Wed | Jan 16, 2019

Parenting the criminal

Published:Tuesday | April 7, 2015 | 12:00 AMAdam McIntyre

This is an excerpt from the book 'Understanding the Criminal' by Adam McIntyre.

Our children's wayward drift into delinquency and criminal behaviour is often directly linked to our own shortcomings and breach of trust as caregivers.

Many of the youth that cram our prisons today are really serving time for parents who are either negligent and irresponsible or ignorant and indifferent. These parents may not be considered criminals in the strict legal sense of the word, but their cumulative action is a heinous offence with long-term and often irreversibly deleterious effect on the youth and the community as a whole.

The grim consequences are manifested in juvenile delinquency, high school dropouts, incarceration and, finally, and most troubling, unproductive citizens and social misfits who create a daunting social and economic cost that society has to bear.

Take, for example, the negligent, irresponsible father who does not support his children emotionally and financially. Though he is not a criminal by law, in reality, has he not committed robbery and aggravated assault by cheating his helpless children of a prosperous future? Aren't our teachers, pastors and counsellors often guilty of theft and abuse of office for stealing the hopes and dreams of countless children by their failure to provide the youth with the skills that they need to cope in a changing world?

And don't we regularly sustain grievous bodily harm from politicians whose policies batter and bruise us, leaving us vulnerable to pernicious economic afflictions? Some of our leaders have plunged us into deep financial carnage while recklessly driving the economy under the intoxicating influence of power.

Our army of discontented, disillusioned youth is partly the result of dereliction of parental duty. If parents love their children and try to raise them right, why do they fail so often to do a good job at it?

Most parents believe that their years of experience and traditional role of authority qualify them as experts at parenting craft. To make matters worse, parents do not like to be told how to raise their children, but, if we want to reduce crime, we have to change this mindset, admit that there is a lot we can learn from others, including our children.

Someone said that it is impossible to teach someone something that they think they already know. Perhaps as a community, we need to talk about raising our parents. At times, it is necessary, but difficult, for parents to admit that they are novices at their job of parenthood but if they knew that the innocent, newborn would in a few years become an incorrigible criminal, what would they have done differently?

Should parents expect better from their children if they do not give them the coping skills to survive in a tough world?


factory of the family


It is from the factory of the family as the first social institution that the ingredient of the criminal product is refined and manufactured. The newborn child is susceptible to the culture of the society in which it finds itself.

At first, children are 'wild' and have to be tamed by innovative restraints to modify inappropriate behaviour. It is the vigilance and collective concern of the parents and community members on the assembly line in the family factory that determines the strength and durability of the finished product - the child.

It is partly by instruction and education that the minds of our youth are improved or deteriorated. Since the family is the first point of contact with the potential criminal, every effort should be made to strengthen its ability to provide long-term support to children.

How do we prepare our children for life in this electronic, high-tech world? Is it by feeding them on the delicious but dubious diet from the platter of electronic media and watch them mature into full-blown 'screenagers'.

New technologies have always created a wave of hysteria and social dislocation from as far back to the making of tools and fire by our early ancestors. Can you imagine the level of excitement among the generation that invented fire? Not unlike the glitzy computer technology of today, people were fascinated and preoccupied with it, enjoying its immeasurable utilities. Suddenly, they could enjoy cooked meals while keeping warm, they could use fire to clear bush for cultivation as well as destroy pests and dangerous animals, but sometimes the fire burnt down their houses, destroyed their crops and killed their loved ones.

Thanks to the television, computer and the cellular phone, our children can be otherwise engaged and avoid the gruelling discomfort of sharing our uninspiring company.

Granted, it is difficult for some parents to give quality care to their children while undergoing financial hardships, domestic difficulties and work-related stress. While it may be unreasonable to expect parents to devote all of their time to their children while neglecting their own personal commitments, it is equally unreasonable for them to cheat their children while pursuing their passions, because the increasingly complex emotional needs of children cannot be postponed until parents' personal problems dissipate or until other social obligations are met.

Our worse transgression as parents is our inability to think critically and to be able to calculate the effect of our actions on the welfare of our children. British psychiatrist and prison doctor, Theodore Dalrymple, who has interviewed more than 5,000 inmates, warns that as a society we become "the godparent, the midwife of brutality" when we abandon logic in favour of sentimentality.

Perhaps as a society we should be talking about raising parents instead of raising children.

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