Dr. Myriam Miedzian on Violence
reprinted from Sesame Street Parents;
Myriam Miedzian, Ph.D., is a founding board member of Prepare
Tomorrow's Parents She is a social philosopher, professor
and the author of Boys Will Be Boys; Breaking the Link Between
Masculinity and Violence (Anchor Books).
United States is suffering through an epidemic of violence.
Our government's response to this crisis is to build more prisons
and hire more police officers. But what about prevention?
Isn't there anything we can do to stop today's toddler from becoming
tomorrow's rapist or murderer?
there is. One step we can take is to introduce child-rearing classes
science research reveals that huge numbers of children today grow
up in family situations that predispose them to violent behavior
later in life. These youngsters are battered, experience weak bonding
with caregivers, lack parental supervision, or have parents who
fail to reinforce prosocial behavior.
are at much higher risk of growing up to be violent than girls are:
About 90 percent of violent crimes are committed by males. The risk
is further increased if a boy grows up without an involved, nonviolent,
responsible father. And although most single mothers succeed, often
heroically, in raising decent sons, their task is extremely difficult.
The 1991 FBI Uniform Crime Reports cites studies suggesting
that as many as 70 percent of juvenile offenders grow up in single-parent
child-rearing classes can help solve these problems. By making both
boys and girls aware of the importance and complexity of child-rearing,
classes could bring down teenage pregnancy rates, reduce the number
of deadbeat dads, and promote caring, responsible mothering and
people object, claiming that child-rearing cannot be taught. But
in light of our nation's high rates of child abuse, neglect, and
abandonment, this myth urgently needs to be examined. After all,
one of our society's deep-seated assumptions is that teaching a
skill in school is the best way for a child to learn it. Isn't it
strange that the most important and difficult task that so many
people fact -- raising children -- goes untaught?
also question whether boys will have any interest in child-rearing
classes. It is true that by the time they reach first grade, many
boys have decided that babies are "girls' stuff." Yet
when I sat in on child-rearing classes I found that boys from a
variety of school settings, including inner city and suburban, were
every bit as interested as the girls in learning about and interacting
with babies and toddlers.
visited one elementary-school program that is built around monthly
class visits from mature parents and their child. The child's development
is watched over time and noted on a chart. By keeping workbooks,
students sharpen their powers of observations, psychological insight,
students talk with the parents, they gain a deeper appreciation
of child-rearing. They might hear a baby's parents explain, "We
haven't slept through he night since she was born because she has
to be fed every three hours," or "We haven't gone out
since he was born because we can't afford a baby-sitter."
goal of this program is to teach non-violent ways to discipline
children, thereby discouraging child battering. Teachers provide
students with information about the psychological and physical needs
of children at various ages.
a result, girls and boys begin to see raising a child as a demanding,
important responsibility. They become strongly inclined to delay
parenthood until they are financially and emotionally ready. Because
girls as young as age 12 are getting pregnant, it is important that
these classes be introduced no later than fifth grade, then repeated
as child development classes in high school.
startup cost of such a program is less than $100 per student, a
tiny amount compared with the cost of supporting a teenager and
her children, putting an abused child in foster care, or imprisoning
a violent criminal.
urge parents, educators, and legislators concerned with child abuse
and violent crime to work for the introduction of mandatory child-rearing
classes in all our schools.