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Parental engagement can soften harsh reality

When violence supersedes communication: a parent smacking a child of about 3 sends a negative message

Bermuda’s latest gang shootings have led me to reflect upon something I recently observed. I happened to be in a store and spotted a woman of approximately 20 years, with a child of about 3, who was messing about as three-year-olds do. In return, the woman gave him a forceful slap upside his head. Consequently, the child stopped doing what three-year-olds do.

I couldn’t help but think to myself that this child has the deck heavily stacked against him. He is being taught by his mother that violence supersedes communication. I estimated that the lack of patience demonstrated by the adult will play a negative role in the child’s education and, thus, lead him to deal with challenges in the same way his mother did.

A multitude of questions soon followed. Was the woman treated similarly by an adult? Is she repeating a cycle, or maybe she was given everything she ever wanted and now finds herself ill-equipped to raise a child? And what about the father? Does he play a positive or negative role in raising the child? Is he still with the mother? Is he making a sufficient financial and parental contribution? Is she taking out her frustrations on the child?

Finally, I had to ask myself, to what degree has society contributed to that smack? What kind of home do they come from? What kind of neighbourhood do they live in? What kind of education do the parents have? What about the recession, job opportunities and income inequality? How has the legacy of slavery, segregation and institutionalised racism — and sexism — contributed to the present circumstances?

As can easily be seen, the number of questions are endless simply because each person’s circumstances are unique. Without knowing each situation, it’s pretty much impossible to determine if any particular situation is parental, societal, self-inflicted or a combination of all of the above.

I can therefore respect The Royal Gazette’s editorial of June 1. Clearly, whoever wrote that piece was distraught and extremely frustrated by our endless ability and energy to mobilise thousands of people on every issue besides gang violence. Do Tucker’s Town, furlough days, same-sex marriage, immigration reform and the airport redevelopment deserve more attention than gang violence? It would appear so.

Similarly, I can respect the Letter to the Editor by A.O. Simons. Simons was obviously distraught and extremely frustrated by our continued failure to acknowledge the role that racism plays in gang violence. That particular point has a great deal of merit. Nevertheless, Simons presented a convoluted justification for our failure to address gang violence head-on.

It should also come as no surprise that some opportunistic politicians would attempt to use the editorial, and the response from Simons, to score some political points. Both the editorial and the response have merit, and neither should be dismissed outright.

Oh, well, while the political theatre continues, a harsh reality is made clearly visible to me as a parent. While others deal in navel-gazing and the blame game over who did what, my children need help. To put it more bluntly, no one is coming to save my children — not The Royal Gazette, not Simons, not the politicians, not the unions, not the teachers and not the preachers.

This point is not meant to disparage their contributions to the discussion, but to acknowledge that I am my children’s first line of defence, teacher, guidance counsellor and mentor. Regardless of the present circumstances, I have to set an example, provide them with sound advice, love and, yes, discipline. This is far easier said than done, but I created these children; therefore, they are my responsibility. If I teach them violence, if I allow antisocial behaviour to be seen as a virtue and if I neglect their education, their destruction is assured. It’s fully appreciated that every neighbourhood comes with its own unique challenges, and some have far greater challenges than others. But this is no reason to surrender to the circumstances. It means that there is greater demand for individuals and neighbours to raise children collectively.

I have seen the benefits of making parenting my first and last priority. I’ve seen what happens when a fractured family remain focused on the development of children. And, I’ve seen how neighbourhoods can thrive when parents are focused on the collective good of the neighbourhood children.

Some will say that I’m being nostalgic; some will even say that I’m being sanctimonious. To that, I would say that there’s no guarantee that my children will not end up in trouble. Nevertheless, I’ve seen proof that when a group of engaged parents work together, they can maximise their children’s potential.

To reach out to Bryant Trew, e-mail: bryanttrew@mac.com