Fix fam­i­lies in or­der to fix the kids


I’m start­ing to won­der what par­ents are for in New Zealand.

First, there was the Gov­ern­ment’s pro­vi­sion of break­fast, which sug­gest that we par­ents are not re­spon­si­ble for feed­ing our kids. The gov­ern­ment is whether or not we can af­ford it, ap­par­ently.

At the same time, we read story af­ter story on our credit card debts and ap­par­ent in­abil­ity as a na­tion to man­age our per­sonal fi­nances. Yet sug­gest­ing that bud­get­ing cour­ses for some par­ents could be of value is highly of­fen­sive and judg­men­tal.

Next, there were the pa­pers on sex­u­al­ity ed­u­ca­tion in schools which hardly men­tioned par­ents. Ap­par­ently, mum and dad are not re­spon­si­ble for teach­ing their kids about the birds and the bees any­more, the gov­ern­ment is.

At the same time, par­ents are all be­moan­ing the ac­ces­si­bil­ity of porn and im­pact of tech­nol­ogy on their kids with­out a sin­gle bit of help be­ing of­fered to them for ne­go­ti­at­ing these com­pli­cated wa­ters.

Fi­nally, this week the Prime Min­is­ter’s chief sci­ence ad­viser re­leased a dis­cus­sion pa­per on youth sui­cide in New Zealand.

It was a haunt­ing read, be­cause the stark and dev­as­tat­ing facts are laid out in un­re­lent­ing clar­ity. You sim­ply can­not read the re­port with­out gath­er­ing the strong im­pres­sion that many of the risk fac­tors are rooted in fam­ily.

Here is the list of those risk fac­tors so you can make up your own mind: So­ciode­mo­graphic fac­tors, low ed­u­ca­tional achieve­ment, bad fam­ily re­la­tion­ships, im­pul­sive­ness, an­ti­so­cial be­hav­iours, fac­tors like de­pres­sion, low self-es­teem, drug or al­co­hol abuse, a his­tory of sui­cide among fam­ily and friends, and vi­o­lence or abuse in the fam­ily.

In New Zealand, if you come from a bro­ken, frag­mented fam­ily or com­mu­nity, you are much more likely to take your life as a teen.

The so­lu­tions, ac­cord­ing to sev­eral very in­tel­li­gent men with whom I don’t wish to pick a fight, but rather to ques­tion, is school.

School, where the gov­ern­ment feeds our kids, teaches our kids pri­vate val­ues, and now pro­tects them by of­fer­ing emo­tional re­silience pro­grammes.

The ques­tion, of course, is where do mum and dad come in? Where does the idea of fam­ily come in?

Be­cause here is the re­al­ity: A child who comes to school with­out break­fast in his tummy might very well be go­ing to bed at night with­out din­ner in it, ei­ther.

And a child who is learn­ing all about the birds and the bees from a gov­ern­ment-ap­proved pro­gramme, but has par­ents who don’t know how to teach her to ne­go­ti­ate the tricky topic of in­ter­net pornog­ra­phy and so­cial tech­nol­gies, will likely pick up val­ues and be­hav­iours from her screens.

A child who is taught emo­tional re­silience at pri­mary school but who goes home to a house where dad hurts mum ev­ery night will still strug­gle with the ef­fects of that be­hav­iour.

The in­escapable, un­avoid­able re­al­ity is that kids have par­ents and come from fam­i­lies. No mat­ter how easy it would make pol­icy, or how good the slo­gans sound, we can­not help our kids with­out help­ing their par­ents or their fam­i­lies.

In short, we can­not keep shunt­ing the prob­lems our kids are fac­ing at teach­ers, youth work­ers and prin­ci­pals. We can­not keep shunt­ing them at schools.

It is time to start treat­ing par­ents like they mat­ter. It is time to start sup­port­ing fam­i­lies if there is a prob­lem be­ing faced by their kids. It is time to re­mem­ber what par­ents are here for, and, if needed, to help them carry out those re­spon­si­bil­i­ties and priv­i­leges to the best of their abil­ity.

Af­ter all, we won’t be help­ing our kids un­til we start help­ing our fam­i­lies.

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