THE need is urgent, in this new academic year, 2022/2023, for educational programmes to assist Saint Lucian parents in establishing better relationships with their children. I will pursue this issue in the paragraphs which follow.
Recently, I met a young woman, Betty (pseudonym), who decided to share her life story with me. One of her biggest concerns, she expressed, was that she did not have a good relationship with her mother. Her mother was aggressive toward her, and did not make time to speak with her, or even listen to what she had to say. She yearned for love, guidance and support from her mother; she did not feel loved, valued or supported.
Betty was in Form four at a secondary school when she got pregnant for her stepfather, and had to drop out of school with no CXCs to her name. Sadly, all along, she was unable to inform her mother about her stepfather’s physical and sexual abuse towards her; not only because he used to threaten that he would kill her if she did but, also, she knew that her mother did not show genuine concern about her welfare, and would, therefore, not care to listen to her cries for freedom from the monstrous clutches of that brutal stepfather, with whom she grew up from a tender age (pre-school).
Many times, parents fail to take an accusation of physical or sexual abuse seriously, especially if the perpetrator is a family member or friend. This insensitivity or ignorance on the parents’ part could have serious repercussions on the individual’s social, educational, and emotional development, and self-esteem, as was the case with Betty: Betty further explained that as a result of her traumatic experiences with her stepfather and her stormy relationship with her mother (as well as her biological father), she looked to a gang, drugs, alcohol, and theft, hoping to find solutions to her myriad of problems. Unfortunately, this route exacerbated Betty’s situation–she became a delinquent teenager, and her life, then, became a living hell!
Paul H. Mussen, a pioneer in the field of child psychology, whose research studies focused on “social interactions between parents and children,” has provided valuable insight into the effects of poor parent-child relationships long before the 1970s, and those findings are still very relevant to the present discussion. Mussen (1979) states that poor parent-child relationships and parental rejection, physical punishment (abuse), erratic discipline are major antecedent factors in juvenile delinquency. Most delinquents feel rejected by their parents, insecure, deprived, jealous of their siblings, and are uncomfortable with their parents (among other factors). In a nutshell, the author accentuates that, obviously, socio-economic factors are not the only significant antecedents of delinquency. Psychological problems and personal insecurities which stem from dysfunctional family relationships also predispose a child to delinquency, as well as other maladaptive behaviours.
Relatively speaking, the American SPCC (2014) asserts that a child who is never allowed to make decisions, and who is constantly belittled, criticized, and who experiences abuse is likely to have low self-esteem. It becomes worse when the child goes through sexual abuse as a child. Such forms of abuse are known to make children more prone to violent behaviours. Children who are exposed to abuse and violent behaviours are likely to become violent adults. They grow up believing that violence is the only way to solve problems.
Children need love and security. They require a loving family to care for them, and need to know that no matter the circumstances, their family will continue to love and look after them. This will give them a feeling of security because they will feel safe in the love and care of their family. Usually, a secure child is a well-behaved child (Grant, 2009).
One will agree that Betty’s dismal situation is not an isolated case in Saint Lucia. A number of cases have been reported on children or teenagers who have suffered severely at the hands of a perpetrator, perhaps, a stepfather, uncle, family friend, neighbour, or the biological father himself (or someone else you, the reader, know or have heard about), either physically or sexually, or both.
What, then, does one think is the role of the Saint Lucian education system in regard to this critical psychological issue at hand? Undoubtedly, it is the responsibility of the Saint Lucian education system to develop educational programmes that would assist parents in establishing better relationships with their children, including young adults or teenagers. Just as parents are not only dependent on doctors to treat their sick child but, also, to educate them on how to manage their sick child at home, so are parents dependent not only on teachers to educate their child but, also, on schools to educate them (parents) on how to establish better relationships with their growing child in the home.
As a school teacher (primary/elementary, secondary, and tertiary level), and a school principal, I can recall parents asking me for advice about certain issues regarding their child, even at the tertiary level. Hopefully, many parents will welcome such programmes.
Careful planning of educational programmes would, first and foremost, engage school administrators and teachers in ascertaining as much as possible about each child’s environment. By environment is meant the type of family and home which the child comes from (Grant, 2009). For example, is it one where the child comes from a foolish, negligent family, whereby the mother is enjoying herself with friends, and cannot be bothered to spend quality time with her child and, more often than not, leaves the child at home (vulnerable to some paedophile) to care for himself or herself?
Secondly, what the above exercise would mean is that the programme would be in a position to identify families who are considered to be at serious risk and provide intensive home visiting. Such an initiative can enhance the understanding, coping skills, and parents’ self-esteem (Ontario Early Years Study Final Report, 1999).
Thirdly, the programme would be prepared to meet the individual needs of parents or families, with the assistance of significant persons or resources to achieve the desired results and, ultimately, the goal of the educational programmes on the whole.
In conclusion, school training can never take the place of a healthy, harmonious family life, and it is easier for principals and teachers to build on the solid foundation started at home. Therefore, the development of educational programmes to assist parents in establishing better relationships with their children is indispensable. It cannot be overlooked. What such educational programmes will do, hopefully, is to raise awareness of lifelong impacts of adverse childhood experiences, and prevent child maltreatment (American SPCC, 2014) in the home. In the final analysis, the future Saint Lucian society would benefit, tremendously!