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The Unintended Consequences of Trying to be a ‘Good Parent’

Updated: Oct 13, 2022

by C4C

At Citizens4Change we recognize that the love and care of a family is one of the most fundamental factors for a positive, safe and healthy childhood. However, in trying to ‘do the right thing’, some parents may be causing unintended consequences.

Across East Africa, and in many other societies, the science and psychology of how children best develop is not always widely understood or discussed. This can result in parents not knowing what the best thing to do for children is and at its worst, can put children at risk.

For example, for many parents making sure their child is in a formal educational setting very early or pressuring children to spend all of their free time studying or doing homework. This can have a detrimental effect, particularly at an early age. Whilst parents do this as they want their children to have opportunities in life, this parenting behavior does not recognize the need for play and the importance of play in the development of a child.

In contrast, some parents do not see the value in school and as such, either choose not to send their children or do send them but provide no support or encouragement. This means that children are often disengaged or unable to fully participate due to a lack of support from home.

Additionally, research from Community of Children’s Rights and Children in Crossfire has highlighted that parents in urban settings face the particular challenge of social fragmentation, as parents (who are often young) lack the role models and advisers they would typically have had access to in more stable social networks.

Living in the city can create risks to children. When parents have to go out during the days and work they may have to leave small children at home, unsupervised, hungry or being cared for by multiple individuals with different ethics, standards and behaviors towards the children. In the city, living in rented accommodation where there are multiple occupancies mean children are vulnerable when left like this during the day. Whilst parents see it as providing for the child, it could be a serious risk factor in formative years of a child’s life.

In more serious cases, practices such a Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) are carried out on young girls by or with the permission of their parents. FGM is understood to be a hugely harmful practice, but parents often believe it is right to carry this out as it will protect girls from sexual advances.

What is evident, from the experience the Citizens4Change team have had, and the research from other organizations, is that the majority of parents do want to do the right thing by their children. Finding a parent who actively wants to do the ‘wrong thing’ for their child is incredibly rare. However, the issue is ensuring parents have the circumstances, support, knowledge and skills to action the ‘right thing’. Across East Africa, public health campaigns have proved a successful way of spreading the ‘right’ message to parents and carers. More can and should be done in this regard. That, and widening the circle of care so that more individuals are ‘protectors’ and can spread the message of ‘doing the right thing’ to protect children. Sign up now and become a #Citizen4Change.

Want to know more about what ‘doing the right thing’ means? Explore Dr Kate McAlpine’s research.

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