Lance Fein challenges America and its policy makers to consider licensing parents in view of the tragic mass murder of 20 children and six adults in Newtown, Connecticut
The horrific execution of 20 children and six adults in Connecticut on December 14, 2012, left the country truly heartbroken. I watched the story unfold and a sickness developed in stomach. I am writing this article from two perspectives. As a parent of five-and six-year-olds, these children could have been mine. As an educator working in a school with at risk students, this could have been me.
A deep feeling of despair overcame me. Not just because this was the now the fourth time in the last few years we have seem mass killings in schools or public places or that each time the carnage grows. Not because this time it was children who were massacred. The despair came from a much deeper, darker place. It came from the realization that the only reason I was having this type of visceral reaction was because of the age of the victims. Had this been another shopping mall, restaurant, or university I am not sure I would have followed the news story. The despair came from the realization that I was becoming numb to random acts of unspeakable violence. The despair came from wondering when I would become numb to hearing about a classroom full of six-years-olds was randomly slaughtered. I never want to be numb to this reality.
Why? That was the question everyone was asking. What could have led a person to commit these horrific acts? The usual suspects were thrown around. Gun control? Mental health? Security within our schools, movie theatres, temples, malls? How was this person allowed to develop to the point where he could commit the heinous act?
These are valid questions but do not address a key issue associated with these shootings. There is however, one question that has never been asked, and if not addressed will continue to lead to these tragic violent and senseless acts.
Why do we not require a license to have a child? Are you shocked by this question? More shocked than you were when you turned on the news only to see a classroom of 20 first graders massacred? What is more shocking?
As someone who has spent the majority of their life working with and educating children who exhibit similar behaviors to a young Adam Lanza on a daily basis, I can assure you there is one question that needs to be addressed that has never been included in the national debate about young men and gun violence.
Animals Learn Parenting Skills Organically
As human beings we are the only species who defies survival of the fittest. Science, technology and medicine has allowed us to continually extend our life span, save those who without medical intervention would not survive, and accept unchecked propagation. No other species on earth lives by the rules we live by. As a comparison, lions are the exact opposite.
When an adult male takes over a pride by killing the alpha male, he kills every cub in the pride as well. Why? To ensure that only his offspring will survive. With that being stated, I am grateful that we do not have jungle law; kill or be killed; survival of the fittest. However, with the power to save, extend, and protect life comes great responsibility.
Maternal instinct may be enough in the wild, but it is nowhere close to enough in our modern society. And that is where our downfall lies. There has been no compensation for the amount of knowledge, structure, and security children now need for healthy development. We have just expected that these skills, like maternal instinct would evolve naturally. And we were wrong.
A License for Parenting
We regulate everything. You need a license to drive, fish, own a gun, get married, and even own a dog. But anyone can have a child. Yes, the question is: “Why do we not require a license to have a child?” While it may be a God-given right to give birth, God does not bestow the same knowledge on parents to raise children as he does the right to be one. And nobody should be told if they can have a child. Anyone can have a child. And anyone should be able to have a child, provided they have been given the proper training and education.
Our most precious resource and hope for future generations is almost completely neglected. Before you become outraged at the idea, let me clarify that I am not proposing anything more than requiring expecting parents to attend classes which educate them and provide them with the knowledge and resources necessary to maximize the potential of raising healthy, well-adjusted, and happy children.
I can already hear the various groups screaming from the rooftops of how having to obtain a license to have a child is a violation of numerous civil and constitutional rights. However, if you take just a few moments to let the idea sink in, it speaks to the root problem of not just the violent acts that our country experiences on a regular basis, but the cause of the majority of the problems we face.
Mandatory Parenting Classes
I am not advocating stopping people from having children. I am simply proposing that we adopt the same policy on childbirth that we do to owning a dog or driving a car. You can drive as many cars as you want and own as many dogs as you want, but you must have a license. Why? Because we are not born with parenting skills. They have to be taught. And if they are not taught, you end up with parents who are incapable of raising children. Not because they don’t have the ability, but because they were never provided the education, techniques, guidelines, interventions, and support to ensure their child would grow up to be a healthy, happy, and a contributing member of society. And without this education and support for parents, the success of every child born is a roll of the dice.
The fact that an individual has the ability to fertilize an egg and carry an embryo to term does not qualify them as parents. People who adopt or require fertility treatments are put through a screening process before they can have a child. Single and gay parents in many cases are not even considered suitable parents by the screening process. The notion that if you can have a child naturally (even if by accident or as a teenager) qualifies you to be a parent is ludicrous.
We used to rely on a nuclear family and our schools to help raise our children. Our grandparents taught our parents, the schools helped instill discipline and respect for others and oneself; two-parent homes were the norm. All of this has changed, yet we have done nothing to replace the voids left behind.
If we are not mature enough and honest enough as a society to have this discussion, not only will these tragedies continue, but as a society we will devolve to a point of survival of the fittest.
Our politicians continually talk about investment in our children, in education, in our future. But the reality is by the time children reach the age of school readiness it is too late. The interventions, support, and resources need to begin before the child is born. Parents need to be educated on nutrition, prenatal care, and proper care and environment for the expectant mother, and most importantly understand the self-sacrifice it is going to take to raise a child. The most important rule, “You might be the parent and in charge, but your child’s safety, health, and physical needs must always come before your own.”
A Parenting Deficit
I am not writing this column because I am an extremist. I have dedicated my life to educating at risk populations and helping families develop the structure, skills, and consistency they need to raise their children. My colleagues and I have worked and continue to work with over 200 children every day who exhibit many of the same behaviors and traits that young Adam Lanza, James Holmes, Dylan Klebold, Eric Harris, Jared Loughner and Seung-Hui exhibited when they were children. I know first hand, that with appropriate intervention and support many of these children’s lives can be turned around and saved.
The problem is not the children or their parents; it is a direct lack of knowledge, a parenting deficit. And the only way to overcome a knowledge deficit is by education and remediation. We need to educate and remediate parents. We need to be proactive from birth not reactive when our children become murderous felons.
I read the article “I am Adam Lanza’s mother.” If you haven’t read it, I recommend that you do. It speaks volumes to what I have written above. Here is a mother who believes she has done everything she can to help her son. Yet nothing has worked. From the article it sounds like she is a single mother of three children. I have no idea where the father is but it is evident from the article there is no male role model or disciplinarian in this family.
The interventions the mother uses are the best ones she can think of, but are ineffective; taking away her son’s guns when he called her “a stupid bitch.” The government systems have not been able to provide the necessary support for her son, her, or her family. It is just a matter of time until her eldest hurts her or one of her younger children (if he hasn’t already). The mother allows herself to be bitten, hit, and threatened with knives. She locks up all the sharp objects in a Tupperware container and has taught her younger children to run out of the house and lock themselves in the car when the oldest son doesn’t get what he wants, becomes agitated, and starts raging.
Imagine living under these conditions as a parent, sibling, or even as the aggressive child himself. If he truly cannot help himself then he needs to be institutionalized. However, I can introduce you to another 100 mothers who have similar stories; whose children were out of control before they found an appropriate environment. Some of these children have chemical imbalances, and some of them need to be institutionalized. However, the vast majority needs to be taught how to behave and their parents need to be taught how to control their home.
Parenting is a Learned Skill
In almost every case, regardless of what the solution is with the child, the parents need to be educated as well. Parenting is a skill and like all other skills it needs to be taught and practiced in order for mastery to occur. I need to be clear on this point. I am not blaming parents; I am stating that we need to educate parents. Despite all my experience working with children and my formal education in psychology and education, I still find myself questioning some of my parenting decisions. I cannot imagine what it must be like for parents without practical or formal training.
Unfortunately in some cases, it is too late. I can assure you that her son did not suddenly develop these type of behavior problems. I can guarantee that unless there was some type of traumatic triggering event, her son was a problem for most of his life; perhaps not recognized. And even when the mother recognized the problem, she did not have the proper skill set to handle the situation.
My ideas for licensing parents are not discriminating. They are not based on sociological or economic factors, focus on specific racial, or religious identities. All they require is a commitment and sacrifice of the parent; the same commitment required to be a successful parent.
I hope that the media who reads this post is willing to acknowledge the unacknowledged issue of inadequate parenting skills and advocate for making inadequate parenting one of the talking points when discussing our continuing national tragedy of young, troubled young men who kill using guns in America.
Image courtesy of Clinton Fein, a contributor to the New Civil Rights Movement
Lance Fein is the Executive Director of Alternative Education Foundation (AEF). AEF is a non -profit organization which operates schools and provides service and support to students who are not being successful in traditional school environments, socially, and/or at home. Many of the students AEF caters to are diagnosed with Autistic Spectrum Disorders, ADHD, and other social and communication deficits. Fein has dedicated the majority of his career to the creation and establishment of programs which focus on the academic, social, cognitive, and emotional development of children and adolescents. Under his leadership, AEF now operates four schools in the Broward County area. Fein earned his Bachelor’s degree in Psychology with a focus on Biological Basis of Behavior from Florida Atlantic University; his Master’s of Science Degree in Education from American InterContinental University; and is currently completing his Doctoral thesis at Walden University. He is author of a forthcoming book titled “How to stop your child from becoming a mass murderer and other safety concerns.”
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