Are Parents Important for Human Development?

June 17, 2014 - UNHQ New York
At-the-UN/New-York/Importance-of-Parents
By: Mrs. Lynn Walsh, Director, UPF Office of Marriage & Family Education and Mrs. Alexa Ward, Deputy Director, WFWP UN Office

20th Anniversary of the International Year of the Family

In commemoration of the 20th Anniversary of the International Year of the Family and the Global Day of Parents, the Universal Peace Federation (UPF) and the WFWP UN Office partnered to host a forum entitled, "The Significance of Parents in Human and Societal Development," which took place on June 17 at the United Nations headquarters in New York.

Keynote Speaker: Dr. Catherine Panter-Brick and Dr. Thomas Walsh, President of UPF

Logo for the International Year of the Family.This event was sponsored by UPF and the Permanent Mission of Grenada to the UN and was co-sponsored by the permanent representatives of Egypt, El Salvador, Indonesia, Nigeria, and Romania.

I would like to especially acknowledge the WFWP UN team in New York and the WFWP leaders from abroad and from the greater New York area for their attendance and for filling the conference room with about 100 of the 130 guests. WFWP leaders included Ms. Sreerupa Chaudhury, president of WFWP India; Dr. Maria Riehl, president of WFWP Austria; Rev. Juanita Pierre-Louis, vice president of WFWP USA; and Mrs. Beryl Green, chairwoman of the WFWP chapter in New York City. The WFWP UN Team was represented by Alexa Ward, deputy director; Joy Theriot, assistant administrator; Jeanne Carroll; Roshan D'Souza; and Noriko Heying.

The Speakers.The first session, chaired by Mr. 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 the many social changes and stresses, including social media. He especially spoke about the anguish of parents in Nigeria with the recent abduction of hundreds of young girls. The ambassador stated, "Parents are indispensable," and he said that without parental love, guidance, and values, children have little sense of belonging or moral guidelines for their decisions; therefore, it is essential to reflect on and strengthen the role of parents for the sake of building strong societies.

During the forum Ms. Amira Fahmy, counselor at the Permanent Mission of Egypt, spoke with great forcefulness on children's inherent need of parenting from both a mother and a father for their optimum development to become 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 values and responsibility. He stated 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, he had to share a pair of sneakers with his sister, so 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 in who he became.

The Forum.The second session was moderated by Ms. Alexa Ward, deputy director of the UN Office for the Women's Federation for World Peace International. Mr. 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," which was based on her years of research done around the world. Dr. Panter-Brick summarized 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 they can raise their children without the toxic stresses 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 children's well-being. She stressed that secure attachment to both the mother and the 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 behaviors 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 introduced recent research answering the question, "With effective 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 at the launch of the Early Childhood Peace Consortium and in 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 argued 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, Dr. Thomas Walsh, president of UPF, responded, praising 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, he said, because mothers and fathers are the best resource we have for raising children to their full potential, ensuring "gold into gold for life."