Moral Education and the Modern Parent (Part II)

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EVER SINCE starting this column about three years ago, I’ve had varying levels of response, depending on the particular topic. There have been a few columns in which the responses by the audience have been surprisingly heartfelt. I mean, I write, and of course, I expect people to read and understand what I’m trying to communicate, but I don’t think I conceive in advance that the content would have the type of impact, or relevance, to persons, which sometimes are contained in the feedback.
When I wrote the first ‘Moral Education and the Modern Parent’ column two weeks ago, I, of course, expected parents to identify with some of the points raised. I didn’t quite expect the telephone calls or e-mails of agreement and gratitude that came through the week following its publication, much less the visit a colleague of mine paid me about a week ago.
In summary, she thanked me for the perspective provided in the article, specifically my point that we, as parents, should perhaps try to learn more about the culture of our children than to insist that they move backwards to ours. She related that she had had an ongoing conflict with her sixteen-year-old son, and up to the time of reading the article, her method of dealing with him was setting the rules that she had handed down to him, and insisting that he toe-the-line on them, as a prerequisite for engagement. After reading the article, she decided to change tactics and had a frank discussion with him to get his perspective, and he opened up to her.
I’m not saying, of course, that there aren’t universal standards of conduct or behaviour which parents should not compromise on. If your child is in the habit of lying, stealing or displaying violent behavior, or is dangerously promiscuous, for example, then definitely that child is the one that has to move back into the arena of what is acceptable.  Beyond these, and perhaps a few others, I think the onus is on the parent or parents to try their best to find a way to understand that child’s world.

‘Whatever the methods, I think the time has come for creative initiatives to be examined when it comes to closing the gap between parents and their children in contemporary Guyana’

I was watching an American newscast recently on the spate of suicides by young gay teens who were subjected to what was referred to as cyber-bullying (ostracism by use of the Internet), and in some of the cases profiled, the parent had no idea what was going on their child’s life, particularly regarding the issue of their sexuality. I am not in a position to assess and pronounce definitively on the relationship each suicide victim had with his respective parent, but as someone working in the field of public health, I can safely say from an anecdotal perspective at least, that the issue of sexual orientation, for non-heterosexual people or parents with strong moral beliefs, is one that provides a huge barrier in the communication between child and parent.  If it is that a situation like that occurs in a society as relatively open and tolerant as the United States, what about ours?
I use the sexual orientation situation as one extreme example of the wall of non-communication that divides parents and children today, but even so, it is a minority issue in the entire complex parent-child scenario. Another example, and particularly in racially polarized societies, has to do with the ethnicity of the person the child is dating. I know of cases of conflict arising out of the fact that a boyfriend or girlfriend was of a race not to their parents’ liking.
The irony of all this, in my view, is that the very love that I believe the majority of parents feel for their children, ends up in its expression being a major element in the conflict that erupts between them – you don’t hear of too many cases of ‘don’t-care’ parents having conflicts with their offspring. The question is: How do we parents find help in crossing that border into the world of our children in order to learn their language and communicate with them in it?
My belief is that since the issue at the heart of child-parent divide is one of conflict – generational conflict – then the solution is one related to conflict resolution. I may be wrong, but I don’t know of any existing programmes, governmental or non-governmental, which seeks to correct this deficit in communication. No government agency or department that I know of has a direct mandate to deal with enhancing or strengthening family relations – the closest I believe is the Child Protection Agency, in the news recently, whose mandate is basically troubleshooting worst-case scenarios on a case-by-case basis.
If we’re creative, however, there are definitely opportunities out there to enhance the scope of existing programmes towards this end. Religious bodies, for example, and community based organizations can play a meaningly role towards this end.
At the national level, there is the UNDP-funded and coordinated Enhanced Public Trust, Security and Inclusion (EPTSI) Project, of which aims 1 and 3 are, respectively, to “empower youth (and particularly women) to participate fully and constructively in governance, and serve as agents for peaceful change” and “strengthen the public discourse centred on inclusion and the constructive resolution of conflicts.”
While I applaud any project aimed at enhancing social cohesion in Guyana, we need to recognize that the basic communal unit in which social cohesion finds relevance is not in the community but within the family itself. If, as I’ve posited, there is this generational divide between children and their parents, it may be that it makes as much sense, if not more, in providing a mechanism/s for bringing parents and children closer within the home, as it does for bringing community A and community B together, for example.
Whatever the methods, I think the time has come for creative initiatives to be examined when it comes to closing the gap between parents and their children in contemporary Guyana. Maybe two decades ago, a more relaxed approach could have been taken since the average parent and their child belonged to the same society – everybody went to the cinema, everyone communicated in virtual the same language, read the same papers, had access to the same radio programmes and so on.  Not so today. Our major source of news and information may be the daily papers, but your child’s encyclopedia, classroom, and television is the social networks Facebook and Twitter, for example.

In closing, I’d like to extend my heartfelt condolences to the families of those who died in the horrific crash in Berbice on Friday. As I was going home on Friday night, I noticed that there was a greater number of traffic police than usual, the sort of reactionary approach that Guyanese have become accustomed to, and disgusted with, after every such tragedy.  I think it’s time we take a definite stand on the enforcement of our traffic laws or history will continue repeating itself, and every time, just as tragic.