As modern technology is designed to do, my go-to places for news automagically curate a series of articles in which I am most likely to be interested. Inevitably my list includes parenting articles and blogs based on my frequency of clicking on all things parent-advice related. Intellectually, I understand that most articles and blogs are “clickbait” and provide very little real value.
Even knowing this, I never cease to be amazed at the level to which clickbait-copy-editors will stoop to get people to click on a parenting-advice article. Were you to believe the eye catching titles, you would be convinced that no matter the label you would give to your parenting style--it’s wrong. You would also be led to believe that the secrets to good parenting are kept so tightly hidden that only a select few are smart enough to know. You’d be quite sure that not only will your child not get into an elite college, but they’ll be lucky to leave your basement before the age of 40 because of all the terrible decisions you have made as a parent. Suffice it to say, none of the overzealous claims made in these blogs and articles is of much merit; they are simply trying to get you to click.
However, parenting does change from generation to generation. Knowing how and why parenting evolves is an important consideration when preparing our children for the world into which they will be launched rather than the one into which we were set in motion.
So how might this generation of children be pushing our thinking around parenting? I think we can take a page from what is happening in schools around the country for an indication. Much attention has been paid around something known as restorative justice; it is providing a model to look at discipline in schools differently.
As educational leaders, policy makers, and researchers look deeper into the causes of generational poverty, achievement gaps, and high school dropout rates, etc., many are asking if the punitive manner in which schools have traditionally approached discipline exacerbates problems, rather than fixes them, especially among ethnic minority populations, low income communities, and boys. Borrowing from work within the criminal justice system, schools began experimenting with restorative justice as an alternative to more punitive and exclusionary discipline techniques like suspension. Rather than punishing someone for their choices and meting out external consequences that have little impact on future choices and often further escalate division, restorative justice emphasizes accountability and making amends. When successful, restorative justice repairs harm caused by an infraction resulting in transformational change, relationship building, and empathy; it also dramatically decreases recidivism.
In my own community of Menlo Park, our school district began restorative work early on in the effort to rethink school discipline. In the first two years of implementation, our middle school, Hillview, experienced a dramatic decline in the number of suspensions, a near eradication of recidivism, and an elimination of the over-representation of students of color being disciplined at school. Over the two-year period, suspensions decreased from 112 to less than 12 in an entire year. Six years later, suspension rates remain low and restorative justice circles have become the approach of choice for helping pre-teens and teens own their mistakes and make amends for the harm they have caused.
Restorative justice is one example of a larger movement in our society known as restorative practices. Restorative practices refer to the mindsets and operations we engage around communication, conflict, and community building. In my community, we rely heavily on resources and wisdom from the International Institute for Restorative Practices to help guide our work around two aspects of our Whole Child Learning and Development Framework: Healthy & Collaborative Relationships and Integrated Well-Being.
Nearly all of our teachers have been trained in restorative practices and weekly or sometimes daily utilize an effective restorative strategy known as “community circles.” Whether it is starting out the day or identifying a brewing conflict within the class and strategizing how to resolve it, community circles give voice to all members of the class and encourage students to practice important skills like empathy, advocacy, allyship, decision-making, and problem solving.
“But I thought this blog was about parenting?” you might be asking yourself. It is. Strategies like community circles and the mindsets that drive the work are useful not just in the classroom, but also in our homes. When we empower our children to give voice to their feelings and experiences, to express that voice, to listen to the voice of others and then engage in empathy, advocacy, and problem-solving we are giving them an invaluable gift.
When our children misbehave, and they will, we can choose to engage them in a process of accountability, making amends, and strengthening the bonds of community within our own families. In doing so, I contend, we are providing them with much more than what punishment alone can provide. Restorative parenting, which takes a page from non-violent communication, reminds us that we operate in quadrants between high & low control and high & low support. Restorative parenting is firm and fair. It honors rather than manages or ignores. It doesn’t rescue the child. It requires them to take responsibility for their actions, elevating the voices of those who may have been harmed in the process, and invites the child to make amends for their choices--something punishment rarely does.
Before you accuse me of blasphemy and characterize my perspective as anti-punishment, I want to assure you that I recognize the value and necessity of punishment in our homes and schools. However, I invite you to learn more about the restorative mindsets and strategies that have evolved my thinking about effective parenting and teaching. I promise you will not be disappointed.
If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area, you have a wonderful opportunity to hear from one of our favorite Restorative Practitioners, Karen Junker, as she joins the Menlo Park community for a talk on restorative parenting. If you are a parent in our district, her talk will beautifully complement the messages your students are hearing in their schools and the experiences they have when conflict or misbehavior strike. Join us on Wednesday, January 8, 2020 at 6:30 p.m. at Hillview Middle School, 1100 Elder Ave, Menlo Park.
Whether you can make it to Karen’s talk or not, I invite you to read more and learn more about the additional parenting tool--restorative practices--that you can add to your tool belt. It just may save you from the next time you want to yell, “You’re grounded until 8th grade!” “I’m gonna throw away all your toys!” or “Why I oughta…!”
Erik Burmeister is the Superintendent of Menlo Park City School District in the heart of Silicon Valley.