By Eve Sullivan, Jamesa Wagwau, and Aya Isumi, December 12 2016 – Small children cry out in distress and, while it is easy to tell that they need something, parents or caregivers may not recognize right away what solace or satisfaction the child needs. School-age children make their needs known too, usually with words, although sometimes by whining or acting up. Unhappy teenagers take their distress out on themselves: self-injury and substance abuse are their silent cries. Desperate young people, even children as young as ten, according to the U.S. National Runaway Safeline, feel pushed to the brink and leave their homes.
All children have parents, or at some point had parents, and almost all have someone in their lives who takes a parenting role. What pleas for guidance and support have parents and caregivers made over the years leading up to a child’s misbehavior, outright defiance or, worst of all, suicide? When parents do seek help — and many fail to realize soon enough that they need advice or assistance in raising their children — do they get it? The answer, sadly, is too often ‘no’.
We ask you to sign on to our call, below, for universal parenting education and hope you will distribute it widely!
In a 2006 Communication Initiative Drum Beat, two of us called for policymakers and program providers to do more ‘Listening to Parents’, but in the past decade very little has changed. Social services addressing family issues more often than not still focus narrowly on a particular group – teen parents or divorcing parents, for example – or on a particular problem — parents of children with disabilities, or parents experiencing mental health or behavioral health challenges themselves.
Parent involvement is, thankfully, becoming the norm in early childhood and early education programming, but it is clear that parenting education remains our collective blind spot. A recently released publication from the U.S. Education Commission of the States, the K-3 Policymakers Guide to Action: making the early years count, K-3 Policymakers Guide to Action: making the early years count, did not mention parenting education even once.
A study from Japan, co-written by one of us, focusing specifically on child maltreatment and published in the Journal of Child Abuse and Neglect, shows that population-based strategies are important particularly to preventing shaking and smothering behaviors. The greatest risk factor triggering this behavior is infant crying. Findings showed, for example, that infant abuse in response to crying can happen among parents and caregivers regardless of their own adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). Concluding that there is a risk even among caregivers without previous ACEs, the research suggests that the problem is different from other types of child maltreatment and needs to be addressed through population-based strategies that focus on this specific issue and that reach all parents and caregivers.
We cannot wait any longer for a comprehensive, lifespan approach to parenting and family life education. A hopeful sign is this 2016 publication from the U.S. National Academies Press, Parenting Matters: Supporting Parents of Children Ages 0-8, which makes clear that parenting education and support must be universal in order to reach all who may benefit and avoid stigmatizing those who participate.
Research clearly shows that programs for parents on parenting issues and concerns have a direct benefit for children. UNICEF’s 2015 publication, Family and Parenting Support: Policy and Provision in a Global Context, reports on programs in nine countries and describes the impact of parenting education provision in Croatia. The research found a reduction in corporal punishment and verbal abuse as well as parents’ increased confidence in their parenting abilities. Good news for both parents and children!
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So, here is Our Call . . .
Parenting and family life education shall be provided as essential and universally accessible offerings to support our common interest: improving individual and community wellbeing.
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Parenting and family life education shall be provided by government agencies, corporate entities and civil society organizations – – within educational and workforce programming, as public health initiatives and in health care programs for physical, mental and behavioral health – – as essential and universally accessible offerings. Such services, promoted consistently by positive media campaigns, will foster intergenerational solidarity, promote social, economic and gender equity and counteract the deep-rooted, pervasive violence in many communities, all to support our common interest: improving individual and community wellbeing.
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In early December 2016 TIME and Fortune magazines convened a group of private-sector leaders to gather with Pope Francis in Rome “to forge a new social compact for the 21th century,” according to TIME editor Nancy Gibbs. We hope that parenting education was on their agenda! If the core of family experience is parents’ and children’s emotional connection, as we believe it to be, then fostering emotional awareness has to be our top priority, both as individuals and as societies. Clearly the business community recognizes this issue’s relevance to economic success, as Daniel Goleman has written in On Emotional Intelligence, one of Harvard Business Review’s 10 Must Reads (2015).
Since policymaking and program provision wheels move slowly, however, as do grant-making mechanisms, we call on everyone – parents, grandparents, aunties and uncles – to start, today, offering encouragement and support to each other. Peer support, an essential element in any effective parenting education program, can and must be our first step.
Jeffrey D. Sachs, Director of the Center for Sustainable Development, in a Boston GLOBE series on critical challenges, calls for collaborative solutions to address society’s urgent needs. Child neglect and maltreatment is a critical challenge eroding the very foundations of individual and community life. It can be addressed by positive support for every parent, something each one of us can offer to the parents we know.
Please consider posting Our Call on your personal and organizational websites, please share it also via social media, at your workplace and in your business association, through your faith community and with sports associations in your community.
Say a kind word to parents you meet daily and, if you are a parent, whether or not you are struggling, advocate for parenting resources. Your children will thank you, perhaps not right away, but doubtless when they become parents themselves.
Eve Sullivan, Founder, Parents Forum, Cambridge, Massachusetts (M.A.T., French, Harvard Graduate School of Education, Cambridge, Massachusetts) bit.ly/2h6dY4d firstname.lastname@example.org
Jamesa Wagwau, Training Facilitator, The FACE Non-Violent Leadership Program at Centre for Non-Violence, Fort Wayne, Indiana (M.A., Educational Psychology, with a focus on Child Development and Family Studies, West Virginia University, Morgantown, West Virginia) email@example.com
Aya Isumi, Project Researcher, Tokyo Medical and Dental University -and- Board Member, Child First Lab., Tokyo, Japan (Ph.D., International Public Policy, Osaka University -and- M.S., Human Development and Family Studies, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, North Carolina) firstname.lastname@example.org