What family is for

I’m starting to wonder what parents are for in New Zealand.

First, there was the Government’s provision of breakfast, which suggest that us parents are not responsible for feeding our kids.

The government is – whether or not we can afford it, apparently. At the same time, we read story after story on our credit card debts and apparent inability as a nation to manage our personal finances. Yet suggesting that budgeting courses for some parents could be of value is highly offensive and judgmental.

Next, there were the papers on sexuality education in schools which hardly mentioned parents. Apparently, mum and dad are not responsible for teaching their kids about the birds and the bees anymore, the government is.

At the same time, parents are all bemoaning the accessibility of porn and impact of technology on their kids without a single bit of help being offered them for negotiating these complicated waters.

Finally, this week the Prime Minister’s chief science advisor released a discussion paper on youth suicide in New Zealand.

It was a haunting read, because the stark, devastating facts are laid out in unrelenting clarity. You simply cannot read the report without gathering the strong impression that many of risk factors are rooted in family.

Here is the list of those risk factors so you can make up your own mind: Socio-demographic factors, low educational achievement, bad family relationships, impulsiveness, anti-social behaviours, factors like depression, low self-esteem, drug or alcohol abuse, a history of suicide among family and friends, and violence or abuse in the family.

In New Zealand, if you come from a broken, fragmented family or community, you are much more likely to take your own life as a teen.

The solutions, according to several very intelligent men with whom I don’t wish to pick a fight, but rather to question, is school.

School, where the government feeds our kids, teaches our kids private values, and now protects them by offering emotional resilience programmes.

The question, of course, is where do mum and dad come in? Where does the idea of family come in?

Because here is the reality: A child who comes to school without breakfast in their tummy might very well be going to bed at night without dinner in it either.

And a child who is learning all about the birds and the bees from a government-approved programme, but has parents who don’t know how to teach them to negotiate the tricky topic of internet pornography and social technolgies, will likely pick up values and behaviours from their screens.

A child who is taught emotional resiliance at primary school but who goes home to a house where dad hurts mum every night will still struggle with the effects of that behaviour on their lives.

The inescapable, unavoidable reality is that kids have parents, and come from families. Not matter how easy it would make policy, or how good the slogans sound, we cannot help our kids without helping their parents or their families.

In short, we cannot keep shunting the problems our kids are facing at teachers, youth workers and principals. We cannot keep shunting them at schools.

It is time to start treating parents like they matter. It is time to start supporting families if there is a problem being faced by their kids. It is time to remember what parents are here for, and, if needed, to help them carry out those responsibilities and privileges to the best of their ability.

After all, we won’t be helping our kids until we start helping our families.

This article was first published on Stuff.co.nz

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