How The Making of a Murderer Challenged My Parenting

 

New Year's Eve

Many people are gaining a fresh perspective on law enforcement, our judicial system, and the way the two are stacked against the underprivileged from the Netflix documentary, The Making of a Murderer—me included. But what surprised me about the show is the ways it gave me pause about how I am raising my kids. More about that in a minute.

Until this week, we were among the uninitiated few that weren’t following the popular documentary. But hearing the outcries of injustice from our social media feeds, noticing the news coverage, and having conversations with friends about it—as well as the fact that we live an hour from where the events unfolded—prompted me and the hubs to tune in. And then we couldn’t stop.

It’s not easy to watch, seeing the misuse of power by those in charge is disturbing, but it is important.

The docuseries outlines the story of a man named Steven Avery and his conviction for the murder of Wisconsin photographer Teresa Halbach. This conviction came just a few months after serving 18 years in prison for sexual assault against a prominent community figure that he didn’t commit. He was later exonerated from the crime by DNA evidence, and started to pursue a civil suit against the county where he waswrongfully convicted. Shortly after that, he was arrested for Halbach’s murder.

While the events that led to both accusations have sparked controversy, it is the involvement of his nephew, Brendan Dassey, in the murder trial which is arguably an even greater miscarriage of justice. After what appeared to be coercive interrogation, Brendan, who comes from an impoverished family and is limited by an IQ that qualifies as borderline learning disabled, confessed.

The interrogators wouldn’t accept Brendan’s initial responses of innocence. He only gave details about his supposed crimes after being spoon-fed the answers, and all the while his interrogators were stressing the importance of his “honesty,” because they knew what really happened.

As we watched Brendan in the recordings of the interrogations, I could see in his words, lack of words, and body language that he did not feel he had any choice but to go along with what they were trying to get him to do.

I thought, “He’s getting trampled on. He has no idea what he’s doing—no idea how these guys are taking advantage of his fear and lack of experience. He has no big picture perspective.”

He did not know how to advocate for himself, considered himself stupid, and displayed no apparent confidence.

And then it hit me: I can’t teach my kids blind obedience. In my parenting, I have focused heavily on obedience and respect-but they cannot be taught in isolation.

The mother in me saw my own kids on the couch in the interrogation room. Would they know how to stand up for themselves? For truth? No matter how they are being manipulated? Could they be brave enough to do the right thing?

The sad fact is that people in power are not always good. There is spiritual abuse in the church. There are teachers being charged for having sex with a student. This week’s news included a prep school with multiple accounts of abuse that are starting to surface. There are the police shootings of young black men. Tamir Rice. Eric Garner. Michael Brown. There are all the law enforcement and prosecutors I grew to loathe watching The Making of a Murderer. Need I go on?

Back to how the show challenged my parenting. Especially as I watched Brendan, I found myself immediately needing to make sure I am teaching my children how to navigate the nuances of two somewhat conflicting principles.

1. Respect for others, and at their age, especially adults 2. Knowing when to be assertive in situations where those in authority/power/adults are doing the wrong thing (injustice).

Obedience and respect are a lost art. I want to raise kids with these qualities not least of all because research shows they are more happy adults. In his recent Wall Street Journal article, Parenting in the Age of Awfulness, Dr. Leonard Sax outlined how today’s children are immersed in a disrespectful culture—one that has long term negative impact.

Multiple lines of evidence, including cohort studies such as the National Longitudinal Study of Youth, now demonstrates that disrespectful children are more likely to grow up to be anxious and depressed, three times more likely to be overweight, more likely to be fragile, less healthy and less creative, compared with respectful children.

So respect is important to our children’s short term and long term success. But it’s also important to instill that respect and obedience doesn’t mean unfettered compliance.

How do we do this? I definitely don’t have all the answers. But I know obedience and respect can’t be stressed in isolation from higher pursuits. Ones like truth and justice.  Teaching our kids to blindly follow everyone in authority is dangerous. Just because someone has power doesn’t mean they are righteous, good, or godly.

As we work with our kids on learning to obey and have respectful attitudes, we also need to seek ways to help them grow in truth and justice so they can decide when not to follow those in power. Easier said then done, right? As I brainstorm how to implement this in our family, these are the kinds of things that come to mind…

Hone truth seeking and telling. We have to teach them to yearn for truth-God’s truth and truth about situations. We must praise our kids when they tell the truth, especially when that might mean a negative consequence. Truth is a weapon against the manipulations/request/demands of those in power.

Model and provide space for the art of face-to-face conversation. Our kids will learn to have a voice through conversations with their parents, siblings, and guests to our home. When they get to practice in a safe environment, it will make it that much easier away from the nest. I’ve heard it a million times-but I’m starting to see that having dinner together as a family is one prime way to get meaningful conversation in.

Teach kids the ability to handle interpersonal conflict on their own. I am not going accept tattling anymore. Instead, I’m going to focus on coaching them through a conversation with each other. Kids need to learn to tell others what behaviors, words and actions aren’t acceptable so they can feel confident in conflict.

Discuss the injustices we see and hear about. It’s not difficult to find daily examples of injustice. As they get older, I’ll plan to get more and more specific about what power is being wielded, who is the victim, and what is the outcome.

That’s only a start, but now that my perspective has shifted, I’ll keep looking for ways to be intentional.

I hated seeing Brendan struggling to have the conviction to stand up for the truth. To bend to the injustice of the sleazy authorities because he saw no other way. I really don’t want my kids to ever feel like they’re in that position, no matter what the circumstance.

I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant. -Martin Luther King, Jr.

Let’s keep teaching our kids respect and obedience. But we also need to help them love truth and justice. Otherwise, lies and injustice will prevail.

Comments

  1. Christine says:

    I couldn’t agree more, both with your reaction to the documentary and the issues it covers, and the perspective it provokes in your approach to your children. Fostering and encouraging respectfulness that is balanced with thoughtful dissent when appropriate is critical in the development of minds who not only know what to believe, but why to believe it. It makes manipulation, abuse, and injustice that much harder to inflict on them.

    I also think you’d really enjoy the first season of the podcast Serial, about the case of Adnan Syed. Well crafted and thought provoking, you’ll be binge listening after the first episode!

  2. Christine, thanks for taking the time to read and comment! I will definitely check out Serial!