Understanding Child Development and Parenting Science Through High School Curriculum
“The way a society functions is a reflection of the childrearing practices of that society. Today we reap what we have sown. Despite the well-documented critical nature of early life experiences, we dedicate few resources to this time of life. We do not educate our children about child development, parenting, or the impact of neglect and trauma on children.”
—Dr. Bruce D. Perry, Ph.D. & Dr. John Marcellus
“This is the most important job we have to do as humans and as citizens … If we offer classes in auto mechanics and civics, why not parenting? A lot of what happens to children that’s bad derives from ignorance … Parents go by folklore, or by what they’ve heard, or by their instincts, all of which can be very wrong.”
—Dr. Alvin F. Poussaint, Professor of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School
I once read an ironic quote from a children’s health academic that, “You have to pass a test to drive a car or to become a … citizen, but there’s no exam required to become a parent. And yet child abuse can stem from a lack of awareness about child development.”
By not teaching child development science along with rearing to high school students, is it not as though societally we’re implying that anyone can comfortably enough go forth with unconditionally bearing children with whatever minute amount, if any at all, of such vital knowledge they happen to have acquired over time? It’s as though we’ll somehow, in blind anticipation, be innately inclined to fully understand and appropriately nurture our children’s naturally developing minds and needs.
A notable number of academics would say that we don’t.
Along with their physical wellbeing, children’s sound psychological health should be the most significant aspect of a parent’s (or caregiver’s) responsibility. Perhaps foremost to consider is that during their first three to six years of life (depending on which expert one asks) children have particularly malleable minds (like a dry sponge squeezed and released under water), thus they’re exceptionally vulnerable to whatever rearing environment in which they happened to have been placed by fate.
I frequently wonder how many instances there are wherein immense long-term suffering by children of dysfunctional rearing might have been prevented had the parent(s) received some crucial parenting instruction by way of mandatory high school curriculum.
Additionally, if we’re to proactively avoid the eventual dreadingly invasive conventional reactive means of intervention due to dysfunctional familial situations as a result of flawed rearing—that of the government forced removal of children from the latter environment—we then should be willing to try an unconventional means of proactively preventing future dysfunctional family situations: Teach our young people the science of how a child’s mind develops and therefor its susceptibilities to flawed parenting.
Many people, including child development academics, would say that we owe our future generations of children this much, especially considering the very troubled world into which they never asked to enter.
Certainly, some will argue that expectant adults can easily enough access the parenting experience and advice of other parents in hardcopy and Internet literature, not to mention arranged group settings. However, such information may in itself be in error or misrelated/misinterpreted and therefor is understandably not as beneficial as knowing the actual child development science behind why the said parental practice would or would not be the wisest example to follow.
As for the likely argument that high school parenting courses would bore thus repel students from attending the classes to their passable-grade completion, could not the same reservation have been put forth in regards to other currently well-established and valued course subjects, both mandatory and elective, at the time they were originally proposed?
In addition, the flipside to that argument is, such curriculum may actually result in a novel effect on student minds, thereby stimulating interest in what otherwise can be a monotonous daily high-school routine. (Some exceptionally receptive students may even be inspired to take up post-secondary studies specializing in child psychological and behavioural disorders.)
In any case, American experience and studies indicate that such curriculum is wholly useful, regardless of whether the students themselves plan to and/or go on to procreate.
For one thing, child development and rearing curriculum would make available to students potentially valuable knowledge about their own psyches and why they’re the way they are.
Physical and mental abuse commonsensically aside, students could also be taught the potentially serious psychological repercussions of the manner in which they as parents may someday choose to discipline their children; therefore, they may be able to make a much more informed decision on the method they choose to correct misbehaviour, however suddenly clouded they may become in the angry emotion of the moment.
And being that their future children’s sound mental health and social/workplace integration are at stake, should not scientifically informed parenting decisions also include their means of chastisement?
Our young people are then at least equipped with the valuable science-based knowledge of the possible, if not likely, consequences of dysfunctional rearing thus much more capable of making an informed choice on how they inevitably correct their child’s misconduct.
It would be irresponsibly insufficient to, for example, just give students the condom-and-banana demonstration along with the address to the nearest Planned Parenthood clinic (the latter in case the precautionary contraception fails) as their entire sex education curriculum; and, similarly, it’s not nearly enough to simply instruct our young people that it’s damaging to scream at or belittle one’s young children and hope the rest of proper parenting somehow comes naturally to them. Such crucial life-skills lessons need to be far more thorough.
But, however morally justified, they regardlessly will not be given such life-advantageous lessons, for what apparently are reasons of conflicting ideology or values.
In 2017, when I asked a BC Teachers’ Federation official over the phone whether there is any childrearing curriculum taught in any of B.C.’s school districts, he immediately replied there is not. When I asked the reason for its absence and whether it may be due to the subject matter being too controversial, he replied with a simple “Yes”.
This strongly suggests there are philosophical thus political obstacles to teaching students such crucial life skills as nourishingly parenting one’s children. (Is it just me, or does it not seem difficult to imagine that teaching parenting curriculum should be considered any more controversial than, say, teaching students Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) curriculum, beginning in Kindergarten, as is currently taught in B.C. schools?)
Put plainly, people generally do not want some stranger—and especially a government-arm entity, which includes grade school teachers—directly or indirectly telling them how to raise their children. (Albeit, a knowledgeable person offered me her observation on perhaps why there are no mandatory childrearing courses in high school: People with a dysfunctional family background do not particularly desire scholastically analyzing its intricacies; i.e. they simply don’t want to go there—even if it’s not being openly discussed.)
A 2007 study (its published report is titled The Science of Early Childhood Development), which was implemented to identify facets of child development science accepted broadly by the scientific community, forthrightly and accurately articulates the matter: “It is a compelling task that calls for broad, bipartisan collaboration. And yet, debate in the policy arena often highlights ideological differences and value conflicts more than it seeks common interest. In this context, the science of early childhood development can provide a values-neutral framework for informing choices among alternative priorities and for building consensus around a shared plan of action. The wellbeing of our nation’s children and the security of our collective future would be well-served by such wise choices and concerted commitment.”
The same study-report also noted that, “The future of any society depends on its ability to foster the health and well-being of the next generation. Stated simply, today’s children will become tomorrow’s citizens, workers, and parents. When we invest wisely in children and families, the next generation will pay that back through a lifetime of productivity and responsible citizenship. When we fail to provide children with what they need to build a strong foundation for healthy and productive lives, we put our future prosperity and security at risk … All aspects of adult human capital, from work force skills to cooperative and lawful behavior, build on capacities that are developed during childhood, beginning at birth … The basic principles of neuroscience and the process of human skill formation indicate that early intervention for the most vulnerable children will generate the greatest payback.”
Although I appreciate the study’s initiative, it’s still for me a disappointing revelation as to our collective humanity when the report’s author feels compelled to repeatedly refer to living, breathing and often enough suffering human beings as a well-returning “investment” and “human capital” in an attempt to convince money-minded society that it’s indeed in our best fiscal interest to fund early-life programs that result in lowered incidence of unhealthy, dysfunctional child development.
In fact, in the 13-page study-report, the term “investment(s)” was used 22 times, “return” appeared eight times, “cost(s)” five times, “capital” appeared on four occasions, and either “pay”/“payback”/“pay that back” was used five times.
While some may justify it as a normal thus moral human evolutionary function, the general self-serving Only If It’s In My Own Back Yard mentality (or what I acronize OIIIMOBY) can debilitate social progress, even when it’s most needed; and it seems that distinct form of societal ‘penny wisdom but pound foolishness’ is a very unfortunate human characteristic that’s likely with us to stay.
Sadly, due to the OIIIMOBY mindset, the prevailing collective attitude, however implicit or subconscious, basically follows, “Why should I care—I’m soundly raising my kid?” or “What’s in it for me, the taxpayer, if I support child development education and health programs for the sake of others’ bad parenting?”
I was taught in journalism and public relations college courses that a story or PR news release needed to let the reader know, if possible in the lead sentence, why he/she should care about the subject matter—and more so find it sufficiently relevant to warrant reading on. It’s disheartening to find this vocational tool frequently utilized in the study’s published report to persuade its readers why they should care about the fundamental psychological health of their fellow human beings—but in terms of publicly funded monetary investment and collective societal ‘costs to us later’ if we do nothing to assist this (probably small) minority of young children in properly cerebrally developing.
A similarly disappointing shortsighted OIIIMOBY mindset is evident in news reporting and commentary on other serious social issues, in order to really grasp the taxpaying reader’s interest. I’ve yet to read a story or column on homelessness, child poverty and the fentanyl overdose crisis that leaves out any mention of their monetary cost to taxpaying society, notably through lost productivity thus reduced government revenue, larger health care budgets and an increasing rate of property crime; and perhaps the most angrily attention-grabbing is the increased demand on an already constrained ambulance response and emergency room/ward waits due to repeat overdose cases.
As for society’s dysfunctionally reared thus improperly mind-developed young children, make no mistake: Regardless of whether individually we’re doing a great job rearing our own developing children, we all have some degree of vested interest in every child receiving a psychologically sound start in life, considering that communally everyone is exposed (or at least potentially so) to every other parent’s handiwork.
Our personal monetary and societal security interests are served by a socially functional fellow citizenry that otherwise could or would have been poorly reared—a goal in part probably met by at least teaching child development science to our high school students.
“I remember leaving the hospital thinking, ‘Wait, are they going to let me just walk off with him? I don’t know beans about babies! I don’t have a license to do this. We’re just amateurs’.”
—Anne Tyler, Breathing Lessons
“It’s only after children have been discovered to be severely battered that their parents are forced to take a childrearing course as a condition of regaining custody. That’s much like requiring no license or driver’s ed[ucation] to drive a car, then waiting until drivers injure or kill someone before demanding that they learn how to drive.”
—Myriam Miedzian, Ph.D.