It takes a modern village to raise a child
It takes a village to raise a child.
That’s a cliche, but that doesn’t mean it’s not true.
Back in the day, the village-child-raising thing worked like this: Johnny rode his bike recklessly through the neighborhood, scaring Susie. Susie’s mom called Johnny’s mom, who raced over to where Johnny was playing with his friends. She pulled him off his bicycle, made him apologize right there to Susie, and took away his bike. He walked home, head down, and did all kinds of chores for the foreseeable future.
Or Tommy put a pack of Bazooka gum in his pocket and walked out of the store. Mr. Smith saw him, and caught him before he rounded the corner. The storeowner gave him a long talk about honesty and integrity and character. Tommy cried, gave the gum back, and never stole again.
That was then. This is now.
Kids don’t ride bikes anymore. Instead, they’ve got Range Rovers and Audis. When one drives his care recklessly, his neighbor gets angry. But she can’t be sure who is driving, because the windows are tinted. Besides, she’s only lived here five years, and no one on the street has ever come over to say hi.
It’s rare these days that Chase would shoplift. Kids seldom go downtown to stores. But if one does, and pockets some merchandise, the owner will likely not do anything, because he is in corporate headquarters in Minneapolis. The manager doesn’t do anything either, because the last three times she called the parents they screamed and yelled that their child never does anything wrong, and then they threatened to sue. The clerk can’t be bothered, of course, because she only makes $8 an hour and is far more interested in listening to her earbuds.
Back in the day, the village included schools. When Betty got a D in a course, her parents took away her phone privileges until the end of the next marking period. Betty got the message.
Today, when Samantha gets an A- on the first draft of a paper, her parents send angry emails. “What is the teacher going to do?” they demand. “Doesn’t he realize this could ruin her chances for Princeton?”
Westport has long embraced the idea that we are all in this together. In the 1960s, when teenagers were growing their hair and doing drugs and inventing sex, concerned parents and town officials created a Youth-Adult Council.
In the 1970s and 1980s, when things really spiraled out of control — there was rampant drinking, a near-tragedy in which several students overdosed on angel dust, and a few awful suicides — people took notice. Forums were held, parenting sessions were organized, PTAs and schools studied ways to strengthen bonds.
In the 1990s, district schools formally recognized the importance of the social and emotional needs of children. The Westport Youth Commission — the successor to the Youth-Adult Council — focused on youth programs.
Westport adopted the “Positive Youth Development” framework. The goal was to prevent risky behavior, and provide parental support, rather than correct challenges after the fact.
The Human Services Department and schools provided staff and coordination. Positive Directions, the organization formerly known as the Drug and Alcohol Dependency Council, offered counseling and prevention. A host of activities — Toquet Hall, Suniya Luthar’s longitudinal study of teenagers, Risky Behavior Forums and more — addressed the needs of teenagers in a much more formal way than before.
For 20 years, Westport institutions have tried to provide a safe, nurturing environment for our young people. Many have succeeded. But more can always be done.
This week at the Department of Human Services’ 23rd annual Mental Health Breakfast for Community Professionals, a new collaboration was launched. Westport Together is “an alliance that unites Westport by strengthening the health and well-being of youth within our families, schools and community, and nurtures positive youth development through advocacy, education and enhanced community connections.”
The alliance includes the Westport schools, PTAs, and town organizations like Human Services, police, fire and Parks and Recreation, as well as Earthplace, Library, MoCA, Positive Directions, RULER, Wakeman Town Farm, Westport Museum for History and Culture, Westport Prevention Coalition, Westport Weston Health District and Westport Family YMCA.
A website (www.WestportTogether.org) brings programs, events and resources together in one place. It’s one-stop shopping for the modern village.
Johnny’s mother no longer yanks him off his bike. Mr. Smith does not teach Tommy a life lesson about stealing. That village is gone, and will never return.
However, Westport Together hopes, there’s a new way of looking at the village. Schools, town institutions and nonprofits should all think about the role they play in raising our kids.
It’s a role they — and we — all share. In fact, it may be the most important role of all.
Dan Woog is a Westport writer, and his “Woog’s World” appears each Friday. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His personal blog is danwoog06880.com