“Not only have social safety nets and protections unraveled in the last 30 years, but the suffering and hardships many children face have been greatly amplified by the economic crisis and the austerity policies that are being currently implemented.” — Henry A. Giroux, “America’s education deficit and the war on youth.”
Recently there was a very touching and poignant report in a local newspaper titled, “Our children are hurting.” It was about the problems so many young people are having with depression, anxiety, social phobia, etc. It’s a tragedy how we in our modern culture so often neglect to take our children’s needs and problems seriously — ignoring many of their psychological, emotional and even physical needs in too many cases, often reflecting the life of the parents which is just too complicated and/or stressful. Such problems can stem from a variety of causes — from parental neglect and abuse and even parental overcontrol, lack of government policies to protect children, poor nutrition and any number of aspects of today’s culture that influence our young people — from the media and computer gadgets, inordinate pressure to succeed and the increasing emphasis on materialism. Even No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top have added to the woes of many children, plus the demand that all become prepared for college.
As Sylvia Ann Hewlett wrote in “When the Bough Breaks”: “Unless we make up for deficiencies on the homefront, all kinds of educational dollars can be thrown down the drain at ages 6, 9 or 12 as we fail to motivate youngsters undermined by a myriad of family problems.”
Seems in this modern age, many adults have lost sight of how important it is for a child to bond well with a devoted caretaker that has his/her best interest at heart. But as far as what it takes to raise healthy, well-functioning children, little has changed since 1987 when Hewlett’s book came out. Motivated by her and other old standbys like Lois Weiss, Bruno Bettleheim and more contemporary authors like Giroux, I offer a list of goals to which thoughtful parents aspire. No one can exemplify all of these all of the time but, the point is, it takes TIME and dedication, and often, in these days, help from government agencies, to nurture children in a way that helps them become successful in school and in life.
Good enough parents will seek education about child growth and development and the art of parenting and treat their children as respected individuals, always considering their youth and vulnerability. This would include refraining from hitting, shaming, ridiculing and violating their children’s bodies in any way.
They will protect their children from being forced to adjust too soon and too much to the parents’ personal pursuits, overscheduled lives and the aspects of society that distort childhood, such as much of TV, most movies and inappropriate computer technology.
They will provide a healthy environment, which includes not only adequate housing and needed medical attention, but also concern for their safety. They will provide healthful nourishment and monitor their physical, emotional and spiritual well-being on an ongoing basis. They will encourage physical activity and see that their children get adequate rest and sleep.
Nurturing parents will spend much unpressured time with their children. This would include a habit of relaxed and open conversation, reading to them often, and letting them see their parents read and pursue knowledge and, most of all, listening to their cares, opinions, questions and fears without judgment or ridicule. This will encourage them to express curiosity and wonder, to think for themselves, to question authority in a responsible way.
Good enough parents will exemplify kindness, honesty, decency, responsibility and caring with the children, each other and humanity in general. They will provide structure — not only a generally predictable daily routine, but benevolent, consistent and loving discipline. This will include comforting them when they are upset, hurt, depressed, ill, out of sorts and reveling with them in their triumphs and successes.
They will be empathetic, as described by Bettelheim: “Good enough parents endeavor to evaluate and respond to matters both from their adult perspective and from the quite different one of the child, and to base their actions on a reasonable integration of the two, while accepting that the child, because of his immaturity, can understand matters only from his point of view.”
In today’s fast-paced and self-indulgent culture, children need more loving parental nurturance than ever, but many are suffering because of our culture’s lack of conscience about exploiting them. And yet, the welfare of our children is of utmost importance since, “If we don’t hear the language of love as children, we can’t repeat it.” — Lois Weiss, ”Love Talk.”
Since 1984, Dorothy Dimitre has written more than 700 columns for various local newspapers. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.