Posted on

Calling all parents . . . yeah, right! (3)


Sherwyn Walters

Calling all parents . . . yeah, right! (3)

Social Share

LET’S GET THIS STRAIGHT: I am not an apologist for bad parents. In outlining the challenges and broadsiding those who knee-jerkedly shout or intone “parents”, I was simply calling for us to engage the problem more deeply.
Our inclination to pillory parents for instances of social indiscipline has to butt up on the realization that moral suasion, lecturing, goading, bombarding and shaming did not and do not produce good parenting. And coercion is not an option.
What, then, is the society to do other than flailing, wailing or waving the white flag?
We must carefully and thoughtfully aim for social discipline. I put it to you (all lawyer-like) that the evidence so far shows neither specific intent nor marshalled use of trained weapons in this area.
I know people will say we have legislated against certain things, we have developed a fairly sophisticated school system, we have allowed hefty religious input.
I put it to you – again – that we have just depended on volunteer villagers in soldiers’ clothes shooting wildly into the forest and hoping to hit an unidentified enemy.
The haphazard approach will not work – this requires masterminding influence.
A parent, like most other living souls in this sphere, is often a follow-pattern being. As I said last week, a fortuitous, uncoordinated common pattern emerged, which most parents followed up to perhaps 40 years ago, and it brought us what we were pleased to view as widespread social discipline.
With the change to a less clearly defined pattern, or a fractured pattern, or – as some are convinced – the wrong pattern, the same follow-pattern tendency now takes us to a far less satisfactory outcome.
What that says to me is that we must now consciously and strategically pursue a common, widespread pattern. I am going to tentatively suggest some possible approaches.
Firstly, we have to deal with the more obvious ways in which discipline is undermined in this society.We could argue about third factors, unmeasured variables and the like, but sometimes there is something to be said for Wilson and Kelling’s “broken window” theory – which posits that escalating social misbehaviour in a community pretty closely correlates with that community’s failure to fix “little” things that have gone wrong, like a broken window.
Government here must think that sexual harassment, domestic abuse, PSV scofflawry, loud playing of music in neighbourhoods, indiscriminate burning of “stuff”, pedestrian blocking of sidewalks, abandonment of derelict vehicles in residential areas, use of obscene language in public places, non-compliance with school rules, bullying and other forms of crass, naked disrespect for others are apparently too small to merit unstintingly muscular inhibition. Broken windows, though!
Through weak enforcement or no enforcement, all these widespread abuses of the other have been allowed to fester, and therefore produce added forms of social disease. The follow-pattern urge has been fed sumptuous enticements to go the wrong way.
Also, because children do influence parents, and because many of them will become parents, we must specifically train our captive audience of schoolchildren away from social irresponsibility generally and away from specific forms of social irresponsibility.
Of course, telling isn’t training – so I don’t mean lectures at morning assembly and special classes. I am talking about a thought out and focused curriculum – a subject (you may even call it social discipline) on the timetable right through school and, as some have argued in Britain, at tertiary level too. I am still thinking about this, but it should include detailed teaching of certain laws and involve role play and other means of internalizing the best social behaviours.
Schools should also undertake significant involvement in volunteer work, which has been shown to incline children to healthy social habits – not surprisingly, since such engagement fosters the valuing of people and emotional maturity.
And could we not try, community by community, to set up a broader kind of neighbourhood watch that aims not primarily at safeguarding material things but rather the more precious fabric of our society? This is what Robert J. Sampson and Stephen W. Raudenbush describe as collective efficacy, defined as “cohesion among residents combined with shared expectations for the social control of public space”.
Of course, nobody lives in a vacuum, so if the school and community approaches are not accompanied by a robust formal/Governmental response to social misbehaviour, we will continue to be in duck’s guts.
The bottom line is that a society must consciously create strong broad-based positive tendencies into which, because of the nature of the beast – follow-pattern, remember – many parents and their children will fit. We have so far left it largely to chance and a well meaning but ultimately unprofitable baying at parents. As Ras Shorty I put it some years ago, That Eh Good Enough.
• Sherwyn Walters is a writer who became a teacher, a song analyst, a broadcaster and an editor. Email [email protected]

LAST NEWS