Sue Klebold, mother of Columbine High School shooter Dylan Klebold, has shared her story, after seventeen years of silence. I realized, as I watched her interview with Diane Sawyer, that there are lessons all parents can learn from the tragedy this mother was forced to endure.
1. Your child’s privacy should not change your parenting.
Sue Klebold admitted to snooping in Dylan’s room throughout his junior year of high school. However, she bought into the lie that her son’s privacy was more important than her job as a parent during his senior year. The FBI recovered journals and plans the Columbine shooters had chronicled—many of them just a bedroom wall away from a mother who could have intervened. When asked “Would you ransack his room now?” Klebold answered, “I would. I would do it as if his very life [depended] upon it.” FBI expert Mary Ellen O’Toole encouraged parents to remember that if they are paying the mortgage for that bedroom, they have every right to know the contents of it. Sue Klebold has to live with the reality that she let “privacy” blind her to what was really happening in her son’s life. “If I had recognized that Dylan was experiencing some real mental distress he would not have been [at school], he would have gotten help.” We can learn from her nearly seventeen years of regret and ransack the rooms of our teenagers “as if their very lives depend upon it.”
2. ‘Normal teenage stuff’ is not a good enough excuse.
Our culture has changed drastically since the Columbine shooting. Suicide and depression were not buzz words in the adolescent community at that time. “Bullying” was not something students attended convocations on and kids writing papers with violent undertones did not signal warning flares. The changes the Klebold family noticed—a distant son, his concerns about his appearance, outbursts of anger—were not enough to warrant further probing. Sue recounts one incident when her son was not quite himself. When asked if he was alright he excused it with normal teenage stuff like homework getting him down. His mom’s response? “I let it go. That’s the difference… if it were me today I would dig and dig and dig.” She did not recognize at the time this scream for help from her son. Excusing bad behavior as “normal” is a dangerous pattern for any home.
3. Even children with involved parents can commit horrendous crimes.
In her new book, Sue Klebold describes her home as the sort with “hands-on parents, who put [their children] to bed with stories and prayers and hugs.” She was actively involved in the lives of her children. It would be easy to reason away a killer who grew up with distant or neglectful parents, the kind of environment that produces the serial killers on “Criminal Minds,” but that was not Dylan Klebold’s family. A person’s decision to engage in criminal acts is not exclusively contingent upon what kind of parents they had.
4. Just keeping guns out of the home does not prevent crime.
When asked about guns, Sue said their family “kept no firearms in the house.” When Dylan asked his mother if she would buy him one, she declined the request. People who want a gun badly enough will find one, even if they do not meet the law’s requirements to purchase a gun. Dylan obtained a gun through an older classmate. Just keeping firearms out of their home did not prevent Sue Klebold’s son from planning and executing the murder of thirteen people.
5. You never know when it will be the last day you see your children.
“We all got up very early” that Tuesday morning, Sue Klebold recounted. Her son rushed out the door more quickly than normal, “as if he were running late.” A quick, snide remark filled the air as Dylan left for school; he would never come home again. While most of our children will not commit the heinous crimes Dylan Klebold chose to perform, there is no guarantee our children will make it home tonight. Waiting for reconciliation, one last hug, or another opportunity to tell our kids we love them can leave us with a lifetime of regret. Treat every moment with your children as if the next moment is not promised to either of you, because in reality, it is not.
6. Parents are responsible TO their children, not FOR their children.
For the last decade I have served as a lay counselor through my church. The best advice I received is that I am not responsible FOR a counselee, but I am responsible TO him or her. My job as a counselor is to give my very best effort, to use every resource available—to share truth and help in every way I possibly can. But I cannot make decisions FOR another person. Parents are responsible TO their child, to do everything within their power to raise him or her to the best of their ability. Inevitably, however, that child will begin making decisions on his own. You can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make him drink, as the saying goes. Sue Klebold did all that she knew to do to help her son. She confronted him on numerous occasions, she read him bedtime stories, she prayed for him, she took away privileges and worked her hardest to help her son make the right decisions. But on April 20, 1999, Dylan chose to act outside of the years of wise instruction from his mother and engaged in murders that only he and his accomplice, Eric Harris, were responsible for committing.
These 6 lessons are calls to action for every parent. Sue Klebold has shared her story to help us learn from the mistakes she can no longer remedy. Let’s take her hard-earned wisdom and use it to impact the next generation. Watch the full interview below: