Good Parents, Is Your Child a Bad Seed?

One mom can't figure out why kid won't behave. Scientist says he's just bad.

January 28, 2010, 7:07 AM

July 26, 2010— -- Eleven years ago Jodi Richardson had one of the happiest days of her life when her first son came into the world.

"It's kind of a wild experience because the kids don't come with an instruction manual and then all of the sudden, here you've got this little being that's totally dependent on you," Richardson told "Good Morning America."

But even before he was out of diapers, Richardson realized she needed help with the boy's ugly behavior. At first she thought it was the "terrible twos" when he would lash out at her, especially when a baby brother came along.

While Richardson has tried everything to get her boy under control and explain his behavior, according to one expert the answer is as simple as it is cold -- and one parents rarely are willing to accept: he just might be a bad seed.

"At one point I went to the library and I got a book, 'Your 3-Year-Old: Friend or Foe?'" she said. "I remember when my son called me a 'big, ugly girl' when he was 3. It was just like 'ahh!', shot to the heart there."

As the years passed, Richardson said her son's verbal assaults grew harsher.

"He said, 'Well, I wish you were dead and I wouldn't even come to your funeral,'" she said.

Now, at 11-years-old, she says he's beginning to threaten her physically.

"Just body posture, and he'll come up and kind of get u pin my face and [say,] 'What are you going to do about it, mom?'" she said.

The child's bullying in school has gotten him suspended several times and other parents have confronted Jodi about his aggressions and her parenting.

"It's embarrassing and pretty much every day you think, 'Well, what have I done to bring this on, or what am I doing wrong?'" she said. "Why am I raising a bully? I am trying so hard."

Even though Richardson's other son is perfectly behaved, she questions her parenting. No kind of discipline seems to work. She and her husband spent thousands on child psychologists and testing, but the boy's never been diagnosed with any kind of physical or emotional issues.

Revolutionary New Idea: He Could Just Be a Bad Kid

According to Dr. Richard Friedman, there aren't any issues to be had -- the kid's just plain bad. Boys and girls behaving badly -- everything from tantrums to cruelty and physical aggression -- can start early and continue through adulthood.

"I'm not talking about one of these kids who are fledgling psychopaths," Friedman said. "But kids who are just garden variety mean... It's important for parents to realize that even though they may do everything right, that their kids can have problems that don't reflect the way they were brought up."

The shockingly simple idea is turning the world of traditional child psychology on its head. Instead of "there are no bad kids, just bad parents," Friedman said kids may be hard-wired to behave badly.

"In a sense, it lets parents who are doing everything right have a realistic sense of what they're responsible for and not feel guilty for things they can't control," he said.

But critics said the suggestion that a bad seed will naturally grow into a bad adult doesn't give struggling parents much hope.

"I believe most children, the majority of children, can change if the parents learn a different mode of powerful and effective parenting," said Norman Hoffman, author of "Bad Children Can Happen to Good Parents."

Richardson said that for her, it's comforting to think that she's not completely to blame for her son's bullying, but she said she's not letting herself off the hook either and will keep working to make things better.

"You hope that when he's a grown up, you can look back and say, 'OK, that was rough but now you've made it' and we get along," she said.

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