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Correspondence: How do you define successful parenting?
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Correspondence: How do you define successful parenting?

‘Is it fair to blame the parents of young people who get mixed up in gangs and criminal behaviour?’ asks Sonia Quamina, a 25-year-old from Arima, a town in Trinidad and Tobago.

The poll in the local Trinidad and Tobago Guardian newspaper, dated 2 April 2011, asked the question, “Should the parents of gang members be penalized?”

In my life I have not been unfortunate enough to have had any direct connection to a gang member or their parent, nor have I had any connection to anyone affected by gang violence. I am therefore unsure how to reply to this poll.

I am however, not at all averse to examining either side of the argument. Understandably, from many a parent’s perspective, there are no guidelines to raising a child. The baby comes but the handbook is missing every time without fail.

Secondly, how much blame should be placed on a parent for the actions of their child? After all, you make the child but you don’t make up their minds and how can anyone be expected to be there with their child with every step they take?You are the one that has to provide for them, that is an impossible request. What would be the charge of raising a gang member anyway: “raising a deviant?” “Birthing a criminal?” or “contributing to gang growth?”

What is parenting and who does it?

Parenting, in summation, is the process of promoting and supporting the physical, emotional, social, and intellectual development of a child from infancy to adulthood. It refers, very simply, to a complex whole of parental activities and behaviors that influence how children are raised.

This to me suggests that one does not have to be biologically connected to a child to have parented him or her. As such, who do we blame for what we perceive as ill parenting of a child? And how many parents does a child really have?

What immediately comes to mind is the old adage: “it takes a village to raise a child.”Aside from the children who because of life’s circumstances have been separated from their biological parents, do the rest of us really only have our egg and sperm donors to guide our upbringing?

I believe that for most of us the answer is a resounding no. On any given day of the week most children are sent to school where they are met with teachers; these teachers are expected to guide them as the day goes by not only making sure that they learn something from books, but to keep them in some sort of order as far as some behaviors are concerned.

On weekends a child may go to church where the pastor, priests and other ‘responsible’ adults are expected to aid in the upbringing of the child spiritually and otherwise. Would we be suggesting that these expectations are unfair? Should roles be set out in stone for each and every individual that comes into contact with our child?

What about when children are sent off to camp? Should the adults at the camp for the time that they are there simply have fun and not guide or counsel the child? If they do are they not involved in contributing to the raising of the child? Should they be charged too if the child becomes a member of a gang? I don’t see how it can ever be fair to say that a child is raised solely by the vehicles that brought them to earth. I can see however, that many individuals are trusted with parenting a child at one time or another be it there biological child or someone else’s.

How do you define successful parenting?

I imagine that successful parenting differs based on how one defines success and varies from person to person. My aunt told me that she is a successful parent because none of her children were ever in jail and all have jobs. My neighbor said that he was a good father because his children are well mannered and attend good schools. My own mother declined to answer this question for whatever reason.

I read on an online parenting blog that one Paulahenry1 defines successful parenting as being evident by the child. She/he claims that a positive answer to the following questions would be a clear sign that one is a successful parent; is my child self-confident? Can they express themselves without fear? Do they know unconditional love? Are they happy?

My question then would be, are there then no self confident, fearlessly articulate, unconditionally loved gang members? What would we do if we found one? What about how all the other individuals defined successful parenting, are they then suggesting that there are no gang members that have a day job or ever went to “good schools”?

I suspect that they would be easy to pick up on had this been the rule we use to measure them by.

If not you, then who?

If we aren’t blaming the biological parents for the mess then who do we blame? My suggestion would be that all caregivers, adults, teachers, neighbours, shopkeepers and dog walkers take a long look in the mirror. The argument can be made that at the end of the day the onus is on the biological parents to correct the child and guide them in the right way.

However, do those who make that argument take into consideration that fact that a parent is not the only influence that a child may have? The Biblical quote from Proverbs 22:6,“Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it,” seems to be strongly used by advocates for blaming of the biological parents. But my question is, who does the training?

Won’t the children of today affect all of us in one way or another later? They will be the leaders, doctors, sanitation workers, clerks and the criminals of tomorrow, so isn’t it in all of our best interest to raise them well?

What about the parents that know?

Can the parents that know that their children are involved in gang activity be charged flat out? Would those parents be charged with not fixing their child? Not reporting their child? What about those parents that know and have tried all that they could? Who defines trying? Who wrote the no fault book to the solutions? And what about the parents that don’t know, can they be charged with not paying attention? Sleeping on the job? I am not saying that parents are not at all to blame for what goes on with a child but can they really be there at all times?

In conclusion, I have more questions than answers. Successful parenting seems to be individually measured and it is in our best interests to correct and guide a child if we can, in the best way we can. So, should the parents of gang members be penalized? What would be the charge?
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Note: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth Youth Programme. All articles are published in a spirit of improving dialogue, respect and understanding. If you disagree, why not submit a response?

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