Toronto Sun

Friday, January 14, 2000

It's all your fault, Mom

Is this where your children are headed?

By ELAINE MOYLE, TORONTO SUN

Parenting practices influence the outcome of children more profoundly than any other factor, including a family's financial status.

That's the finding of a Statistics Canada study to determine why some children develop behaviour disorders and others don't.

Reviewing data from the 1994 National Longitudinal Survey of Children and Youth, researchers attempted to link conduct problems with such influences as poverty, age and marital status of parents, parenting styles and the number of siblings raised in the family.

"One of the most important influences in young children's lives is their family environment and the bond they establish with their parents -- a bond closely affected by parenting practices," the study concludes.

The findings cement what youth workers have suspected for a long time: There's a link between parents' and children's behaviour. Such sentiments have been echoed by the federal Department of Justice and the National Crime Prevention Centre. In a public opinion survey, 64% of respondents cited poor parenting and broken homes as "very important" factors contributing to crime.

Although parenting style appears to have the strongest association with aggressive behaviour, the report assures parents that occasional lapses into "less-than-perfect" child-rearing techniques won't create delinquent kids.

The report deemed the following approaches most likely to create children with behavioural problems:

- Ineffective (often annoyed with the child, tells him/her that they're not as good as other children);

- Aversive (parents raise their voices when child misbehaves, use physical punishment);

- Inconsistent (disciplines the child in different ways for the same wrongdoings);

- Negative (criticizes the child, no playing or laughing together).

ENCOURAGING MESSAGE

Other factors -- parental education, income and job status, collectively known as socioeconomic status -- are also considered fairly significant.

"Aversive and inconsistent parenting techniques, lone-parent status, low socioeconomic status and number of siblings are also associated with a higher probability of children exhibiting conduct disorder," the report says.

Carol Sinclair, director of treatment services at Hincks-Dellcrest Centre, says the study sends an encouraging message to families who are struggling financially.

"We're not saying poverty doesn't matter -- it does matter because it puts stress on families and influences parenting styles," she says. "But if parenting is supportive, gives good guidance to kids and is nurturing, poverty takes second place, as does single parenting ... It gives parents hope because they realize they've got much more control on the outcome of their kids."

Conversely, Sinclair has seen families without economic stresses attempting to cope with troubled kids.

"Social policy makers can also learn from this study," she says. "There should be more support provided to parenting programs because these skills can be taught and they have a wonderful impact on our kids."

'HUGE STRESS'

Early child development expert Dr. Fraser Mustard notes today's parents "are under huge stress," attributing the phenomenon to a variety of factors, including the technological revolution, the flow of population into urban centres and the fracturing of extended families.

Fortunately, there are signs that help may be on the way in the form of publicly funded early-childhood and parenting centres.

"Moms need support thoughout the cycle," says Mustard, founder of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research. "The first year is pretty crucial."

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