Education and Parenting: What happens when it goes wrong?

I am sickened by the News (7.1.21): gripped by shock. A child has been murdered by three other children. Yes – children! When a thirteen year old boy (Olly Stephens) has been stabbed by others around his own age, it should make us all DO something. But what? What has gone wrong to make three young people do such a dreadful thing? What does this terrible act suggest about some aspects of our society? Who is to blame for how those children have been brought up?

My granddaughter is almost fourteen. I am unable to imagine her stabbing someone, even carrying a knife, or doing anything that does not conform to the moral standards that she has been taught. Maybe that sounds naive – but do the majority of us who live and lead reasonably normal lives, in a safe environment, close our eyes to what is happening every day in places that are not as normal – or indeed safe? Maybe we do.

On the same TV news, I hear of a twenty three year old whose Rap has been selected as the BBC Sound for 2021. How heartwarming, especially as this young man’s Rap echoes his own very gritty upbringing. A happy ending to a sad story.

Back to the murder charges for these three children: two boys and a girl. I have to keep calling them ‘children’ because they are: though we can argue that at thirteen, the difference between right and wrong should be firmly understood and secure.

So why? Was the cause an argument that got out of hand? Was it premeditated – in which case, the thought makes my blood run cold. Was it linked to gang activity? Their world is one to which I cannot relate, cannot even imagine. What did those children feel as they stabbed that boy? Was it hate? Did they feel a thrill of some kind? Presumably, those young people will have access to psychological support – and will eventually return to society.

Strangely, I feel almost as sorry for the young murderers as I do for the victim. Why? Because for thirteen years olds to become murderers – so much has gone wrong with their upbringing. Was it poverty? Was it lack of love? I don’t know, but those youngsters have grown up lacking something so significant in their lives – something that has turned them ‘bad’. No doubt, over time, we will know what.

The title of this blog: Education and Parenting says it all. Is not the job of both to ensure that children grow up to know right from wrong and to emerge as morally good citizens? This act should make us all sit up and think – because there must have been warnings before this stabbing happened. There must have been signs that these young people were behaving in ways that needed intervention. Were they at school – or had they been excluded, even before this pandemic? Had they already demonstrated bullying types of behaviours? Thirteen year old children do not commit murder out of thin air. Where were the signs and behaviours – and were they ignored?

What about the parents? How are they feeling now – after what their children have done? Parenting is a difficult job. And it is a job! Just like going out to work. We have a duty to our children to offer them what they need to become independent and morally responsible citizens. According to the Maslow pyramid of human needs (paper 1943: A theory of Motivation), all humans need firstly, the physiological basics of food, warmth and shelter, followed by safety, love and self esteem – through which positive self-actualisation should result. Maslow’s views are ideas only, without scientific basis, but have been widely used, debated upon and improved over many years.

So psychologically, WHAT human ingredient for growing up has been missing from the nurture of these three children – and has it been lacking from school or from parents? Or from both? How far has community been the culprit – because we are, in a sense, all responsible for how our young people grow up. Every example matters.

On this vital question hangs a message for us all. Especially now, when the pandemic is affecting all young people. So let’s take stock and look around at what our children are doing – and what they are involved in.

Education and parenting matter. I am the author of thirteen educational books, plus five for parents. If your child has SEND, Book 1: Support Your Child with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities: a guide for parents, offers all you need to know about the SEND system. Books 2 to 5: Support Your Child At The Early Years Foundation Stage, At Key Stage One, At Key Stage Two and At Key Stage Three – offer a comprehensive outline of WHAT should be taught and HOW. Available from Lulu or Amazon, by Sylvia Edwards.

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