Poor parenting results in bad kids. Heard that one? Yep. It’s the orthodoxy. Every news story, every case study, every program design and every intervention plan I read tracks anti-social behaviour in young people back to poor parenting. His father is an alcoholic, her mother is a drug addict, his mother has never held down a job, her father is violent in the home. Our choices reflected in our children’s eyes.
And I am certainly not arguing that poor parenting hasn’t contributed to poor outcomes in countless young people all over this country. No, I agree that a lot of parents have created a lot of clients for me in my career as a youth worker.
But that’s not the end of the story. Or rather, it’s not the start of the story.
I have never met anyone who wanted to be a “bad” parent. Who wanted to traumatise their own child, or hurt them. No one wants to do evil things. We all make judgments based on our own view of the world.
But consider this: only decades ago, there were strong theories in the community and medical circles that dwarfism, schizophrenia and autism were afflictions caused by something the parents of that child did or did not do. Autism was the result of cold and withholding parents, dwarfism was caused but lascivious thoughts in the pregnant woman. These theories seem absurd to us now. We know better, we have moved on. We no longer say to parents “you made your child schizophrenic”, or “you made your child malformed”.
But we do still say “you made your child a criminal” We do still say “In my house, we bought the children up differently and that sort of thing didn’t happen” We do still say “Where’s the parents? they bred them, they should be entertaining them, supervising them or kicking their arses”
So either we are overrun with a new special breed of evil, which aims to reproduce in order to train criminals to take over the world. Or perhaps our children and young people turn to criminality and anti-social behaviour for reasons other than, or in addition to, their ineffective parents?
So here’s the unpopular idea, the ”unfashionable opinion that is almost never given a fair hearing”. The crisis we are facing in youth crime is as much a product of how we as a community respond to trauma in families - within our communities - as it is about the trauma itself. It’s not just the parents. Come on, that argument doesn’t stand up to the most basic of logic tests - everyone has a story, everyone has their stuff. It’s the parents, the extended family, the neighbours, the teachers, the shop keepers, the peacekeepers and by-standers. It’s the whole village. It’s all of us.
It’s much easier to blame the parents of course. For a start they are usually people you don’t know. Not friends of yours of course. No one you care about whom you would need to look in the eye and tell them they are doing a really crap job and need to smarten up. And for seconds, if it’s the parents’ fault, then we are all off the hook.
Thoughts like these haunt me at times. Particularly when I have an overflowing caseload of kids. They haunt me because in order to effect change for more than just the kids in front of me, to make things better for all the kids to come after them, I have to find a way to chip away at the cause. Which of course requires me to define the cause. Which social commentators have tried to do for decades.
When the sheer scale of the problem starts to feel overwhelming, I can usually be found with my pack. Their grounded-ness, their present-ness, and their community order are soothing to me. Watching them and being with them re-establishes in me an understanding of and appreciation for my place in the scheme of things.
We have just added to our pack recently with the birth of 5 pups to a young bitch in the pack called Scarlett. Scarlett’s mother, Josie, has been overlooking the whole process closely. For 4 weeks Scarlett did a fabulous job of mothering the pups. Josie was granted visiting rights early on but apart from helping to clean the pups a bit, Scarlett maintained her position as sole provider and protector of her litter.
By the fifth week, Scarlett’s age, lack of experience and immaturity started to show through in an impatience with the rearing of pups. She didn’t know how to discipline them for biting her when feeding which resulted in sore teats. She didn’t know how to make them give her time off from their rowdy attention. So she started to just want to get away from them, and stay away. Josie took over. Josie is an older, more experienced dog. She is very hormonal and has made milk to feed the pups now. She has also given them a whole new understanding of discipline.
With Scarlett’s succession from motherhood, ripples of change are felt throughout the pack. There is burgeoning interest in the little tackers as different members of the pack shuffle into mentor roles, protective roles and discipline roles. Some dogs won’t tolerate the pups at all at this stage - as pack leader Dotty has a real issue with another bitch producing pups at all, so she is totally uninterested in their cuteness. Some dogs have recruited themselves as chief protectors and will follow the pups about making sure they don’t annoy the wrong dog. Other dogs just love to play with the tumbly little fellows who never seem to tire.
But every dog is invested in the pups. They are the responsibility of the pack, not the parent. There is an understanding that the parent cannot hope to be all things to all pups. And there is an evolutionary understanding that the future of the pack depends on the pups being useful future members. Without them the pack dies.
Within the pack, there is no place for anti-social behaviour. The pack doesn’t struggle with juvenile’s who steal from them or beat them up. They don’t struggle because such behaviour is confronted and corrected immediately by whichever member of the pack is affected by the behaviour. A dog won’t wait for the pup’s mother to discipline the pup for disrespect, they will discipline it themselves. It’s both their right and their responsibility to do so.
What have you done to care for your pack lately? When was the last time you saw something happening and thought to yourself – ‘well gee, that really sucks for that kid next door, I wonder if I could organise a family counsellor to help him’ or ‘those kids are so young to be hanging around my street so late at night. I wonder if I could give them hot chocolate and a lift home?’ Seem cracked? I’m sure it does, but stick with me here:
I have learned that magpies won’t attack people who feed them. So I have learned that if I want to avoid getting dive bombed in my paddocks by maggies in spring, I need to give them food. It sometimes feels a bit like fuelling the enemy - until I’m not being dive bombed and my husband is, because I feed them and he doesn’t.
I understand a lot of residents in my town are dealing with car theft and car damage in epidemic proportions. I understand that residents are locking their security screens even when they are at home to prevent home invasions and stealing.
I see the evidence of this and yet I have learned how it is that I can leave my car unlocked on the street and never have my wallet stolen. The kids who would steal it know my car, and I am feeding and caring for them. They are not my children but they are most certainly my pack.