Monday, February 18, 2013

The Inner City Family Structure and its Impact on Child Development

Many parents face an uphill battle in raising their children to succeed because their families and role models – their parents, friends, celebrity influences, and so on – do not adequately prepare them for this responsibility. Consequently, parents foster the development of unhealthy behaviors in their children that negatively affect nutrition, social support, and emotional and intellectual development. For example, parental drug abuse and addiction can result in a chaotic and unpredictable home environment in which a child is abused or neglected.

Growing up in Baltimore, I saw firsthand many young children and teens assembling in the late night and early morning hours with their older siblings, friends, and neighbors as they engaged in smoking, drinking, and extreme profanity. Even more disturbing were the values and upbringing that they received from their young parents. For example, many children in my neighborhood grew up on the greasy cheese steaks, french fries, and chicken boxes available at the local corner store. Their parents mostly ignored them while they entertained their own friends, sold or used drugs, engaged in promiscuous behavior, and used profane language. I even saw these same young parents introduce their children to illegal drugs, finding it “fun and cool” to watch their young children act out. Did they realize that early exposure to harmful substances could lead to lasting physical and mental disorders in their children?

This parenting environment, combined with the stress, the widespread abuse of drugs and alcohol at a young age, and the constant exposure to violence that too often define urban life, can result in a lack of emotional maturity and intellectual development in children and teens. This emotional and intellectual stagnation impairs their ability to succeed in school and afterwards. They do not develop the emotional reserves needed to overcome adversity. Ultimately, when these children become parents, often at a young age themselves, the cycle is repeated – a new generation of parents who lack the skills, the emotional capacity, and the stability to provide a healthy environment and stable home for their children.

The time has come when we, as a community, must break this cycle of “fun and cool” activities and promote education, healthy habits, consistency, and stability. Young children and the children of young children must learn about the importance of honesty, respect, sacrifice, and commitment. Most important, they will then be prepared to provide positive guidance, leadership, and love to the next generation.