Although most parents would agree that their children are more important than their job, most usually get more on-the-job training than they do as a parent. As a Mother of seven once said, “The love is instinctual but the skills are not.”
A NATIONAL MOVEMENT
A 1990 study by fifteen of the nation’s largest youth organizations found that the United States has done poorly in solving the problems affecting today’s youth. There was broad agreement that the number-one solution to these problems was . . . better parents. As a result of their findings, the final report calls for a massive increase in parent education.
President Bush then released a statement of six national goals for education. The number-one goal states that “by the year 2000, all children in America will start school ready to learn.” To attain this goal “parents will have access to the training and support they need.”
President Bush’s comments represent a movement in thinking which places more value on the importance of a parent’s role in preparing children for school and life. It is encouraging to see that there is a growing awareness that families need support and education . . . in order to strengthen parents’ skills and prevent future problems.
SOCIETY HAS CHANGED
In the past, when parents had questions about child-rearing they would usually have an extended family member close by to ask advice. While some parents may have family close by, many admit that their elders’ advice on child-rearing often differs from current parenting information or their preferred style. This is a result of changes in our society over the past few decades:
Children are no longer “needed” to work side by side with their parents, like farmers’ children of the past. This helped children feel they had something important to contribute and taught them basic responsibility and life-management skills. Today, children search for ways to belong in the family and with peers, sometimes in unhealthy ways.
Superior/inferior family relationships are no longer being modeled by mothers and fathers. Women have equal rights and children feel equally unwilling to accept an inferior, submissive role in life. This change is healthy, in that all people do have a right to be treated with respect and dignity. It leaves many parents, however, with few role models or practical skills for achieving this goal.
Early on, children are being taught that they have rights: to their bodies, their feelings, and to be treated by others with dignity as a worthwhile human being.
As a result, power-and-control parenting techniques are no longer effective, because parents “talk down” to “inferior” children. This style, therefore, inherently violates a child’s right to be treated with respect, children recognize this, rebel and lose respect for the controlling parent. As our society became more affluent, many parents became more permissive and over-indulgent. Their children often grew up thinking the world owed them a living and they used their energy trying to get out of responsibilities.
Children are facing issues previous generations never had to face. It is important for parents to listen and communicate in open, respectful ways, so their children will feel safe in discussing their problems and feelings.
Although some of these societal changes have brought about positive results, they have left parents with few clear guidelines for how to raise this new generation of children into responsible adults.
EFFECTIVE, QUALITY PARENT EDUCATION
What it Isn’t . . .
Parent education does not focus on what parents are doing wrong or advocate never disciplining children, as many parents assume. It provides new options to parents and encourages them to respect their own rights, as well as their children’s.
Attending a parenting class is not a reflection of being a “bad” parent . . . it is an indication of a parent’s commitment to his/her children and role as a parent. The classes are not just for parents who are having severe problems with their children’s behavior. Many parents who attend classes want to feel more confident of their parenting and are looking for ways to prevent future problems and help their family get along cooperatively.
What it Is . . .
The most effective parenting classes are small, personal groups which provide opportunities for interaction among parents, practice of concepts and techniques learned, and individualized problem solving. Like most new skills, parents can benefit from ongoing reinforcement of what they have learned. Follow-up parent discussion groups, where parents can meet with others who have taken the class, provide an opportunity to continue applying the concepts to new situations.
MAKING THE COMMITMENT
Although professionals often recommend parenting classes, there are several issues which seem to prevent parents from joining these groups: finding a class, making the time commitment, and cost. All three really boil down to the underlying issue of priorities. If a parent looks at how much time and money he/she spends on business seminars, golf lessons, weekly fast food, or vacations, it makes sense to place a priority on attending a parenting class, which usually costs less than all of these! Parenting classes are an investment in your personal growth, your child’s future, and in future generations. Consider doing your part to make this world a better place for everyone’s children. Read a parenting book that gives trustworthy, accurate advice or check out your community’s resources for local parenting classes.
Jody Johnston Pawel is a Licensed Social Worker, Certified Family Life Educator, second-generation parent educator, founder of The Family Network, and President of Parents Toolshop Consulting. She is the author of 100+ parent education resources, including her award-winning book, The Parent’s Toolshop. For 25+ years, Jody has trained parents and family professionals through her dynamic workshops and interviews with the media worldwide, including Parents and Working Mother magazines, and the Ident-a-Kid television series. Jody currently serves as the online parenting expert for Cox Ohio Publishing’s mom-to-mom websites and also serves on the Advisory Board of the National Effective Parenting Initiative.