Courtney Campbell | Education, good parenting critical to child development
Excerpts from speech at the recent Jamaica Basic School Foundation Annual Fundraising Gala in the United Kingdom.
That the Jamaica Basic School Foundation (JBSF) will, in 2020, celebrate 20 years of service to Jamaica is testament to the unrelenting commitment of its members to uplift Jamaica. By funding basic schools and basic school projects in Jamaica, you are, in a very real way, supporting the future of Jamaica even from thousands of miles away.
That you so closely monitor the projects which you fund is a great example of accountability at work, and it also shows that behind the funds is sincere and profound care for the outcome of these projects and the people to whom they cater.
Victoria Mutual has a strong history of philanthropy – in fact, our very founding by members of the clergy who wanted to create a more equal society exemplifies the underlying purpose behind the work that we do.
We launched the VM Foundation in May 2018 to give greater structure and focus to our philanthropic work. The foundation undertakes a number of programmes annually in support of its key areas of focus: leadership and nation building, youth empowerment, health and family life. These programmes meet specific objectives and have been impacting thousands of lives and helping to build and achieve growth for our nation. That’s the goal for so many of us, isn’t it?
Dr Leith Dunn, head of the Institute for Gender and Development Studies at The University of the West Indies, has done some valuable research that is being used to help chart the course ahead for the VM Foundation.
Dr Dunn has identified some of the primary causes of poor parenting in Jamaica. These include:
- History: Impact of enslavement, colonialism, indentureship on Jamaica’s family forms, parenting practices, gender roles and responsibilities
- Social, economic, political and environmental problems (child shifting, child labour, etc.)
Data from the Office of the Children’s Registry points to high rates of various forms of child abuse against boys and girls in Jamaica, including verbal, physical, emotional and psychological, as well as sexual abuse.
Meanwhile, data from the Jamaican police point to extensive intergenerational violence in the home with high levels of gender-based violence against partners and children, ‘normalised’ corporal punishment, as well as alcohol and drug abuse among adolescents.
Some other challenges to parenting in Jamaica revealed by Dr Dunn’s research are:
1. Homelessness, squatting, overcrowding.
2. Unemployment – higher rates for females (single mothers).
3. Impact of international migration: parenting from a distance; barrel children.
4. Impact of social media – WhatsApp, FaceTime (these can be enabling and inhibiting factors).
5. Poor supervision of children at critical developmental stages.
The need is great, and we know very well that these are only some of the challenges we face. The task before all of us, including the VM Foundation, is tremendous. But, we know that children are a heritage from the Lord and, as is made clear in Luke 1:37: “…nothing will be impossible with God”. So, what are some of the ways we can tackle the issue of subpar parenting in Jamaica and in Jamaican families in the UK?
1. BUILD YOUR SOCIAL NETWORK
As a father myself, I understand how the awesome responsibility of parenting can, for some people, feel overwhelming. Many of us in this room have been through the journey and learnt lessons along the way. It’s our responsibility to use what we have learnt to guide younger persons and first-time parents. As you know, as a young parent, support is crucial. They say that it takes a village to raise a child, and this is true for many reasons.
Research shows that a strong social network is important for maintaining mental and physical wellness. It is also important in helping to raise healthy and well-balanced children.
If you have a family member or relative who has a young child or is expecting a child soon, encourage them to stay close to family and good friends. If you are a member of a church, stay close to your brothers and sisters and reach out when you see the need. We all need help sometimes, and if young parents are surrounded by trusted family and friends it makes reaching out much easier.
2. BUILD THEIR CONFIDENCE
Remind them also that it’s important to build their children’s strengths to help nurture their self-esteem and confidence. Parents must manage their stress levels and refrain from leaning on ‘angry correction’ when a child steps out of bounds. They should avoid destructive emotional reactions such as sarcasm and ridicule.
There is research that shows that punishing a child is not as effective as using praise and rewards, so be sure to enforce good behaviour rather than focusing only on weaknesses. When encouraged, children are more likely to acquire strengths to compensate for any deficiencies they may have.
3. SPEND QUALITY TIME
Children need positive attention. If they don’t receive positive attention from family, they may choose to seek out negative attention. This is because negative attention is still better than being ignored. Encourage young parents to communicate openly with their children.
There are countless stories of children in Jamaica, from different backgrounds and locations – rich, poor, urban and rural – getting involved in immoral or illegal activity largely because they were left idle. The saying goes that the devil finds work for idle hands, and it is primarily the responsibility of parents to ensure that the hands of children remain constructively occupied, more often than not.
4. KEEP A CLOSE WATCH
This is a challenging time to raise a child. Teenagers and pre-teens today have so much to contend with. In addition to the dangers that lurk in the real world, the reality is that they will have to spend a great deal of time on the Internet.
Now, the Internet is a valuable tool for access to information and learning, but it can also be quite a treacherous space where persons with evil intentions can easily reach children – anywhere, any time. It can be hard when you’re young to identify threats on the Internet, so it’s up to parents to be that guide. There’s no room for parents to let their guard down. Monitor the sites they visit and their chats. This is part of the reality of parenting in 2019.
5. BE OPEN AND HONEST
I’m confident that most, if not all, of the parents will agree that life changes – drastically – when you have a child. Late Friday nights and lazy Saturday mornings are replaced by expensive extra lessons and frequent doctor visits. The adjustment can be tough. Lots of parents become overwhelmed by the burden of responsibility and even resent their children if they become unhappy with their lives.
It is important that parents recognise the potential of this happening and take deliberate steps to ensure that they maintain some kind of balance. While there is great joy in parenting, we are human and it is better to prevent a crisis than to find ourselves in a position where we are struggling to recover.
Since we have been through it, we should help to prepare them. Remind them that they still need to make time for themselves and some of the things that gave them joy before they became parents. Balance is key. A happier, balanced parent means a happier, balanced child.
6. LIVE BY EXAMPLE
The last tip that I wish to leave with you is really something for us all to consider, regardless of whether we’re a parent. Live by example. Nothing is more valuable for children than for them to have positive role models to emulate. It is often said that if we want to create a better world, we have to be the change we want to see in the world. Well, if we want our children to thrive, we have to be the people we want our children to become. It’s a simple piece of advice but it is hugely important. Let’s give this some thought even as we leave here this evening.
Jamaicans are tremendously gifted. Even with all our challenges, look what we have accomplished. If we continue to invest in education and if we focus on improving our parenting skills, we will be a positive example for the entire world.
- Courtney Campbell is president and CEO of the Victoria Mutual Group. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org