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Dana McDermott, Ph.D. (2002)
School for New Learning, DePaul University

This is taken from a draft of a publication in preparation by D. McDermott entitled "Parenting education from k-12: Theoretical and empirical background and support." Portions of this material were prepared with support from New York State toward implementation of the parenting education requirement for high school graduation. It will be useful for many projects that call for theoretical framework and resources. This document may be duplicated for educational or advocacy purposes with acknowledgement of authorship.

References are listed at www.preparetomorrowsparents.org/references.html

The need for parenting education in middle and high schools

In the past decade there has been an increasing call from educators, and most especially from child abuse and neglect interventionists, for parenting education before a person becomes a parent. As New York State answers this call, we cite support and a rationale for this important initiative.

Reppucci, (1997) explains that: “The ideology behind parent education classes geared toward youth (sometimes referred to as family life education) is that educating school-age children and adolescents about child-rearing roles and responsibilities prior to parenthood decreases the risk of child maltreatment by these children as adults (Wekerle & Wolfe, 1993). In other words, it is a model for primary prevention” (Bartz, 1980). The author draws upon The National Children’s Bureau description of parent education as a “continuous process, starting with birth and early childhood and going through school days, adolescence and committed relationships, pregnancy and parenthood itself with education tailored appropriately to developmental tasks” (quoted in O’Connor, 1990, p. 85). Often programs are “reality based, offering experiential learning with infants and small children in on or off-site child- care centers (Luster & Youatt, 1989). They sometimes are incorporated into existing classes, such as personal and social education, moral education, home economics, and a variety of primary school classes” (pp.10-11).

In the conclusions of “Child Neglect: A guide for intervention” (1993b) Gaudin, suggests: “Schools are in a key position to offer preparation for parenting and life skills development beginning with very young children in kindergarten through critical preteen and teenage years and for young adult parents through extended hour programs. Curricula should include child development and child care skills, interpersonal skills, problem- solving and decision- making skills, budgeting, health maintenance/physical fitness, and identity enhancement skills (Gazda. 1989;1991). Development of these critical life skills would do much to prevent neglect in the current and next generation of parents” (p. 63).

Over a decade ago O’Connor (1990) wrote this: “Education for Parenthood has for many years been a neglected, low status area of school curricula, despite a professed belief in the family as a stabilizing influence on society” (p. 86). After completing a survey of high school teachers regarding the status and priority of parenthood education in their schools, O’Connor noted: “I concluded it was unhelpful to be prescriptive about the content and context of courses. For example, they can and do occur in a number of forms and places. These include, Personal and Social Education, Moral Education, G.C.S.E., examined courses within Home Economics, and a variety of topic work in primary schools. However, whilst it is sensible to avoid being prescriptive about where they occur, or how they are labeled, there are certain principles, which should inform the rationale and method of such courses. Any such courses should aim to explore the student’s own perceptions and attitudes about parenting and child- care (p.86).

Prout and Prendergast (1985-cited in O’Connor, p. 86) reported: “Our research, especially our conversations with pupils, has convinced us that the assertion that young people do bring a rich knowledge about childcare, the family and parenthood to school with them is empirically true.” O’Connor notes that “they argue that this area of education needs to move away from the ‘medical model’ of accepted ‘legitimate’ knowledge to one based on feelings and attitudes, the affective domain. This obviously has great implications for teaching methods and in-service education-for a didactic, ‘expert’ approach would be quite inappropriate in this context, whereas a supportive ‘group work’ one would be (p.86).

Finally, O’Connor advises that “Whether they (courses) use an integrated or separate approach, should be decided on a ‘whole school’ basis. The crucial point is that all pupils should partake in them and that they should be taught by teachers of both sexes-who are convinced of their necessity” (p. 88).

Tomison (1997) cites programs “in New South Wales that have been developed to assist children to become better citizens, predominantly under the personal development, health and physical education key learning area. These include the teaching of conflict resolution skills and the National Health Promoting Schools Strategy, which aims to develop interpersonal relationship skills. … Under this approach, education is strongly involved in preparing young people to function in society, rather than working to educate on a purely academic agenda (Tomison, 1996a)” (p.40).

Tomison (1998) described The Starting Out Project, Burnside New South Wales’ whose “purpose is to prevent abuse by educating young people about child development and the impact of abuse on children. The project assists young people prepare for the demands of parenting before they become parents. It enables them to reflect on the way they were parented and to begin to think about how they want to parent. It creates the possibility for breaking cycles of negative parenting and reinforcing more constructive and nurturing forms of parenting. Acknowledging the importance of adequate social support, the program includes networking activities where students role-play being parents and seeking assistance. In this way the program attempts to familiarize students with available supports in the hope that they will be more likely to use them in the future” (pp. 13-14).

In their important work on primary prevention Wekerle & Wolfe (1993) recommend: “An alternative approach to targeting subjects with specific risk-indicators would be to use more general indicators, such as first time parenthood, or to offer intervention on a truly community-wide basis to all potential and present parents. The logic of this approach is that presumably there is no ceiling to developing personal and relational competency. It is good if prevention programs are not stigmatized by an ‘at risk’ label” (p. 534).

Wolfe (1993) tells us how we should proceed: “ On a more primary level prevention services for youth populations could integrate educational concepts (e.g. attitudes and knowledge issues affecting healthy versus violent relationships) with practical skills aimed at non-controlling conflict resolution. Such efforts have been undertaken recently by School Boards (e.g. Jaffe et al., 1992) and by protective service agencies … following from the belief that this age group offers a unique window of opportunity to challenge existing beliefs and attitudes concerning the use of power and aggression towards others. Accordingly, educationally focused prevention programs targeted to low- and high-risk adolescents merit development and evaluation in schools, communities and service agencies, on such topics as control and power in relationships, sexual and physical violence and family and childrearing values” (p. 107).

Students as ideal candidates for parenting preparation

While a past educator (deLissovoy, 1978) felt students might not be interested in parenting, he nevertheless saw many pre-parenting skills such as issues of the self, interpersonal relationships skills, and values identification as interesting to students. We include below a more current rationale for teaching adolescents this material.

Simpson (2001) delineates the developmental tasks of teens. In her excellent summary of theory and research, we see that much of the work of adolescence makes these students good candidates for preparation for parenthood. She describes this as a time rich for introspection and reflection…very important to parenting. Students are even better able to put themselves in another’s shoes. Students are also able to become better decision- makers and problem- solvers and with abstract thinking are able to imagine solutions that have not concretely seen or experienced. Students are better able to plan and think about goals. Students are also more able to think about other’s intentions and emotional states (p. 31).

Wekrele and Wolfe (1998-as cited in Trickett & Schellenbach) reinforce this belief: “Adolescence marks the stage when primary affective ties are being moved from the family to the peer network and romantic partnerships. In parallel, adolescents’ increased capacity for abstract thought and their motivation to achieve an autonomous identity propel them toward exploration of self within the relational domain, including such psychological processes as heightened social comparison and self-reflection (Crockett & Petersen, 1993)…. In adolescence, specific relationship goals such an intimacy, companionship, nurturance, and assistance have the opportunity to be fulfilled by the adolescents’ exploration of peer-ships and partnerships (Furman & Buhrmeister, 1985, 1992). Also important, relationship skills are being acquired, reinforced, and refined, including methods of handling interpersonal conflict” (pp. 353-354).

Tomison (1997) also discusses adolescent learning readiness: “One possible solution advocated by Conte and Fogarty (1990) is based on the premise that many of the different health/life skills programs share some basic goals: the encouragement of independent thinking; the resistance of peer pressure; the development of decision making; assertiveness and effective communication skills. Conte & Fogarty (1990) perceive some benefit in developing a general prevention curriculum primarily promoting mental health and empowering individuals, but with a secondary focus on applying the generic skills to specific problems and situations” (pp.58-59).



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