With the spotlight starting to shift toward parent accountability in education, I have been asked to detail concrete ideas that would help establish good parenting foundations.
Like some educators, I have broadly advocated for a parenting education program that begins as soon as the mother is pregnant. Specifically, a universal opt-out program, meaning that any new mother is automatically enrolled in this program, as opposed to given an option up front. This prenatal period is a time fraught with both joy and anxiety as parents seek information about infant care, setting up the home, and preparing to nurture their child’s mental and physical development. Middle class parents, like teachers, can have the same insecurities as disadvantaged parents and would welcome practical information relating to child care and development. I also recommended the system of family support via parenting programs offered by David Kirp from his Kids First agenda. However, up front costs can be a huge factor in scaling up any system of programs, particularly since realized benefits are not so concrete in the short term and will be difficult to sell.
An alternative would be to reach parents through some mass communication approach that is easily accessible and requires less commitment: a national parenting network program (or Parent TV).
Think of the success of health-related shows as The Doctors, Dr. Oz, or even Dr. Phil (radio shows included Dr. Ruth, Dr. Laura, etc.), whose successes are largely driven by market demand. Health issues are extremely topical, given concerns about obesity, diabetes, and heart disease, along with the foods that contribute to them. Viewers can find out all kinds of practical information on weight management, allergies, chemicals in foods, arthritis, etc., all from a medical perspective.
Parenting TV will do the same for families. Imagine the possibilities of topics to explore:
How do we ensure kids go to school ready to learn?
All about caring for newborns
How do we get children to eat their vegetables?
10 ways to get your kids to read!
What are the best ways to discipline?
How to pick a high school for your child
Having the sex talk
How to deal with bullying
How to develop a child’s creativity
New parents (and even experienced ones) who need answers will have a dedicated forum to learn and interact in much the same way that Dr. Oz does with his audience — a virtual one-stop shop for all parenting information. This program can be funded through public-private partnerships similar to Obama’s Educate to Innovate 2010 initiative, along with an online component. Potentially, such a program could lead to a dedicated 24-hour network. Unlike the Family Channel, it would not be focused on entertainment; rather, on information and documentaries. Simple.
With education at the forefront of national needs, the timing is ripe for such an outlet. Right now the closest thing out there is the Parents Television Council, a non-profit watchdog organization that provides parents guidance on appropriate existing programming, but nothing that can provide essential parenting information. This idea is but one that can be used as support for parents, but must be in used in conjunction with a system of family support towards building social stability and a culture of education.