Over the past several decades many large scale efforts have been made to positively impact the lives of children. From children and youth committees in state legislatures to not-for-profit child protection agencies, many have devoted themselves on state and national levels to bettering the lives of children.
Although great work is being done by well-meaning and sincere people, something is still missing in truly transforming the state of our youth. Our children these days are at elevated risk for many negative outcomes including depression, self-esteem issues, delinquency, substance abuse, underage drinking, and risky sexual behaviors. Talk to teachers these days about the state of our children and you hear some frightening examples of academic and social problems that are permeating the lives of children in destructive ways. Most tragic is the consistent bad news we hear about school bullying and violence that is further indicative of the magnitude of the problems at hand.
The latest discussion related to this depressing state of affairs is the recently released report about the school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. Much of the discussion has focused on large scale problems that may be causing such atrocious occurrences. From gun control to problems in our mental health system to violent video games, there clearly are many variables that coalesce in a tragic way producing such horrors.
However, an excessive focus on these large scale problems and grand national, state, and community efforts at curtailing such violence minimizes the attention that needs to be placed on the source of where this all begins: home and parenting.
Unfortunately our society today is quick to blame anyone and everyone for the state of our youth. The school system, guns, the media, a chemical imbalance and McDonalds are all to blame for our uneducated, violent, perverted, hyperactive, and obese children. Although these external variables can play a role in shaping our children, at the end of the day, the individuals who most influence children throughout childhood and adolescence are parents. It is parents who mold children, are the navigators of their life, and are the ones who count most. Although this may be obvious, it seems like this idea is slowly being eroded away in the national discourse about children. Parents still matter, and overly emphasizing all these other influences in the talk about children risks chipping away further at the most important player in all of this.
Talking about what parents can do at home to enhance child well-being should be the main focus when trying to determine how to impact children. The right parenting methods and style have the potential of impacting children in life-long ways. Conversely, when children end up acting dysfunctional and destructive it is the parents who are to blame first and foremost.
This is not an attempt to minimize or negate the powerful influences of many other variables in the environment. It is becoming increasingly difficult to shelter our children from these outside influences. From violence on TV to harmful messages from the printed media to friends and neighborhood, children are consistently being bombarded with destructive models. However, once again, it is the parent who is charged with filtering and channeling these negative influences. Not allowing for parenting issues to permeate the national dialogue about children's lives will only minimize their role further. Just turn on your TV and see which experts are being interviewed about how to deal with school violence. I see legislators discussing gun control, directors of state mental institutions talking about hospital beds, and police officers reviewing response times. These are all important discussions but I am waiting to see a parenting expert bringing the discussion back to basics. What can parents do from day one to create a home environment that minimizes the likelihood that children will one day pick up a gun and act out the violence they are exposed to?
As a society we do not emphasize enough the important role that parents play in the lives of children. Let's get back to basics: parents.
If Adam Lanza's mother was bombarded with this message many years ago maybe she would have not reached the point of desperation she was experiencing in the lead up to this tragedy as her son secluded himself in his room planning his attack. At that point there was little she could do.
The answer to what parents can ultimately do to prevent this violence is a complex one, but we first need to ask the question.