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Leave the 9-Year-Old Reporter Alone!

Photograph by Hilde Kate Lysiak

When a 9-year-old reporter from Selinsgrove, Pa., reported an exclusive on a homicide that evaded more mainstream reporters, people were quick to judge her parents.

In her reporting, Hilde Kate Lysiak asked the police for confirmation of the homicide and interviewed neighbors for her local news site, Orange Street News. Lysiak not only wrote about the murder but also included a short video from the crime scene.

Recently, CNN published an article that gave voice to the dearth of parental concern trolling about the topic. And people have taken to social media to join in that great national past-time: parent-judging.

Topics like this never cease to draw in readers—parents and child-free alike—who love to debate what parents should and should not do.

I don't suppose judgment like this will ever end, but I'd like to pose an alternate theory: Instead of arguing over what parents ought to do with their children, and making our experiences rote, why not take children on a case-by-case basis?

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The biggest shock of my life was how different my son was from my daughter. He was a lot more difficult as a baby and now as a toddler. His needs and temperament were so different that none of the sleep techniques or behavior modification tactics that worked with our daughter worked for him. It wasn't worse, it wasn't better, it was just different. And we are different parents to him than we are to our daughter. And all of those things that I thought I would do and be as a parent—cloth diapering, organic foods only, green cleaning, co-sleeping—they have gone out of the window in the face of the more prescient reality of who my children are and what they need.

My job is to give my children that firm place to stand, and the direction they go from there is entirely their call.

There is a parenting truism that's been shared so many times, I don't know who to attribute it to, but it holds: "Before I got married I had six theories about bringing up children; now I have six children and no theories." I only have two kids but that's enough for me to know that this is undoubtedly true. There is no such thing as a parenting philosophy; you just take your children as they come.

The reality is, parents have so little control over who their children become. Sue Klebold, mother of Dylan Klebold (the infamous Columbine shooter), recently published a memoir titled, "A Mother's Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy." The book is startling in how normal it is. It's easy to pick apart Klebold's actions, but if we do so, we are just distancing ourselves from the more frightening reality that it could have been our kid.

What makes a kid a shooter? What makes another kid a crack journalist at the age of 9? No one knows but it is certainly not the parents. Heather Havrilesky, in a review of Klebold's book in New York Magazine, notes, "Our anxiety forces us to choose: Good kid or bad kid? Good mother or bad mother? What's never allowed to exist, what's never acknowledged, is the very simple, inescapable, pervasive ambivalence of being alive."

What parenting is then, isn't controlling who your children become, but making way for who they are. There is an Archimedes quote that reads, "Give me a place to stand and I will move the world." As a parent, I believe my job is to give my children that firm place to stand, and the direction they go from there is entirely their call.

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The push and pull of the forces that make our children are astounding. From DNA, to peers, to even something as our own tragedy, these forces can shape who they become. The only thing it is possible to know is how little control we actually have. That is terrifying and amazing. But it is never safe to judge a parent based on a child's actions.

So whoever Hilde Lysiak's parents are—good or bad—it's not our call. What is apparent is that she is an incredible child, who is talented and more than up to the challenge of her chosen career.

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