The past year has been a sobering experience in the dark side of society. I started as a volunteer in CASA, thinking I could make a difference in the lives of underprivileged kids. A year later, one of my youths is still in a dysfunctional situation with severe psychological problems. The other has what it takes to attend an Ivy League university, but will probably end up in community college or doing odd jobs. My goals of making a real difference turned out to be pure fantasy.
If there’s one thing I’ve realized, it’s that there is only so much that one person can do from the outside. I’ve spent more time with these kids individually every week than their school teachers would, so I really doubt that they hold all the answers either. The truth is, you can only help kids if they’re willing to listen to you, and if you’re directly & heavily involved in their life.
Parents are the ones who should really be taking responsibility for their kids. They should be the ones to guide their kids & instill in them good values. And yet, so many of them aren’t up to this task. They themselves don’t know the first things about how to really raise a kid, what values to instill in them, and how to do so.
There are so many books written & studies done about all this, but a huge chunk of parents don’t know the first thing about these insights. They simply raise their kids the way they themselves were raised and the way they see their friends being raised. The same inter-generational cycles of poverty, abuse and neglect, get repeated by default.
We require people to take driving lessons before issuing them a driver’s license. We require people to buy health insurance. We require teachers to pass comprehensive certification & screening. And yet, when it comes to raising kids and shaping the future generations, parents do not face any responsibilities or requirements at all. Anyone with a working organ can have a baby and raise him in a way that will produce yet another criminal or welfare recipient 20 years down the road.
Why is that? Why do we set the bar so low for something that is so vital to our society’s health and functioning? We have laws preventing child abuse and neglect, but what about a kid who is capable of excelling but ends up as a high-school dropout because of poor parenting? Isn’t that also a sickening form of child neglect?
Parents should have legal responsibilities to their kids. Responsibilities that allow their kids to not just survive, but thrive. Let’s discuss details. Having a committee that decides who does or doesn’t get to have kids, would simply be too draconian and prone to abuse. Any policy implemented should be more in line with drivers’ license requirements and the health-insurance mandates; they should be made widely available and accessible; they should be focused towards informing & educating, not on screening.
One simple idea that uses the existing tax-system: Anyone who wants to claim tax-deductions, or use any state resources for their children, should be required to attend parenting seminars/classes. Every week, for ~2 hours, on a Saturday. These classes could even be held at the same school their children attend.
These classes can cover the ABCs of parenting – tell your kids to focus on school, not football. Praise them for effort, not talent. Corporal punishment does not work, reading does. These classes can bridge the gap between the wealth of child development knowledge that society has learnt, and the working-class parents who are not aware of all this information. These classes can make parents think about how they are raising their kids, and what they could be doing differently. They can send parents the message that they have an awesome responsibility that they need to be constantly focused on and obsessing over.
Parents would still be free to ignore all this advice and do what they feel is right. They would still be free to have as many kids as they want. But at the very least, this will serve as an informational tool and forum that will help parents to focus more on, and better raise their kids. This is certainly not a complete panacea, but if it can help the next generation’s development even moderately, the long term societal benefits are huge.