I’ve often heard kids described as “good kids,” and have been guilty of doing such describing myself. More and more, it bothers me. 

What is a “good kid”? In general, it means one who follows rules, studies well, has good sleep hygiene, stays away from drugs and alcohol. In Orthodoxy, it also means keeps the mitzvot, dresses modestly (girls) or with cultural norms, goes to shul regularly (boys). In both worlds it means to follow the path set forth for you by your parents without making trouble.

The implication is clear. Kids who do not do the above are not good kids. Language matters, mostly because it reveals deep-held, often cluelessly judgmental beliefs – in our case about children.

Here’s the truth. All kids are good kids. How do I know? Because the fact is that children who are emotionally healthy want to please. They want to succeed and do well. They want to feel good about themselves and they crave the pleasure and praise of those they love.

So if they are not succeeding, if they can’t seem to follow rules or stay out of trouble, here’s the fact: there’s a reason. You may not know the reason. The child himself may not know the reason. The reason may be hidden and invisible. But I promise you it is there.

No child chooses failure on purpose. No child chooses the wrath and disdain of those he loves or the ostracism of peers. No child, barring emotional turmoil, neurological differences, and mental illness, acts “bad.”

One might even argue that these kids are gooder than good, as they struggle their way through a world biased toward the “good kids.” They keep trying! They keep getting up in the morning! Their tenacity, their grit is astonishing! What terrifyingly good kids!

I invite you then, the next time you see a “bad kid,” to think to yourself: there goes a hero. A warrior. A war veteran. Respect.

And what shall we now name the “good kids”? Who knows? Why must we name them at all? Do I know where they’ve journeyed, what dragons they have slayed or not? If I do, great. Describe the behavior. She does well in school. He’s polite and well-mannered.

Leave the moral judgments to God. He’s much kinder than people