The Words of the Walsh Family
New York, USA -- In commemoration of the 20th Anniversary of the International Year of the Family and the Global Day of Parents, the Permanent Mission of Grenada and UPF organized a forum about "The Significance of Parents in Human and Societal Development" held June 17, 2014 at the UN headquarters in New York. This event was honored by the enthusiastic co-sponsorship of the Permanent Representatives of Egypt, El Salvador, Indonesia, Nigeria and Romania and greatly enhanced by the supportive partnership of the Women's Federation for World Peace International.
The first session, chaired by Taj Hamad, secretary general of UPF, opened with H.E. Denis G. Antoine, permanent representative of Grenada to the UN, sharing about the challenges parents face with many social changes and stresses such as social media and mentioned the anguish of parents in Nigeria with the recent abduction. The ambassador stated, "parents are indispensable" and without parental love, guidance and values, children have little sense of belonging or moral guides for their decisions; therefore, it is essential to reflect on and strengthen the role of parents for the sake of building strong societies.
Ms. Amira Fahmy, counselor at the Permanent Mission of Egypt, spoke with great emphasis on children's natural need of parenting from both a mother and father for their optimum development in becoming contributing members of society. Mr. Masni Eriza, counselor at the Permanent Mission of Indonesia, emphasized parents' unique role in giving children stability and love and teaching responsibility and values, stating that because "parents unlock the maximum potential for children," we need to take seriously the inclusion of the family in the Sustainable Development Goals. Ambassador Noel Sinclair, deputy chef de cabinet of the 68th Session of the UN General Assembly, shared how his parents taught him about coexisting cooperatively with others, caring for and respecting others, and living for the common good. As his family of nine was poor and he had to share a pair of sneakers with his sister, they had to alternate going to school week by week. He said being poor surely has significant disadvantages, but the security and love of his parents was far more important to him and made all the difference.
The second session was moderated by Ms. Alexa Ward, deputy director of the UN Office for the Women's Federation for World Peace International. Fernando Vial, advocacy fellow at the World Youth Alliance, shared a striking personal story of how his mother's small but sacrificial act had a lifetime impact on his learning the value of integrity. Next, the keynote speaker, Dr. Catherine Panter-Brick, professor of anthropology, health and global affairs at Yale University, gave an informative PowerPoint presentation on, "Effective Parenting: Promoting Health, Development, and Peace" based on her years of research done around the world. Dr. Panter-Brick summarized from her research into both disadvantaged and middle-class populations by saying "to prevent mental health disorders, we need to prevent childhood adversities, and for this we need family-focused policies that strengthen the capabilities of parents to reduce violence, illness, and poor functioning." She said that unless we strengthen parents, both rich and poor, so that they can raise their children without the toxic stress of violence, neglect and family dysfunction, we are turning "gold into lead" or "turning normal children with great potential into mentally diseased adults."
Showing graphs of the cost effectiveness of different interventions including job training and school programs, Dr. Panter-Brick made clear that the earliest programs that strengthen parenting abilities are by far the most effective for child well-being. She stressed that secure attachment to both the mother and father are predictive of the child's success on all levels of development throughout life, since the parent-child relationship "sets the stage for the chemical and structural changes in the brain that govern emotional, social and physical behavior throughout life." Emphasizing that the father's role cannot be underestimated, she said "the benefits of being securely attached to a father are paramount when children enter their period of adolescence."
Dr. Panter-Brick discussed recent research answering the question, "With effecting parenting, can we raise our children in ways that reduce violence inside and outside the home?" with a resounding, "yes." These research findings will be discussed this September at the UN in the launching of the Early Childhood Peace Consortium and the publication, Pathways to Peace. In her conclusion, she pointed out that policies and investments for social development are amiss if they exclude the family. Instead she argues for early childhood investments and parenting education, especially ones that engage fathers, as "the key to boost adult health, to reduce crime, to raise earnings, and to promote education and global citizens... because the scientific evidence links substantial family investments to real boosts in adult health, social and economic development and a disposition to peace."
After Dr. Panter's presentation, respondent, Dr. Thomas Walsh, president of UPF, praised the presentation for making clear the essential role of parents, the importance of engaging fathers and the need for early intervention. We must create family-focused policies and programs, because mothers and fathers are the best resource we have for raising children to their full potential, or "gold into gold for life."