The ‘fix-my-child’ mentality

Last Saturday’s issue of the Barbados Today newspaper published an article in which it sought to discuss the nexus between the behaviour of children in that Caricom country and the quality of parenting that they receive. Two of the island’s top probation officers appear to be of the view that “parents are to blame” for what their children have turned out to be.

It seems that the Barbadian officials have drawn their conclusions from the realization that “the calibre of parents today could not be compared to those of days gone by.” Parents, the two Barbadian officials are contending, “were more focused and children oriented.” The article goes on to assert that “too many of today’s parents, have a fix-my-child perspective but did not recognize “that they sometimes were their children’s problem.”

We certainly would not agree with the view that delinquent children are, in every instance, a function of deficient parents though it does seem that, across the board, the standard of parenting today is probably not what it was thirty or so years ago, Indeed, it does seem that – as appears to be the case in Barbados – parents, in many cases, must take the responsibility for the way their children have turned out.

The editorial columns of this newspaper have sought previously to make the argument that parents should be held more accountable for the behaviour of their children. We have made this argument particularly in the context of what we believe is a parental disposition that imposes upon schools, particularly, the ‘fix-my-child’ burden referred to in the Barbados Today article. It is a complete waste of time to ask a state school system that is battling with its own considerable limitations to ‘fix’ children whose social orientation is, in so many instances, disfigured by seriously dysfunctional homes and exposure to behaviour patterns that are perverse, criminal and violent.

Violence in schools is in many instances, a carry-over from home and community. It is learnt behaviour, inculcated on account of sustained exposure to conditions that embrace those forms of behaviour. And even if we had been blessed with a better-resourced school system it would still have been straining credulity to expect that the school can effect the kind of transformation which the fix-my-child parents demand.

We should make the point too that the delinquent/maladjusted child is not always (or altogether) a function of poor parenting. We live in a society where the circumstances at home, including the challenges of single-parenting, often mean that many children benefit from little parenting on account of the preoccupation of the single parent with working to support the family. The second reminder that must be issued at this juncture is that under the law, children, however deviant or otherwise they might be, are entitled to an education. That is not an issue that we can exclude from the equation.

We have argued previously in this very column for a contract between the school and the parent that embraces their respective responsibilities to the child. We have said in a nutshell, that the parent must be obliged to deliver to the school children who are compliant, law abiding and disposed to being taught in a secure and controlled environment. Where it receives such children the school should be obliged to deliver education. Indeed, there is a case for requiring parents to do their utmost to place in the school system children who are generally compliant with such behavioural norms as obtain therein and who are not believed to represent a clear and present danger to the wider school community. The circumstance does not disentitle the delinquent or deviant child to a formal education, rather, it places on the shoulders of the Ministry of Education the responsibility to make alternative arrangements for the education of such children. Where the children undergo verifiable reform in their behaviour they should be returned to the normal school environment.

Where children meet the requisite behavioural criteria, they should benefit from the delivery of education without prejudice. We share the view of the two Barbadian probation officers that major responsibility for what the school-age child turns out to be is that of the parent and we disqualify the ‘fix-my-child’ mentality as an a blatant abandonment of parental responsibility. We do, however, repeat that those children whose social orientation might prove disruptive, even dangerous to the substantive education system should benefit from a formal education and that, we repeat, is the state’s responsibility.

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