Another round of Sunday papers, another litany of misery and abuse of little children. More depressingly familiar stories about people without hope, proving to be hopeless parents - in these cases, not only providing a nightmare life for their kids but also a gruesome death.
It seems to have become taboo to say that if you are too poor, your prospects too limited, and your own issues to overwhelming, you should really not have children. Nowadays it seems we have to universally accept the right of everyone to reproduce at will, regardless of their station in life, and what they can offer to their kids.
But who of us amongst us with an ounce of common sense really buys this ideology? Okay, we don't need to provide our kids with palatial mansions to live in, silver spoons to eat off and Prada clothing. But, let's face it, having money and being able to provide a decent standard of living makes the job of raising young children a lot easier.
You should be able to provide the basics at least to your children, and should aim to be providing a little more as you can. If you can't, contraception would be a wise investment in your immediate future.
Okay, none of us are perfect human beings. We sometimes swear in front of our children, perhaps, or yell at them when they've exasperated us. But good parents strive to provide some sort of example of what it means to be an adult. If you can not do that, you are still a child and should not be reproducing. Pretty simple.
And if you've had a horrific upbringing yourself, the lure of having a child who loves you might be strong. But the task of raising children is, as most people know, far from some sort of glossy fantasy. The route of higher education should be advocated by your family, and there should be significant shame attached to getting pregnant - or getting someone pregnant - while you are too young / poor/ inexperienced.
Maybe some teenagers make great parents; and of course being young is no barrier to doing a great job. But again, common sense would suggest that these scenarios are the exception, rather than the rule. Young parents are less likely to be raising a child together; they're more likely to be poor and under or un-educated; their children are more likely to be raised by a solo parent. Their children are more likely to be disadvantaged.
I feel depressed when I read these stories, and not just for the obvious reason that they're ghastly. They're just the tip of a very large iceberg of misery and hopelessness in our society, one which keeps filtering down through generations. Take Anthony Dixon: under educated, horrific upbringing, P user, likely not flush with funds. But he has two kids! It boggles the mind.
All the Wellington-based families commissions and the extra funds pouring into social services will do little to fix these problems. I believe a firm emphasis on reducing teen pregnancy is a first and vital step. Teaching young men that there are consequences which they will face for not using contraception is another (maybe mandatory parenting classes for teenage boys might be a bit of a wakeup call?) Family assistance in the form of food stamps and the like, rather than a benefit, might make some difference.
Most of all, an agreement that young inexpereinced people should ideally not be having children would be a step in the right direction. I'm sure their kids would agree.
Dita De Boni
Photo: Nikki Williams