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Parenting Education Addresses Child Abuse and Neglect

Widescale, early parenting education is long overdue in our schools and the need becomes more compelling each year. While the nation's overall crime rate fell 22 percent from 1993 to 1997, reports of child abuse and neglect grew by 8 percent and confirmed cases by 4 percent. America's child abuse and neglect statistics published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, in Third National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect and Child Maltreatment 1997: Reports from the States, and by Prevent Child Abuse America, continue to indicate a tragically escalating situation:

  • 3 million cases of abuse and neglect were reported in 1997, representing 42 of every 1,000 American children, more than double the reports in 1986; 1 million of these charges were "substantiated."
  • Two thousand children are estimated to be killed by maltreatment each year by the U.S. Advisory Board on Child Abuse and Neglect, with 18,000 children permanently disabled and 570,000 seriously injured.
  • Approximately three children died each day in the U.S. from abuse or neglect in 1997. Since 1985, the rate of child abuse fatalities has increased by 34 percent.
  • Of proven cases only, for every 1,000 American children, 8 were neglected; 4 were physically abused; and 2 were sexually abused.
  • The actual incidence is estimated to be three times the numbers reported. 75 percent of 1997 child victims were abused or neglected by their parents, and 10 percent by other relatives.

Their helplessness and the intensity of their required care and its inherent stresses to make our youngest the most vulnerable to maltreatment:

  • Infants under one year continue to have the highest incidence of abuse and neglect.
  • Children ages 3 and under accounted for more than a fourth of 1997 abuse and neglect victims, and for more than three-fourths of all fatalities.
  • The majority of all abuse and neglect victims are ages 7 and younger.
  • For children under age four, deaths from abuse and neglect now outnumber those from accidents.

In Current Trends in Child Abuse Reporting and Fatalities, the National Committee to Prevent Child Abuse (NCPCA) Annual Fifty State Survey has continued through 1998 to find "issues of parental capacity and skills" second only to substance abuse as the most reported contributor to "likelihood for engaging in abusive behavior." State liaisons indicated that families reported for child maltreatment "frequently lack specific parenting skills due either to various mental health problems, poor understanding of a child's normal developmental path or young maternal age." NCPCA holds that "identifying these problems is a first step toward prevention."

There is a clear relationship between lack of knowledge of child health and development, unrealistic expectations of young children and harsh discipline methods. Why not begin to address the need for Parenting Education earlier, when all young people can be reached in school at an age when their attitudes and expectations are in formation? Schools already identify 59% of the cases of child maltreatment in the U.S. They, and other youth-serving entities, can also be powerful proactive agents in widescale intergenerational prevention.

Parenting Education Addresses Cycles of Violence
The generational pattern of child maltreatment and violence is quite clear: violence begets violence. Seventy-five percent of child victims are abused or neglected by their parents and ten percent by other relatives. Although the much publicized FBI Crime Reports continue to show declining violent crimes, by a significant margin, U.S. youth commit more violent crime than their peers in any comparable industrialized nation. , it still reports one-third more violent youth crimes in 1996 than in 1987. Children and youth continue to account for tragically high proportions of both perpetrators (and victims) of all violent crimes, the U.S. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention reports. This situation holds alarming potential for a more violent society as these youth become the adults and parents of the next generation.

  • Youth under 18 are involved in a fourth of serious violent crimes in the U.S., but represent only 14 percent of the population.
  • In the 1990s, youth were involved in 42% of murders with more than one perpetrator.
  • Juvenile arrests for murder more than tripled from 1985 to 1995.
  • Between 1985 and 1994, violent crimes committed by juveniles increased by 70%, almost entirely in gun crimes. Juvenile weapons violations rose 103% in that period.
  • The violent crimes arrest rate for females nearly doubled from 1981 to 1998.
  • In the most recent Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 17 percent of high school students (including 29% of male students) indicated carrying a weapon on more than one day in the 30 days prior to being surveyed; 5 percent (9 percent of males) reported carrying a gun.
  • 36 percent of high school students (44 percent of males) had been in a physical fight more than once during the 12 months preceding the survey.
  • 13 percent of female students had been forced to have sexual intercourse in the 12 months prior to the survey.

States are now wrestling with the problem of finding appropriate incarceration and treatment for preteens and even younger children convicted of murder and other violent crimes. They are among tomorrow's parents. The very recent decreases in juvenile violent crimes must be viewed as impetus to increase programs such as parenting education that can make a difference, rather than an excuse to avoid services.

Child abuse and neglect increase the odds of future delinquency and criminality by 40 percent in findings by the National Institute of Justice. Abuse and neglect has many other severe short and long-term effects including drops in IQ and learning disabilities, depression and suicide, and alcohol and drug use, according to The National Clearinghouse on Child Abuse and Neglect Information. The U.S. Advisory Board on Child Abuse and Neglect has concluded that, since family histories of incarcerated juveniles revealed that seventy-five percent of those who had committed the most violent offenses had suffered serious abuse by a family member, reducing crime and other social pathologies depends on creating and maintaining safe, healthy early-life environments.

Parenting education offers a vital means of addressing these tragic and rapidly escalating problems. Too few of our children are being prepared to care for themselves or to effectively care for the next generation. Many abusive and neglectful parents are unaware of normal child development. Because they do not recognize age-appropriate behavior, they often punish inappropriately. Most people parent the way they were parented, causing child abuse, neglect and violent behavior to be passed from one generation to the next in a "cycle of violence."

Further fortifying the cycle of violence, the typical U.S. child witnesses 8,000 murders on television by the time he or she leaves eighth grade. In prime time, there are 5 to 6 violent acts per hour; there are 20 to 25 per hour on Saturday morning children's programs. The rate of violence on videocassettes far exceeds that on commercial television. Both short and long-term effects of violence in the media on susceptible children, particularly boys, are well documented with regard to increased acceptance of aggressive attitudes and increased aggressive behaviors. Parenting education provides role models and builds empathy and critical thinking and relationship skills that can counter this harmful influence.

Parenting Education Addresses Teen Pregnancy
Teen pregnancy, despite the slightly reduced rates of recent years, continues to represent another national epidemic. Its severe developmental and economic costs to young mothers, their children and future generations of their family, and to society as a whole are well documented.

  • Over half a million U.S. teens give birth each year; 83% are poor or of low-income.
  • Each year, 11% of all U.S. teens aged 15-19 and 20% of those who are sexually active become pregnant.
  • Our country leads the developed world with twice the teen pregnancies of England and Canada, and nine times those of The Netherlands and Japan.
  • 76% of births to teens occur outside of marriage.
  • One-fourth of teenage mothers have a second child within two years of their first.

Teen childbearing is widely regarded as a root cause of some of our country's most difficult problems - poverty and welfare dependency, child abuse and other crime, physical and developmental disabilities, drug abuse and homelessness. Untold personal and family suffering, and $29 billion per year in public spending on direct and social costs of teen pregnancy might potentially be avoided.

  • 80% of teen mothers will live in poverty and rely on welfare, many for their children's critically important developmental years; few get any support from their babies' fathers.
  • Teen mothers are 50% less likely to graduate from high school.
  • Teen fathers are also less likely to finish high school, and also earn significantly less later in life.
  • Teen mothers eventually have 24% more children but are 50% less likely to marry.
  • Compared with women who delayed first births only until 20 or 21, teen mothers have 50% more low birth weight babies, dramatically raising infant deaths, blindness and deafness, chronic respiratory problems and cerebral palsy, retardation and mental illness, and later dyslexia, hyperactivity, other learning disabilities.
  • Children of teen mothers have poorer health yet receive only half the level of medical care of other children.
  • Children of teen mothers are more than twice as likely to be victims of abuse or neglect and to go into foster care.
  • Daughters of teen mothers are 83% more likely to have a baby before age 18.
  • Sons of teen mothers are almost 3 times as likely to land in prison.
  • Children of teen mothers are more likely to grow up without critically needed emotional support and cognitive stimulation, resulting in lasting disadvantages.
  • Children of teen mothers have lower cognitive development, repeat twice as many grades, and drop out of high school far more often.
    (sources: Alan Guttmacher Institute and Robin Hood Foundation)

Through parenting education, girls and boys can begin to look at having and caring for a child as one of the most important and demanding responsibilities a person can have. They can understand the emotional maturity and financial readiness that are required, and the advantages of postponing parenthood. By teaching the rigors and responsibilities as well as the joys of parenting, and by building critical thinking and problem solving skills, parenting education gives young people the tools to make informed, realistic life decisions.

Parenting Education Addresses the Critical Need for Empathy
The emphasis parenting education places on developing and practicing empathy for other human beings, teaching non-violent communication, caregiving, problem-solving and other relationship skills provides a unique "hands-on" opportunity to break into cycles of child abuse, neglect and collective societal violence.

As the Director of the Texas Office Delinquency Prevention put it, ". . . we understand that a child who is not nurtured is a child who never learns to trust, never develops empathy, never accepts responsibility for his behavior, and hurts others with impunity."

As Prepare Tomorrow’s Parents' founding board member Dr. Myriam Miedzian explores fully in her book, Boys Will Be Boys; Breaking the Link Between Masculinity and Violence, recent psychological research from different theoretical perspectives implicates empathy as a most essential element both in promoting altruistic behavior and in decreasing violence. The lack of empathy for other human beings characteristic of the increasing numbers of juveniles who commit violent and sometimes heinous crimes compels Prepare Tomorrow’s Parents' intervention.

Dr. Miedzian concluded that "human beings, male and female, have a significant potential for empathy and altruism. . . ." and that "... we can, if we want to, decrease violence," by applying the findings of social science research to prevention programs. Recent studies have shown that shortly after one year of age, virtually all children begin to have some level of understanding of other people's experiences and attempt to help or comfort someone in distress. As children age, their empathic and altruistic behavior varies; the strength and endurance of these characteristics is linked to the levels of active nurturing and direct sensitization and training they experience from their fathers and mothers.

From the moment a child is born, parents and caregivers must respond quickly to an infant's cries and consistently satisfy its needs to foster the development of empathy. This responsiveness enabling the baby to return to a sense of calm well-being consistently, allows for the development of love, trust and a conscience through attachment to the caregiver. Later, caregivers and teachers can further the development of empathy through helping a child label his or her own emotions and talk about ways to learn from and handle them, as well as sensitizing a child to the emotions of others.

Both boys and girls will benefit from being taught to be nurturing, helpful and sensitive to the feelings of others, but boys must be particularly encouraged to think of themselves as capable future parents. Boys are tragically vulnerable to failing to acquire the capacity for empathy, at the great personal and societal costs of their increased violent behavior. Most obviously, in many homes sensitivity is covertly if not overtly discouraged among sons, with a concomitant rise in aggressive conduct; this is strongly reinforced in the media and other public domains of boys' lives.

In addition, lack of access to empathic male caregiving has shown to be particularly associated with greater violent behavior among boys. In an alarmingly increasing number of families, a male parent is absent, much less a sensitive and nurturing childrearing presence. Because boys who engage in childcare activities are known to exhibit less aggressive and more pro-social behavior, the early experiential education advocated by Prepare Tomorrow’s Parents can interrupt this cycle.

While developing empathy is a key component of parenting education programs for young people, the critical role of schools in building empathy is highlighted by the title of the "Roots of Empathy," program, which begins even before kindergarten. Founded in the Toronto District School Board, this program is expanding to school sites throughout Canada and internationally. The program is rooted in the understanding that when levels of empathy increase, levels of aggression decrease.

Parenting Education Addresses the Need for Early Sensitive Care
The importance of parents providing for very early cognitive stimulation and physical activity to enable their children to reach their intellectual potential may seem well-publicized in recent times, but not everyone has access to this critical information, yet. Because of the power of learning and development that take place in the critical infancy period, this information must become available to and accepted by all. Children who are seldom touched or who don't play much develop brains 20 to 30% smaller than normal for children their age. More neural connections are created in the baby's brain as a result of sensory experiences in the first year than at any other time in the human lifespan.

Zero to Three: National Center for Infants, Toddlers and Families sees educating young people as a key strategy in disseminating this information, "All students in elementary, middle and high school should learn about the stages of infant development and the effects on infants of differing kinds of caregiver behavior... Conveying those messages in elementary, secondary and high schools has the added benefit that future fathers as well as mothers will be exposed to them."

Nutrition and stimulation are not all that are needed. Research, according to Zero to Three and others, has also determined that essential relationships, particularly with parents, in the first years of children's lives have the greatest influence on their emotional development and, as a result, on their later success.

Consistent, early sensitive care provides the critical foundation for development of empathy, persistence and self-motivation, and the ability to cope with stress and strong feelings that have been found to greatly determine success in adolescent and adult life. It also serves to temper the results of later childhood traumas and upheavals. These key early experiences have dramatic and unique impact children's psychological and actual neurological development. In addition, children learn to initiate and maintain relationships through aggressive or cooperative behaviors from their early family interactions. Expectations of and ways of relating to people, both positive and negative, formed during early life greatly determine the responses children elicit and underlie their future relationships, becoming increasingly difficult to change over time.

Although parents generally know they are an important influence on their children's development, surveys have shown that they do not necessarily understand how their ongoing interactions affect the development and learning of their babies and toddlers. Of particular concern, although parents believe their greatest influence is on emotional development, they also feel they have the least information and confidence in the critical emotional and social areas. Some parents have difficulty in providing emotionally sensitive care because of their own early experiences.

Research has shown that as many as 30% of children from all social groups, and even more among those living in poverty, are at risk for later problems because of emotionally inadequate care. Much evidence about the specific poor developmental outcomes resulting from lack of early sensitive care results from a Mother-Child Study (Egeland and Sroufe) that has tracked children primarily of single, frequently adolescent, uneducated mothers for 19 years from prenatal period to early adulthood. Children who have not received sensitive care in their earliest years have been found to be at significantly higher risk for: difficulties forming peer relationships as preschoolers and young teens; lower school achievement, especially in adolescence; requiring special education (72% were placed by 3rd grade); increased behavior problems; and teen drug and alcohol use.

Parenting Education for school age children and teens addresses these concerns in several ways before young people become parents by working to interrupt the cycle of poor parenting. Parenting Education not only teaches information and skills needed for effective parenting, but also provides impetus for critical self-reflection. Parenting Education in the classroom or youth program also fosters a supportive environment and builds sensitivity and skills among teachers to enable children to develop empathy, responsiveness, positive expectations and relationship skills that can offset less than optimal home situations. The parent involvement components of recommended curricula can educate and sensitize students' parents, as well.

Parenting Education Addresses Mental Health
Mental health is also strongly impacted by parenting practices, and the rates of mental health problems in young people have been rising alarmingly. The National Institute of Mental Health indicates one in seven children experiences mental illness, and many adult mental health problems are rooted in poor parenting. Psychosocial problems were found in 6.8 percent of children visiting pediatricians or family doctors in 1979, jumping to 18.7 percent in 1996, according to a study published in Pediatrics in 2000. Suicide is now the second leading cause of death among 5 to 19 year olds; the rate has tripled since 1960. The most recent Youth Risk Behavior Survey found that more than a fourth of high school students (and more than a third of female students) indicated symptoms of depression, nearly a fifth (including one fourth of females) had considered attempting suicide, and 8 percent (11 percent of females) had attempted suicide in the 12 months prior to the survey. Widescale parenting education for young people can enable more mentally healthy future generations by interrupting family cycles to PREVENT poor parenting practices BEFORE they begin.

While all of the programs endorsed on Prepare Tomorrow’s Parents' Curricula page address mental health needs, Childbuilders and the Houston Independent School District created their widely implemented PreK-12 curriculum, Parents Under Construction™ specifically toward this goal. Much of this section draws from their literature.

Far more prevalent than the glaring examples of child abuse and neglect, teen pregnancies, and paternal uninvolvement are the subtler versions of poor parenting. Characterized by the lacks of nurturing, respect, guidance, appropriate discipline, and failure to meet the needs of children as individuals, these common family situations also have negative effects on lifetime mental health.

While some serious mental illnesses now appear to be biological in nature, many clearly are not. The lack of healthy parenting practices is implicated in mental health problems that may become manifest in low self-esteem, depression, addictions, violence to self and others, teen pregnancies, school problems and gang involvement. Healthy parenting also has particularly critical impact for the mental health of children who are biologically predisposed to mental illness or who have other special needs or difficult family situations such as divorce, death, poverty, etc.

Most children who are nurtured and guided properly and who are disciplined positively develop a healthy identity, self-esteem, knowledge of and respect for limits, a moral code to live by, and the ability to make wise choices. They become well prepared to be productive in their adult roles as workers, community members and parents. As Childbuilders puts it, "The bottom line: People who feel good about themselves do not have a need to hurt themselves or others."

Far too often, children do not receive the critical combination of healthy parenting elements. They may be loved but given no limits, emotionally abused or neglected, spanked for "misdeeds" within expectations beyond their developmental capacity, disciplined harshly or not at all, routinely shamed or belittled for ordinary childhood behavior, etc.

While many deprived of nurturing and positive guidance will be able to struggle to achieve and maintain mental health as young people and as adults, too frequently they try to numb their hurt and feelings of rejection and low self-worth with alcohol or drugs. Others seek the affection and approval they have missed through sexual behavior, having a baby who will love them, or becoming involved in gangs. Still others temporarily alleviate their feelings of rage by inflicting their pain on others through violence or abuse; some have not had adequate opportunities to develop empathy to temper their actions against others, and are unable to accept responsibility for these behaviors. And others use self-abuse like cutting for temporary relief. Finally, some (including a tragically growing number of teens and younger children) feel they must end their pain permanently, attempting and often succeeding in committing suicide.

Childbuilders concludes, "Whatever the choice, these individuals hurt not only themselves but also their loved ones, society at large, and, most unfortunately, their children." As each generation learns to parent from their own observation and experience, these children go on to unintentionally hurt their own children, perpetuating family cycles of inadequate childrearing knowledge, skills and nurturing that lead to avoidable mental health problems.

While some parents do find their way to a parenting class or counselor for help, our overwhelming societal ramifications of poor parenting practices require large scale prevention programming. In addition, it is essential to develop awareness, knowledge and skills in young people early enough to shape attitudes, expectations and behaviors in formation. Parents Under Construction has found that the younger the child, the more extensive are the changes that result from their curriculum.

Parenting Education Addresses the Need for Paternal Involvement
The strong links between the growing absence of fathers in children's lives to all of the social, family and personal problems noted on this page, including child abuse, youth violence, teen pregnancy, latchkey children and mental health, highlight the critical need for nurturing, parenting and relationship skills education for all our young people.

In the words of Cornell professor Urie Bronfenbrenner, one of the most eminent developmental psychologists of our time, "Controlling for factors such as low income, children growing up in [father absent] households are at a greater risk for experiencing a variety of behavioral and educational problems, including extremes of hyperactivity and withdrawal; lack of attentiveness in the classroom; difficulty in deferring gratification; impaired academic achievement; school misbehavior; absenteeism; dropping out; involvement in socially alienated peer groups, and the so-called 'teenage syndrome' of behaviors that tend to hang together -- smoking, drinking, early and frequent sexual experience, and in the more extreme cases, drugs, suicide, vandalism, violence, and criminal acts."

According to over 72% of a U.S. sample polled by Gallup in 1999, fatherlessness is the most significant family or social problem facing America. The number of very recently highly publicized out-of wedlock-births fathered, by professional athlete "heroes" but frequently not cared for or only reluctantly acknowledged or financially supported, has brought the situation to "icon" status.

Yet, many studies confirm that the more fathers are involved with their children, the better the children do psychologically, socially, and intellectually. Increased paternal involvement and warmth have been positively associated with a child's: cognitive and intellectual development; academic achievement; ability to empathize; mental health; self esteem; self control; and competency at problem-solving tasks. Lack of paternal involvement, on the other hand, is associated with increased rates of: child abuse and neglect; delinquency, future violent and criminal behaviors, and incarceration; teen pregnancy; failing in or dropping out of school; illnesses, accidents, injuries and poisonings; emotional problems; teen drug, alcohol and tobacco use, and suicides.

While the 1990s engendered a prominent national increase in fatherhood interest in many sectors, Prepare Tomorrow’s Parents recognizes this as a sensitive issue. We do not discount that single mothers and families with other adults in parental and other supportive roles can and do succeed in raising fine children. Nor do we discount the pervasive and tragic overriding effects of unemployment and poverty on father involvement -- or of the inequities of income for women and minorities on the overall lives of children and families. Further, we do not imply that men in general do not wish to be key contributors to their children's healthy, satisfying current lives and futures, or that "real" father involvement is limited to or guaranteed by presence in the home. We know from research that most fathers who live with or without their children really do care even if it is not always shown in conventional ways.

Yet, the magnitude of the situation and the potential of primary prevention to make inroads in ameliorating it make paternal involvement a key issue for Prepare Tomorrow’s Parents to address. Our goal is to see that education for parenting and nurturing is recognized and implemented as one of the emerging strategies to:

encourage young men to postpone fatherhood until they are ready for its responsibilities; (young men are highly significant in initiating sexual activity and in deciding if protection will be used)
raise the expectation among young men and women that their children will have an engaged father; (this process is best begun early in life, before the societal implications of being male or female often override the powerful human drive to
nurture that is equally present in boys and girls as toddlers) prepare young men to be present, bonded, nurturing, active, emotionally connected and effective from the beginning of the lives of their children, and help facilitate their smooth developmental transition from biological father to committed parent when the time comes; and to be positive influences in the lives of children, in general
inspire young men and women to create more "father friendly" and "family friendly" institutions and culture when they come of age and enter civic life.
In Texas, the Paternity/Parenthood Program is being distributed to reach every 6th to 12th grade student. It has found that public school personnel, given the right tools, are eager to help prepare students for fatherhood. Both PAPA and Minnesota's Dads Make a Difference™ program have found that middle and high school students, especially boys, are very eager to learn about fatherhood, and that schools are well-situated to deliver a systematic curriculum.

"All children and youth must have parenting education. Schools should have a role in educating boys to be parents.... Additional curricula could be created by churches. . . and other institutions within the community," was one recommendation of the 1994 Family Re-Union III, in which nearly 1,000 people gathered from around the U.S. to explore "The Role of Men in Children's Lives."

Parenting Education Addresses Latchkey Children
The problem of "latchkey children" who must care for themselves and their younger siblings after school has resulted from the dramatic rises in single parent families and in households in which both parents work outside the home. Many children are forced into caregiving situations at early ages:

  • One in five children ages 6 to 12 are regularly left without adult supervision after school, according to a recent (2000) survey of working parents.
  • One in ten 6 to 9 year olds are regularly left unsupervised after school
  • Only one-third of 10 to 12 year olds whose parents work are regularly supervised after school. Many of these children are also responsible to care for younger siblings.
  • One-third of all complaints to child welfare agencies involve latchkey children. Children in self-care are about three times more likely than those supervised by adults to be involved in accidents.

After-school care is tragically unavailable or too costly for many families. Extended family support networks have broken down. Families have become increasingly mobile, reducing the opportunities for grandparents and aunts to serve as caretakers. This has also reduced the opportunities for children to observe and learn caregiving behaviors in their own homes.

Latchkey children need to learn about child development and to develop caregiving skills immediately. While no replacement for after-school care, Parenting Education in the schools provides these children with knowledge and skills that they must put to use immediately. Simultaneously, Parenting Education offers models of empathic, nurturing and caregiving behaviors to children whose time with their parents is limited, and counters the harmful influences of television and peers that have taken over the socialization of large numbers of children while parents are working. Where available, after-school programs provide excellent alternative settings to provide Parenting Education to children who may be among those who need it most.

Parenting Education and Our Schools and Youth Programs
Mandatory child-rearing classes in elementary and high schools can be among the most effective widescale interventions to promote caring, responsible parenting, reduce "absent fathers", help raise nonviolent children, and cut teen pregnancy rates. The changes to America's families of recent decades have made the influence of schools even more critical to children and teens. Children have lost many opportunities for caring, support and guidance from their communities and families.

Almost half of Americans change addresses every four years, disrupting traditional extended family and neighborhood support networks. 75% of women with children under 18 work outside the home, including 54% of those with children under age five. 30% of all families are now headed by single parents, most of whom hold jobs. Many parents find themselves needing to work longer and longer hours at their jobs. 50% of marriages end in divorce, and many children have little access to noncustodial fathers. These factors have severely limited parenting time and resources available to children, promoting growing up without sufficient resources for guidance and supervision at home.

In this time of crowded curricula and increasing mandatory inclusions, it is important to note that benefits of Parenting Education for children and teens are reaped long before the students become parents, themselves. Young people are able to put their new relationship and caregiving knowledge and skills to immediate use in their classrooms, families and other areas of their lives. Through evaluations, we know that parenting education programs that are available in schools can:

  • Encourage nurturing, caring and responsibility early enough to have real impact on development of both male and female children's and teens' beliefs, attitudes and behaviors;
  • Strengthen present family relationships and discourage early pregnancy by instilling respect for the enormous responsibilities of parenthood;
  • Build non-violent communication, relationship, childcare and problem-solving knowledge and skills that both boys and girls put to use immediately in their families and classrooms;
  • Develop empathy in students and enable more caring, cooperative learning environments that promote learning, through both direct teaching and modeling;
  • Capitalize on the universal attraction to babies and interest in family life, linking school to "real life" to create high-interest, motivating learning activities in all subject areas;
  • Improve social and emotional competence and classroom atmospheres, helping students to better focus on their academic tasks and resulting in increased learning;
  • Develop cognitive skills such critical thinking, planning, observing, listening, communicating, emphasizing, brainstorming options, assessing consequences of choices, and reflecting on one's actions, which promote learning in core academic areas as well as improve relationships.

Young children in some existing programs display more appropriate responses to conflict and more empathic, nurturing behaviors in their classrooms and at home. Three commissioned studies of the program impact of the model research-based curriculum for kindergarten through eighth grade, Educating Children for Parenting®, found that children exposed to the program are effectively taught and choose "significantly more positive caregiving and nurturing strategies," both in the school environment and in caregiving situations. Older youth in some existing programs report that they have become better babysitters and sibling caregivers, understand and relate to their families more effectively, and are motivated to avoid pregnancy until they are ready.

Parenting education must be included in the current School Reform agenda. Our young people must be prepared not only for "school to work," but also for the one occupation most of them will have: parenthood. With diminished funds, rising class sizes and crowded curriculum, it is important to stress that parenting education does not have to be costly or take up a lot of classroom time. The use of existing school structure, staff and volunteers makes it cost-effective. Integrating parenting education into existing subject areas as a thematic curriculum takes no extra time, while reinforcing the standing curricula. For example, budgeting and height/weight graphs may be covered in math class; child development and nutrition in science; journal writing and storytelling in language arts, and so forth.

Parenting Education components can also be an attractive and accommodating vehicle for integrating related state or district mandates or recommendations into the school curriculum. Some, in Health and Family and Consumer Sciences, mention Parenting Education explicitly, and all involve teaching topics included in Parenting Education for children and teens. In addition, Prepare Tomorrow’s Parents' recommended topics cover many areas of the education component of the Comprehensive/Coordinated School Health Program Model, now promoted by The Centers for Disease Control and American School Health Association toward optimal national health.

Conflict resolution education has become entrenched after only fifteen years; this attests to how quickly life skills curricula can be embraced by educators and how easily and inexpensively they can be incorporated into existing elementary and secondary school subjects. Character education provides another example of a recent successful innovation that recognizes the critical changing relationship of America's schools to families and society, a trend supported by seventy-five percent of parents.

Although schools hold the best opportunity to teach parenting and nurturing to all our young people, a wide variety of youth programs such as Scouts, 4-H, Boys and Girls Clubs, after-school programs, religious youth groups, etc., can serve as excellent vehicles for reaching young people in the out of school hours. Some will be able to reach youth at particular risk for cycles of abuse and neglect, violence and crime, and teen pregnancy. Parenting Education topics can overlap material to be covered in earning badges and patches, as well as in parent involvement programming.

Parenting education for our youth is a missing link in intercepting the well-documented and growing generational cycles of child abuse, neglect, and abandonment; senseless societal violence; and children having children. Schools are the only institutions capable of the widespread implementation that can enable parenting education to achieve its great potential to help ensure a safer and more humane society.

Our children need parenting education now, while their values are still forming, and we must convince our schools, other youth serving programs, and government officials to see that they get it. When we succeed, we will assure that the next generation will suffer less neglect, abuse, and abandonment and that more of tomorrow's children will have two confident, involved, and effective parents.

For more information, to share your ideas, or to learn how to become involved, please contact Prepare Tomorrow’s Parents.


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