Licensing Parents: Can We Prevent Child Abuse And Neglect?
a book by Jack C. Westman
(our site's book review)
There’s an epidemic of child abuse and neglect in this country, yet few people do anything about it or even notice. The “predators and monsters” that mistreat kids this way (some are parents) were born, educated and reared in America. Apparently this instills few pro-children values—kids are still property to do with as we please.
It’s been computed that incompetent parenting of a child costs society $2,000,000 per child, while competent parenting yields $1,000,000. The eventual losses due to poor parenting come to over a trillion dollars ($1,000,000,000,000). “The evidence is in. It is incontrovertible. The only possible verdict is to find us guilty of perpetuating a system of incompetent parenting that neglects and devalues our children.” (Note: Obviously, the economic losses due to misparenting are staggering, but even they are not as important as the losses of happiness, fulfillment and lifestyle quality for tens of millions of people.)
Westman says that “I decided to write this book because the magnitude of child abuse and neglect in the United States far exceeds the ability of professionals to repair the resulting damage to affected children. I am convinced that society itself must assert that every child is entitled to competent parenting and act before [today’s kids] are damaged and placed on the pathways to crime and welfare dependency.” The author looks at the ageism at work around the area of children’s rights. “. . . we view parenting solely from the perspective of adults rather than from the perspective of children. . . . In spite of pro-children rhetoric, little public action has taken place to reverse the progressive deterioration of the lives of children in our nation . . .”
He estimates that four percent of parents in the U.S. are incompetent and 3.6 million kids have been neglected by them. “This population of children is the source of our society’s criminal and welfare dependency problems. . . . As the quality of parenting has deteriorated, crime, suicide, drug abuse, and teenage pregnancies have increased while scholastic achievement has declined. The relationship between the lack of affectionate attachment bonding between parents and children and these social problems has yet to be widely appreciated.”
Westman lists four factors that collude to preclude vital affectionate and secure bonds between parents and children:
- (1) Parents spend less time with kids;
- (2) welfare programs support incompetent teenage parenting and ignore the miserable consequences;
- (3) lack of enough early interventions during the time incompetent parents are irrevocably wrecking their kids;
- (4) financial support for bad parents.
(Actually, he missed the most important factors: lack of parenting education and lack of good examples to emulate.)
The author notes that “it is far more efficacious and far less costly to promote parent-child affectionate attachment bonding than to continue to assume the burden of the educational, clinical and correctional treatment of those who suffer from the effects of incompetent parenting. . . . Children who have been exposed to early and prolonged neglect are largely untreatable in later life by currently available methods. This makes the prevention of criminality the most important strategy by far [for crime prevention].”
Westman says that the reasons we tolerate and even encourage incompetent parenting in our society are: the impact of individualism on individuals and society, disparagement of parenting, fragmented responses to social problems, political crisis-recoil reactions and the rise of society’s tolerance for deviance. As a result, criminals impair life quality for us all—especially personal safety—which has deteriorated to unacceptable levels.
He advocates more systems thinking and a more holistic outlook. He notes that social service bureaucracies weaken families and communities and make them dependent, defining people by their deficiencies and weaknesses, rather than by their assets and resources. He applauds James Q. Wilson’s contention that the way to reduce crime, welfare dependency, and educational failure is to find a way to strengthen the character of Americans. And Westman assures us that competent parenting does this best of all.
He admits that social services have focused too much on fragmented families and individual children and not enough on supporting parenting and community building, but the problem here is that there’s a conflict of interest: The more community building succeeds, the less there will be a need for bureaucrats to provide social services to fix the symptoms of inadequate community. So bureaucracies tend to stick with their reductionistic approaches and deficiency contexts, leaving systems thought for others. But since the newest trend is systems orientation, methods may yet evolve away from reductionism.
His thesis that we need to set standards for parenting the way we set standards for everything else has one central flaw. In the sociopolitical sense, national standards do nothing without regulation, which in turn do nothing without enforcement. Parenting standards regulated by abuse and neglect laws which get enforced are already a reality, but the type of parenting, communication and relationship practices which need to be adopted to optimize health, emotional growth, competency and happiness can no more be legislated and enforced than they can be expected to suddenly miraculously occur in the families of people with an exclusive history of authoritarian discipline and win-lose relationships. This is a naïve social engineering goal.
We do not need the government and legislators to bureaucratize and muck up this area with stillborn attempts at political salvationism. What we do need is individuals taking responsibility for their own lives, learning the appropriate Third Wave knowledge so that they optimize lifestyles, parenting, communication and relationships, and then choosing to apply these in their lives so that dysfunctionality is replaced with functionality, and frustration, unhappiness and failures in the parenting and relationships area are replaced by fulfillment, happiness and success. Why in the world did human civilization go to the trouble of figuring out the answers to parenting and relationship problems if it wasn’t going to use this information as a guide to reversing the dysfunctionality trends?
Of course, the answer is all too clear: There’s a Culture War. In this war, the right and left purposely divide to conquer and polarize for impact. All issues of parenting, discipline, punishments, consequences, communication, and relationships have been polarized into two competing camps, with authoritarian right-wingers seeing everything from a Strict Father perspective and with a morally absolutist mindset, and permissive left-wingers seeing everything from a Nurturing Parent perspective and with a morally relativistic mindset. (See George Lakoff’s Moral Politics.)
Spanking: a common form of child abuse
Neither side hears what the other side is saying—nor do they wish to. Since the issues are so politicized, all each side wants to do is win. It’s a zero-sum, win-lose game in which your kind is right and good and their side is wrong and bad. It’s embarrassing for a culture’s worldview to have degenerated into a Star Wars movie full of black and white, good and evil, and win or lose—winner-take-all. Unfortunately, one of the consequences of this game context is that the right is sure that authoritarian parenting is good, right, and Scriptures-sanctioned (they only care about science sanctioning when it suits their purposes—if science invalidates something they favor, they always simply ignore the science and look to Scriptures), while the left is sure that permissive parenting is good, right, and science-sanctioned (which it absolutely is not).
The pushmi-pullyu: a metaphor for the political aspects of the Culture War and the win-lose game it's become
Now, if one believes that the Enlightenment was a good thing and man can learn, improve, evolve, understand and all this without the need for supernatural contexts saturating all aspects of life, then one cannot simply turn one’s right-wing back on the scientifically proven facts and indulge the life habits one is comfortable with. And yet this type of hypocrisy is more the rule than the exception. By the same token, if the permissive parenting experiments on the left failed and the findings of social science were that permissiveness is invalid, then the left has nothing undergirding their liberal ways of parenting except raw inertia. In actual fact, both authoritarian and permissive parenting methods are scientifically invalidated and only authoritative and P.E.T. methods have been shown to be effective and valid.
Most good Authoritative Parenting programs (STEP (Systematic Training for Effective Parenting), Active Parenting, Winning Family Lifeskills, Positive Discipline, Redirecting Children’s Behavior, and Positive Parenting) use logical consequences only of the "nonpunitive" variety, described above. But some parenting styles (P.E.T., Aware Parenting, Connection Parenting, Discipline Without Distress, Nonviolent Communication (N.V.C.), and Alfie Kohn's Unconditional Parenting) don’t use logical consequences since they believe that all logical consequences are punitive by definition and are experienced at least partially as punishments by children. Whichever method you use, the above methods have been shown to be effective and valid. Again, both authoritarian and permissive parenting methods are scientifically invalidated.
No wonder the public seems so confused and nothing ever changes. They're choking on misinformation that comes their way via political manipulation of citizens and via the Culture War!
And yet our Culture War, by focusing attention on the extremes at each end of the parenting continuum and pushing manipulative, dogmatic pseudoknowledge in the form of over-simplistic, divisive sound bytes to condition public opinion in the direction of misguided conventional wisdom, has rendered clear thinking and understanding in this, and many other, areas unlikely and rare. Therefore, when people decide how they’ll parent, they look around at the conflicting facts and data, the politicized rhetoric, the plethora of Christian Right tomes crammed with misinformation, ignorance and dogma on such subjects, and the parenting books that are available whose information ranges from incredibly erroneous and foolish to great, and they decide they might as well either wing it or do what their parents did. Facts, science, knowledge and wisdom are the tragic casualties of this cultural pattern, and the happiness, health and fulfillment of our culture’s people are thereby relegated to casualty lists as well.
Of course, we don’t really need the social engineers to form more bureaucracies and create more programs and sting us for more taxes for yet another poorly thought out social engineering experiment, such as licensing parents. Endless litigation relating to who is/isn’t a competent parent, Big Brother monitoring actions, and bureaucratic snafus would be the only result. What we need is for individuals to choose to begin to apply Third Wave knowledge to the relationships, communications and parenting areas of their lives rather than continuing with the dysfunctional patterns that they were taught from parents and society. [Think MC. See Why Register for an MC?.]
Registering for MC search and match