The furore over the disciplining of the 12-year-old child has evoked more sustained comment than the video with the other mother/adult participating in a mob attack on a child about a year ago.
The issue of parenting is a serious one for us as a nation since 43 per cent of our total households and children
are in the urban areas and virtually half of these households are headed by single women who were either never married or separated. Most of them are in the 25 to 44-year age group, with bare secondary education, and have to work to support the home.
Teenage pregnancy is a crisis in our nation. Education Minister Dr Tim Gopeesingh, in February 2014, said ten out of 15 new patients in the ante-natal wards are teens. By age 19, more than 1,000 women annually have more than four children.
These two issues are crucial for us to discuss as the genesis of the incident. Teen pregnancy is a cost to society: the girls are less likely to finish school, more likely to depend on public assistance, and grow up to be poor adults, with children who are a drag on the society. Women, as household heads, have fewer resources to raise children and therefore are overrepresented among those living in poverty.
In the specific case, the plight of the household is not characterised by a lack of love, if one looks at the video beyond the infliction of the “licks”. The child is compliant, even in the situation, while another child is not distressed.
The problem we have here is the impact and challenges of technology in a household that is ill-prepared. Nobody is discussing the way the presence of mobile phones, YouTube and Twitter has increased the parenting challenges. On YouTube, in the last four months, more than five incidents in local schools show an epidemic of poor social behaviour. The Education Ministry is silent about an action plan.
The other issue is the destruction of community. According to the mother’s account, she reached out in vain to the parents of the boys involved. It was not their problem: a far cry from yesteryear. She is on her own—the father is more concerned about his image, the school does not wish to know, the State is spectacularly absent and the critics, with their rose-tinted lenses, stand ready with buckets of shame. Gone are the days when parents united to ensure their children were kept in line. Now, new communities are being created via Facebook, schools and malls.
I suggest we move from demonising the parent to planning how to save our next generation. We need to open up dialogue on the challenges of parenting in the 21st century. Corporate Trinidad needs to follow the example of Republic Bank and fund parenting and literacy programmes.
National competitive success comes when we move past the bobolee that is Ms Barlett, look in the mirror and ask ourselves what we plan to do to make our families better able to face their issues. Our future depends on it.