VIDEO: Dr. James Garbarino Talks About how his Personal Life has Influenced his Professional Choices

Watch an excerpt from PsychAlive’s exclusive interview with Dr. James Garbarino.

Dr. James Garbarino on how his personal experiences from childhood helped him realize where to grow professionally.

Dr. James Garbarino: As an undergraduate I was a major in History and Political Philosophy, actually started in graduate school in the political philosophy program at Cornell. But I’d always had a sort of hobby interest in children. I’d been a camp counselor, I was a drama counselor. So I sort of had that running parallel with my purported academic career.

When I started graduate school while I was in political philosophy, I was volunteering at an elementary school and by my second year I had sort of come to a dead end with the political philosophy, and then was teaching in a public school and a guy I had known from the summer camp, a guy named Urie Bonfrenbenner, had become a friend. I knew his children and I went to see him for some career counseling.

At the time I was thinking I would teach for a year and then go back to graduate school in American History and he said, “Well, why don’t you try Human Development?” So I did. And so I came to Human Development with hands-on experience with children, some experience as an educator, but somebody interested in the social environment through history and government and that certainly was sort of how I got started.

My second wife really illuminated a lot things about my childhood that I had been unaware of. For example, there was this family story that when I was about 11, my mother had her third child. I had a brother who was 5 and (then) she had a daughter who was a colicky baby. And I was a very responsible 11 year old, very helpful, probably to a fault.

My father was a musician who worked nights, so five or six nights a week when he would leave for work, the baby would start to cry, as colicky babies do. And I would say that my mother was sort of pushed to her limit and beyond. One day, it was a summer day, she came down and she handed me the baby, went upstairs and got a suitcase and walked out the door, leaving me with this screaming, 4 month old baby and said to me, “Jimmy, take care of the baby.” Well, she went about a block and sat down on her suitcase and had a cry and came back.

But this has always been told as a sort of positive story in my family. About how responsible I was.  In fact, a couple of times I was introduced for conferences as a key note speaker and people would say, “And he’s been taking care of other people’s children ever since.” So it wasn’t until my second marriage, where my wife heard that story and said, “Oh my god! That’s one of the worst things I ever heard … how you must have felt, how terrified you must have felt.” And I had never realized how terrified or been conscious of how terrified I must have felt.

So there have been a lot of experiences like that, sort of uncovering things and hearing and seeing things in a new way or for the first, for the first time that I think have led to a different perspective on my motivation for doing professional things when I was younger as well as some of the content as well.

About the Author

James Garbarino, Ph.D. James Garbarino is Emeritus Professor of Psychology at Cornell University and at Loyola University Chicago. From 2006-2020, he held the Maude C. Clarke Chair in Humanistic Psychology and was founding Director of the Center for the Human Rights of Children at Loyola University Chicago. From 1995-2006, he was Elizabeth Lee Vincent Professor of Human Development and Co-Director of the Family Life Development Center at Cornell University. He is a Fellow of the American Psychological Association. Dr. Garbarino has served as consultant or advisor to a wide range of organizations, including the National Committee to Prevent Child Abuse, the National Institute for Mental Health, the American Medical Association, the National Black Child Development Institute, the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Advisory Board on Child Abuse and Neglect, and the FBI. Among the books he has authored or edited are: Listening to Killers: Lessons Learned from My 20 Years as a Psychological Expert Witness in Murder Cases (2015), Miller’s Children: Why Giving Teenage Killers a Second Chance Matters for All of Us (2018), Children and the Dark Side of Human Experience (2008), See Jane Hit: Why Girls Are Growing More Violent and What We Can Do About It (2006). And Words Can Hurt Forever: How to Protect Adolescents from Bullying, Harassment, and Emotional Violence (2002); Parents Under Siege: Why You Are the Solution, Not the Problem, in Your Child’s Life (2001); Lost Boys: Why Our Sons Turn Violent and How We Can Save Them (1999. Dr. Garbarino has won many awards from his work in the fields of trauma and abuse. He serves as a consultant for media reports on children and families. Since 1994, he has served as a scientific expert witness in criminal cases involving issues of violence and children.

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