failure to do so is tantamount to absolving yourself of the obligation to raise your child according to values that are important to you. I concur with Dr. Helen that with time, we're going to find out that for Karabeth Borden (and for her boyfriend) firmly defining what was and wasn't moral will not have figured prominently in their upbringings.

I'm not trying to imply that good, well-raised children (and adults) don't simply snap upon occasion. I'm sure that does happen. But I'm equally certain that, despite my not having reviewed the literature in this area, such episodes are vanishingly rare.

My interpretation may be wrong but that's what I got out of Dr. Helen's blog today.


Blogger Helen said...

Hi--interesting post on your interpretation of my post. It is to some degree correct. I do think our society focuses too much on raising kids self-esteem to the detriment of their moral development at times.

But I do believe that kids have some a right to some freedoms and a growing autonomy--our problem is that we do not give them this freedom--we treat many like babies unable to make real decisions so they "steal" what they can by smoking, using drugs or having sex early or in an unhealthy way. This is not individuality--it is trying to act like an adult when in reality, many of our kids don't know what responsibility is or what the consequences of their acts are.

I like your blog.

November 22, 2005 6:30 PM  
Blogger The Medicine Man said...


I didn't mean to imply that my opinion, as laid out in my response to your post, was a complete restatement of your position. I was trying to convey the more narrow point that I interpreted your blog as implying there was something not right in Karabeth's background. By this I mean something that would help later explain her actions in the events leading up to her parents' murders and afterwards. This as opposed to the notion that she was just a good kid that snapped.

I apologize for not making it clear that most of the rest of my inferences were mine and not necessarily yours.


November 22, 2005 9:02 PM  
Blogger Brad said...

I think that the effort to raise self-esteem does not just shortchange moral development, but also the development of rational thought processes. One can not teach critical thinking if the focus is self-esteem; and the lack of reason may then lead to bad decisions; decisions that are positively critiqued by input from outside the home or school. If freedom and autonomy are to be nurtured, it must be within a framework of moral and rational development; if this framework is lacking, granting autonomy or treating them like babies will probably bring the same results, for different reasons.
I also like this blog.

January 23, 2006 11:35 AM  

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