The Children’s Bureau paints this picture: “Maybe it’s a resource parent whom a foster child bonds with over their mutual love for beautifully illustrated fairy tales… It could be an older mentor, who takes them out to the basketball court every morning so they can shoot hoops and experience their own growth and development…”
Community members invest in kids every day. Maybe for you, it’s a neighbor who comes over to visit and push your kids on the swing, or your favorite librarian who’s always helping your kids find the best books to read.
The relationships developed through these interactions help kids form a worldview as they learn more about others and themselves—shaping them into adults who will one day be the glue of your community.
Raising children is a community effort—with a child’s parents bearing the first and foremost responsibility of that effort. But why is it important for communities to invest in children early on?
Turns out, it’s healthy, both for the kids and the other members of the community. According to The Urban Child Institute:
- “High quality early interventions can enhance cognitive and social skills for young children exposed to early risk factors. Early investment is associated with higher levels of success, such as attending college or obtaining skilled employment.”
- “Early childhood programs [are] necessary for communities to become globally competitive, improve health and education outcomes, and reduce crime and poverty.”
But community interaction isn’t limited to one-on-one relationships.
Investing heavily in your community’s youngest members, the public school is probably the largest force in your area contributing to raising your kids.
A question of primary responsibility
Teachers, coaches, counselors, and other school personnel have a front-row opportunity to impact your kids in great ways. There’s no ignoring that fact.
It’s organic and moral for these employees to care about and care for your children while they’re at school. Most teachers have a genuine heart to act in loco parentis while teaching your kids math or reading. Overall, that’s a good thing that should be recognized and praised.
But have parents given too many of their basic responsibilities over to the school system? In other words, have we begun to rely on schools to raise our kids for us?
Public schools offer a wide variety of services for children. Aside from teaching them academic material, schools
- Feed kids
- Offer advanced healthcare services and counseling
- Provide school supplies for students
Just to name a few.
“But wait a minute!” you might say. “What about poor and needy kids? Don’t you want them to be fed? What about kids who are abused at home? Don’t you want them to be rescued?”
Yes, without a doubt! There should always be school staff trained to identify and care for kids in situations of poverty, hunger, or abuse.
But why do these conditions exist in the first place? Let’s look at another side of this discussion to find out:
Why does the school have so much responsibility to care for students?
Les Daenzer has dedicated his life to teaching, with decades spent serving rural Alaskan communities. But interestingly enough, in an interview with NWEF, he confessed, “I wouldn’t consider [teaching] a fun job anymore as I did when I started. There’s a lot of demands that are put on a teacher…and the classroom has become too much—I feel—the home.”
Why have school services grown to meet more of students’ basic needs? Here’s one big reason:
“Think about school curriculum in general. What don’t we teach kids to do? We don’t teach them to be a parent. You realize, we don’t teach kids how to be a responsible parent and what parenting looks like. If anything, a lot of those programs have been cut out,” says lifelong educator Jack Appleby in his interview with NWEF.
If parents aren’t prepared to raise their kids, then who is going to step in?
The line between “where a parent’s role ends and the role of the school begins,” as Australian Christian College puts it, has become blurry. Several generations were left in that wake, venturing out into a world where they weren’t really sure how “adulting” worked.
A Vicious Cycle
“One of the most difficult and important skills in life that students may need often goes untaught. That skill is rearing children, and while we have to pass a test to drive a car or to work in certain fields, many become parents with little or no preparation,” says SeattlePi.
How can we break the cycle?
Let’s revisit our earlier question about needy kids who are helped by school services—what about kids who are abused at home?—from a different angle.
There might be a new way to rescue kids from these situations. “In many cases of violence, neglect or otherwise bad parenting, the victims are part of a cycle. Much of what we know about raising kids probably comes from our own experience as children, perhaps watching our parents discipline our siblings or being disciplined ourselves.”
It would be ideal for parents to teach their own children how to parent, but for those (children and adults alike) caught in this cycle of unhealthy parenting practices, there has to be outside intervention. And we can’t only band-aid it by providing services for kids in these situations—but by raising those kids to be different and break the cycle themselves.
For instance, Love to Know advocates for “[s]chool-based parenting classes [that] can help prevent future child abuse because they help future parents gain crucial skills and understanding of child development.”
And this concept doesn’t only apply to the issue of child abuse. If schools began thoughtfully incorporating classes to give students a better foundation for adulthood and parenthood, we would be one step closer to breaking the cycle and building a generation of parents who could essentially take back parenthood.
Where to begin
Love to Know suggests this list of crucial parenting skills. Parenting isn’t limited to interacting with children—it is a far-reaching, heavily integrated practice influenced by an adult’s ability to carry out other basic responsibilities, such as:
- “Domestic skills like cooking and cleaning that will help teens later on in life
- Growth and development of a child, and learning how to handle each stage as the child grows
- How to obtain child support and government help for single parents
- Learning how to change diapers, bathe infants and young children, and other things that are important to know as a parent
- Mastering self-control and focus to avoid losing one’s temper when dealing with a demanding child
- Learning how to do fun projects that children will enjoy, such as arts and crafts or building projects”
Taking Back Parenthood
Are you a parent? Are you worried that the school is taking too much responsibility to care for your child? Do you want to equip your child for adulthood and eventual parenthood but aren’t sure where to start?
First, remember to simply be present: “It’s important to remember that parents are crucial partners in educating their children. Research has proven that children do better, stay in school longer, and are more engaged with their schoolwork when schools and families work together.”
Second, find ways to be engaged. Remember that “[b]eing involved in your child’s education doesn’t mean being by their side during class, but rather, participating in and supporting them along their journey from one grade to the next,” says Very Well Family. “Involved parents take on a partnership role with their child’s school, rather than viewing the school as being an independent authority in charge of educating children.”
Thirdly, search for resources that can help you become a better parent. You can take classes, find organizations, or attend meetings that will help meet your needs so you can in turn meet your child’s needs more fully. You’ll probably be surprised by what you can find!
The Noah Webster Educational Foundation is here to help you! We want to encourage parental engagement and collaboration to improve education in America. Visit our website and blog to find resources and tips to help you get involved!