Maxine J. Wood, Ed.D

By Maxine J. Wood, Ed.D,
Special to the AFRO

Winter in the Maryland, Virginia, Washington D.C. areas in 2022–2023 was moderately kind, with no real extreme weather challenges. Spring entered rather quietly on March 20, and will end June 20, with the arrival of summer. 

Ready or not, those perennial expectations, events, activities– and behaviors that come with it– have begun. 

This season is anticipated and welcomed for the traditional opportunities offered for all ages, to enjoy new experiences, plan special events and activities, see different things, enjoy time out away from the workplace, from routines and — oh yes — from school! But learning is lifelong.

The summer of 2022 was an eye-opening period for many whose lives had been shifted, shaped and uniquely impacted by COVID-19. I recall imploring parents and those in parenting roles to seek specific ways to supplement and identify different learning methods for children and youth–especially remotely.

As summer 2023 approaches, the effects of COVID-19 still linger. 

The pandemic resulted in significant and sometimes amazing changes. Alternative problem solving continues to happen. People with defined roles and responsibilities in diverse places proactively began to do things better or differently. This was true among educators and much of society.

Things are different today than they were in 2022. A most troubling and obtrusive difference relates directly to the rise of crime and violence among youth 17 years old and younger– both as victims and perpetrators. 

A growing list of such occurrences is chronicled regularly via the media and shared in open conversations among students, parents, families, educators, preachers, politicians and community leaders. As these voices become stronger and more emphatic, I noted that they serve as a cohesive voice in asking about parents and families and their roles and responsibilities for children. 

Opinions and recommendations regarding the reduction of youth involvement in violence and crime produce varied responses and proposed remedies. Such reactions were forecast early during COVID-19, when warnings surfaced and some remedies were posited. For instance, a November 2020 United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime article, titled “The Challenges of protecting youth from crime and violence in a pandemic” highlighted “the need to prioritize the continuity of services for youth, parents and families, including through community-based programs. The importance of parental care and family skills programmes in supporting young people, preventing violence and promoting family well-being…”

The UN article provided a look into concerns about rising youth violence. Guidance on responses and possible solutions varied. The recognition that growth could occur in this particular area, aligned with recommendations for addressing it, seemingly gained prominence in other countries.

The past school year, youth crime and violence caused more people to consider specific ways parents can be directly involved in addressing their children’s behaviors. Nationally, in communities, cities and states, adults are seeking solutions to reduce these criminal activities, including jobs, recreational experiences and various incentives. More recently, however, questions and concerns also focused on parents’ responsibilities and accountability for their children of all ages. 

The Mayor of Baltimore City has a plan for implementing a curfew for children and youth 17 years old and younger. This is not a new concept or proposition. It is an effort to involve parents more directly in accounting for their children and their child’s behaviors. Hopefully, those in leadership will give serious attention to offering support, assistance, advice and guidance to parents. 

Formally or informally, parents may face more difficulty in addressing the needs of pre-teen and teenage children. Increased opportunities for employment, rewards and incentives, recreation, instruction, sports, enrichment, tutoring, trips, extracurricular events, internships and volunteer experiences are among the many proposals to inspire and encourage this age group to pursue and develop beneficial habits. If pursued, these [activities] can support timely, critical responses to the needs of children and youth today.

A long-range plan is needed to improve parental investment as a tactic to reduce the involvement of children and youth in crime and violence. Providing appealing and encouraging initiatives are needed for parents of children in preschool through elementary grades to understand, value and accept their own importance as their children’s first teachers. Such an early investment in this traditional foundation for learning– built in the home– is a rallying point for parents, families and communities alike. 

I suggest we equip and strengthen the capacity of parents to teach their children, at an early age, the importance of not just learning, but recognizing learning as a lifelong endeavor. Children should  know it can and should happen in the home or community. Parents can teach during normal experiences that cultivate better parent-child relationships, like shopping for food and making smart money decisions together while discussing the family budget. Such experiences offer an opportunity for parents to focus on ways they can help their children from preschool or elementary to acquire or learn family values and behaviors in the home.

Parents and others can teach children their expectations of right and wrong behaviors, elements of character, respect for self, respect for others and family traditions. Some parents may only need to focus on being their children’s first teachers at the early ages when they are learning to walk, talk and acquire basic skills. Such early involvement by parents can lead them to accepting their important roles in cultivating greatness 

My focus in education involved assisting, advising and encouraging parents to support their children’s learning. I created and utilized a mantra, “When parents are involved in the education of children, everyone learns!” 

As Summer 2023 approaches, solid, consistent and encouraging messages should be shared with parents, families and those responsible for all children and youth. There must be diligent encouragement for youth to apply for and seek involvement with the large variety of opportunities available for learning being presented by schools, recreation centers, private and non-profit agencies, municipal government, entrepreneurs, places of worship, and volunteer services. 

Efforts by schools, parent and teacher organizations, professionals and educators working with preschool, early childhood, child care programs are vital at this time. They can capture the interest of parents in cultivating their significant roles and nurturing them through formal and informal programs deemed valuable for laying a needed foundation today. Such an early investment can lead to the increased importance of lifelong learning among children, youth and their parents.

Summer 2023 is envisioned as a good beginning, creating positive impacts on increasing and strengthening parent and child relations in the future. We need to prepare, collectively, to encourage and support such an initiative now. Summer 2023 is coming…ready or not.

Maxine Johnson Wood, Ed.D., is a retired Pre–K–12 educator and college and university administrator.