John Seaman: Bringing evidence-based parenting methods home

In this undated photo, Elmo is with his family (Sesame Workshop via AP)

Perhaps the most common vocation is parenthood. Worldwide, an estimated 2.8 billion people are parents. About 90% of us become parents (either biological or step parent). For many, child-rearing is a source of identity which brings purpose and meaning to life.

Arguably, parenting is our most important vocation. The parent, in union with educators, passes the torch of knowledge to the child. This inter-generational function helps secure our future.

Today, many careers require a minimum level of education and specialized training — from teachers to police officers to bus drivers to doctors. For instance, the high school English teacher at minimum holds a bachelors degree in English, completes college classwork leading to accreditation as a teacher, demonstrates teaching proficiency during a year of student teaching and completes ongoing education throughout his/her career.

English teachers receive much education, training and evaluation of competency. Parents clearly do not. Despite the great importance of child-rearing, there is limited systematic and ongoing education for parents. As a result, many of us fly by the seat of our pants, do what our parents did, try to use common sense and hope for the best. Often, we consult with friends or neighbors who may be less informed than ourselves. The outcome is a parent who is often reactive rather than proactive, prone to employing threats and inconsistent in use of discipline.

A vast reservoir of science based knowledge, often practical, exists regarding best practice in child-rearing. Unfortunately, this treasure resides in academic journals and text books not often accessed by parents. Following is a tiny sample of relevant topics today’s busy parent might assimilate into his/her parenting practice: parent as academic tutor, strategies to complete homework, the negative effects of permissive parenting, how to speak so kids listen, strategies to enhance language development in early childhood, dealing with talking back, etc. There are many, many more. It is time that parents access this fund of knowledge.

In order to put this evidence-based knowledge into the hands of parents, it is proposed that a parenting center be established in each Utah high school. The center would be staffed by a small group of educators. Information would address children from preschool through high school. A variety of methods would be used to educate parents, including individual counseling sessions, topic based (e.g., organizing homework, ignoring teasing, handling noncompliance) parenting classes and easy to read hand out sheets that address specific child rearing topics.

A lending library would put parenting texts in the hands of parents. For the convenience of parents, center hours would be 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. weekdays and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays.

There is precedence for such a facility. The Jordan School District Family Education Center has for many years been a successful parent education resource in the community. This popular program offers, free of charge, a wide variety of parenting classes as well as short-term family counseling. While the Jordan Family Education Center is perhaps the best established, other parent education programs operate in the state.

Funding a parent education center will be a challenge, particularly given the damage COVID-19 has inflicted on our economy. Support from the Utah State Office of Education will be important to establish a dedicated funding source. Other monetary sources might include a nominal fee for services, paid sponsorship by corporations, funding by established foundations and community supported fund-raising events.

Unlike the high school English teacher, there are few programs designed to inform and strengthen the parent. Membership in the most important vocation requires no classwork, proficiency exam, skill demonstration, or even background check. It is hoped that the establishment of parent education centers state wide would ensure that parents are provided the information and skills essential to being effective in today’s complex world.

John Seaman

John Seaman, Ph.D., is a retired school psychologist and retired adjunct professor of psychology at Salt Lake Community College.