Dear Editor: Youths can be taught how to BE parents before they become one—what are we waiting for?

“[…] Many years ago, the United Nations funded a parenting skills programme that was available free of charge to parents of high schoolers. Each participant was provided with a textbook and a workbook. The programme was run over several weeks.

“[…] For one thing, I learned that values are caught, not taught. Parents/guardians cannot seriously be expected to pass on to their children/wards what they themselves don’t have—they cannot seriously be expected to teach/transfer morals and values to which they themselves were never exposed…”

The following Letter to the Editor, which proposes the introduction of community programmes to teach adults parenting skills, was submitted to Wired868 by Yvette Davidson of Centeno:

Photo: Alan (left), played by actor Zach Galifianakis, is a very unconvincing stand-in parent to baby Carlos in the movie Hangover.

An adult consenting partner, a little rudeness, somewhere between 35 and 40 weeks and a little luck, good or bad. That is often all you need to become a parent.

But bringing another human being into the world carries with it a ton of responsibilities. I was always aware of that. And I was terrified of becoming a parent!

To become a carpenter, a chef, a doctor, a driver, an electrician, a joiner, a lawyer, a mason, a mechanic, a nurse, a pilot, a plumber, a tailor, a teacher or any one of any number of other occupations requires varying degrees of training. However, to become a parent, the one job often referred to as the most important job in the world, requires no formal training.

Would I measure up, I often wondered. Or would I be found wanting?

When children are successful, parents generally get the credit or often take the credit. But when children find themselves on the wrong side of the law, parents are not generally quite as eager to stand up and be counted.

Photo: A thug shows off his weapon.

What if my child turned out to be a bandit or some kind of criminal? What would that say about me? How would I ever live it down? There is, after all, only blame on offer—a debit, not a credit!

I do not think I am alone. Nor do I think it is overstating the case to say that the widespread lack of parenting skills is what is fuelling much of the anti-social behaviours being exhibited by our young people today.

But as a popular FPA slogan from the last century used to remind us, the challenge is not in becoming a parent but in being one. If as a society, we fail to recognise that we need to learn how to be parents, preferably before we become parents, I fear that whatever we do, we are merely spinning top in mud.

So what can we do? I have an idea…

Many years ago, the United Nations funded a parenting skills programme that was available free of charge to parents of high schoolers. Each participant was provided with a textbook and a workbook. The programme was run over several weeks.

At the time of my participation, my daughters were already in high school and I thought I was doing a pretty good job of raising them. But, boy, oh boy, what an eye-opener that programme proved to be!

Photo: Parenthood 101?

I was moved to tell one teacher how much of an impact the programme had had on me. Her response was that, unfortunately, most of the parents who turn up for the sessions were not the ones the principal and staff felt needed to attend.

After my children graduated from university, I contacted Marilyn Ames, who was the programme facilitator, enquiring as to how things were going. She told me that the response from principals had been so lukewarm, so unenthusiastic that she had given up the programme not long after the end of my session.

I was shocked! Why? Because what I had learnt from that programme had completely altered my perception of what being a parent ought to mean and given me a truly enlightened perspective on parenting.

For one thing, I learned that values are caught, not taught. Parents/guardians cannot seriously be expected to pass on to their children/wards what they themselves don’t have—they cannot seriously be expected to teach/transfer morals and values to which they themselves were never exposed.

What we need, I think, is parenting school. Had we had such a programme in place a generation ago, we might well have been spared some of the behaviours we are now witnessing and countless children’s lives might have turned out very differently!

Photo: Abusive King Joffrey Baratheon (right), his mother Cersei Lannister (centre) and his fiancée Sansa Stark during a scene in Game of Thrones.

But tears do not bring back spilt milk so what really matters is what action we take now!

It is why I want to advocate that community parenting skills programmes be introduced throughout the length and breadth of the country. They obviously cannot be made compulsory for all parents and guardians (male and female) but the education specialists must find some way to link the programmes into the formal school system at kindergarten or primary level.

Whether single, married, divorced or separated; whether rich or poor; whether living in the East, West, North, Central or South; whether a member of the professional, manual, clerical, differently-abled, skilled or unskilled workforce, no parent/guardian should not be encouraged to sign up.

I foresee a system that targets especially parents/guardians whose child(ren) is/are about to be admitted into kindergarten or primary school and again just prior to the child(ren)’s writing the Secondary Entrance Exam or signing up for CSEC exams.

These are times when parents are particularly conscious of their responsibilities and so the chances of serious voluntary participation are greater.

Photo: A father gets serious with his son.
(via August de Richelieu from Pexels)

There remains, however, the not insignificant problem of who provides the tuition. It seems to me that either the Community Development Division or The UWI Open Campus or both are ideally suited for making the selection and sourcing well-qualified persons to deliver the programme material. And identify suitable additional venues if the ones currently in use will not suffice.

I happen to think that the UN Parenting Skills programme, if updated, offers us the best possible option to turn things around. The data collected from the participants can then be used to inform prescriptive measures tailored to suit the unique socio-economic and cultural milieu of Trinidad and Tobago.

There remains one burning question: is there enough of a political will to undertake this necessary but herculean task?

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