Bad parents are our worst teachers

August 24, 2014

In psychologist Dr Michael Carr-Gregg’s new book ‘Strictly Parenting’, he laments the rise of ‘crap parenting’ in this country. Some have taken issue with his liberal use of the label ‘crap’ to describe one of life’s roles that is clearly never easy, but as a teacher who witnesses daily the result of a range of different parenting styles, I have to unfortunately say that I side with Dr Michael – there are too many poor parents out there.

First let me say that I am not yet a parent myself. One day I will be, and I’m sure it will be no easy task. Yet today let me speak as a teacher, who is all too often filling the void or social etiquette gap left behind by parents who did not do the job to begin with.

Every work day, teachers work with the product of parenting. The debate goes on about the quality of the teachers in our classrooms, and unfortunately teachers are all too often negatively branded in said debate, yet there’s an obvious truth that is often overlooked whenever the tabloids splash a story bemoaning this country’s falling literacy or the drop in our discipline standards: a child’s greatest teacher is their parent.

Teachers might work with a child six hours a day, and in secondary school that time is even less, yet a parent is responsible for every aspect of the child’s life, from early education, basic skills in reading and writing, attitude, emotional intelligence, social skills, physical wellbeing – the parent is the number one teacher.

So without any parenting experience at all, here’s my observations about the diverse parenting styles out there, and the impact they have on the student.

The aloof parent

These are the parents where it takes fifteen phone calls just to get through. These parents play little active role in their child’s education because presumably, they are more interested in their own lives. This results in a student who does not understand boundaries and rules because they have not been set at home.

The ‘education isn’t important’ parent

This type of parent and the aloof parent can sometimes go hand in hand. Yet there are parents who genuinely play an active and in many ways, positive role in their child’s life, but they don’t emphasise the value of education as much as they should. These parents were presumably not engaged in their own education, so they pass this attitude onto their child. They’re not necessarily bad parents, it’s just that their attitude creates a culture of mediocrity.

The ‘my child can do no wrong’ parent

These parents blame everyone else for the child’s problems. If he or she gets in trouble at school, it must have been the other kid’s fault. If my child punched that kid, what did that kid do to deserve it and what punishment is that kid getting? Sigh. These parents like to argue the point and jump to their child’s defence at every turn, and unsurprisingly, the child witnesses this and develops an attitude where it’s okay to argue against authority in every circumstance.

The stress-head parent

Everything is a big deal, and the best way to cope with difficult circumstances is to be overly negative and tell the child how bad the situation is. On any issue, the first thing that can be seen ten miles down the road is the negative outcome. So naturally, the student in the classroom lacks any coping mechanism for difficult situations, and their emotional intelligence is poor since they find themselves anxious and stressed.

The ‘bad role model’ parent

Okay, it’s fine to drink socially, no-one argues with that. Yet getting drunk in front of the child on a regular occasion is not okay. The child grows up in a drinking culture and unsurprisingly sees drinking as a right of passage as soon as they hit their teenage years.

The ‘yes’ parent

The child has never heard the word ‘no’ in their life, and magically, they’re shocked when a teacher dares to admonish them for poor behaviour. These kids were never taught boundaries because the parent, presumably with the very best of intentions, wanted to adhere to the every whim and wish of their child in order to make them happy. Yet the opposite occurs, because in the real world things don’t always go our way, and therefore the child’s coping mechanism is extremely poor.

The ‘enabling’ parent

Similar to the ‘yes’ parent. These parents allow their child to get away with underperformance, blaming it on external issues instead. My child can’t do this. He has never been good at that. You can’t expect this much of her. They don’t encourage their child to push themselves, and instead they rescue them. Need a note? Sure. Don’t want to attend the sports carnival because you’re uncomfortable? Okay. Want to drop this subject because it’s too hard? Yes dear. It’s ironic that this cycle of protection produces the very effect that parents don’t intend to – increased anxiety and a lack of resilience.

The best parents

As I already said, I’m not a parent myself. But from dealing with a range of students and seeing it from the teacher’s side, here’s what I have observed. The best parents:

  • Are involved in their child’s education and they see the value in it
  • They push their child, but within reason
  • They open possibilities for their child by involving them in sports, arts, and other hobbies
  • They hold their child accountable
  • They’re prepared to take away privileges if their child is not performing as they should
  • They say yes as much as they say no
  • They encourage RESPECT! Respect for peers, respect for authority, respect for family, and respect for themselves.

Dr Michael Carr-Gregg’s comments are a timely reminder of where the responsibility for the next generation truly lies. Teachers might play a role in shaping the next generation, but ultimately, we are at the mercy of parents. Good parenting, more than anything else, will ensure a child’s success.

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