Saying parents need to take responsibility for the violent behaviour of their children, as Education Minister Anne Tolley recently did, is like suggesting a tree needs to take responsibility for the type of fruit it produces.

Just blaming schools or parents is not going to help anyone.While there are significant issues in the attitudes and skill levels of many parents and teachers, without a local plan to address the range of factors that lead to violent behaviour amongst children we will continue to see children dropping out of school.

It would be helpful to see a commitment from the new government to supporting a comprehensive local plan to develop pro-social skills in young children regardless of the competency levels of their parents or teachers.

Such a plan would include strategies for supporting long-term mentoring relationships with caring adults who can see the potential in each child, it would include more resources and information for parents and better monitoring by funders of initiatives like Social Workers in Schools that are supposed to be supporting both the home and school.

Recent international research that suggests the most important things parents can do to keep their children out of trouble is to spend time doing things that the whole family enjoys.

In order of importance, the next three most important things parents can do are:

–           to know where their children are and who they are spending time with;

–           to support children to get involved with pro-social peers through groups like sports, church and kapahaka; and

–           to keep their children connected to school.

Every young person needs a strong sense of belonging to a group of people, a sense of mastery and being good at something, a sense of being independent and a sense of contributing to their community.

If they don’t find these things at home or school they will look to their peer group to provide guidance on what is acceptable and unacceptable. The difficulty is that these young people are often also disconnected from home, school and their cultural and geographic communities.

Having been involved in a range of youth development research projects in Gisborne over the past five years, I’m still waiting for local and national leaders to make any significant commitment to a coordinated regional plan for the wellbeing of children and young people.

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