Academic journal article Journal of Haitian Studies

Encouragement, Consequences, Honor, Respect: Empowering Parents to Transition Successfully to a Democratic Culture

Academic journal article Journal of Haitian Studies

Encouragement, Consequences, Honor, Respect: Empowering Parents to Transition Successfully to a Democratic Culture

Article excerpt


Contemporary research has shed light on the value of parenting interventions and their ties with culture: some researchers have demonstrated the protective effect of positive parenting against violence, delinquency, drug abuse, and mental illness in children (Gubler and Croxall 2005; GormanSmith, Henry, and Tolan 2004; Kliewer et al. 2006; Sternberg et al. 2006). Others have found that parenting education was effective in preventing the maltreatment of children (Valle et al. 2004) and reducing antisocial behavior in children and adolescents (Massey 1998; Farrington and Brandon 1999; Adams 2001). Researchers like Joseph and Blot (1984), Gross, Julion, and Fogg (2001), Mathews and Hudson (2001), Cox (2002), Jean (2002), and Letiecp and Koblinsky (2004) have emphasized the importance of tailoring parenting education programs to the culture and immediate concerns of the target population.

Haitian parents in the Miami-Dade (Florida) community face the serious challenge of raising children as they transition to an environment whose cultural values differ significantly from their own, where they experience difficult living conditions heightened by stigmatization. The support that they have received from local institutions has fallen short of meeting their need to develop their potential to positively influence their children. Haitian parents overwhelmingly speak of their disappointment in seeing their children drift away from values that the parents claim as essential: the pursuit of education, submissiveness of children, discipline, and respect for elders. Most parents adopt an authoritarian approach to disciplining children. That approach is consistent with the historical context of a people that has suffered centuries of slavery followed by several dictatorial regimes and is struggling to achieve democracy in its home country.

The parents' approach tends to collide with the more democratic approach used in schools in the United States. The shared experience of the author, and Haitian parents and educators of Miami-Dade, has brought to light the following dynamics: young children are typically submissive at home, but disruptive and aggressive at school. As they grow older, they tend to rebel against their parents. Parents and children often engage in mutually abusive cycles, with negative consequences for both. Many parents give up trying to control their children for fear of being pursued by the authorities for child abuse, while others become permissive in an attempt to distance themselves from oppressive methods of discipline.

For Haitian parents, the difficulties of raising their children are exacerbated by a host of additional Stressors. A high incidence of family disruptions accompanies the migration experience for this particular group (Suárez-Orozco, Todorova, and Louie 2001). Haitians live a marginalized existence in the Miami-Dade community (Stepick 1994; Saint-Jean 2004). Living conditions in Miami-Dade have been found to generate traumatic responses in Haitian youth (Page et al. 2001). Violence is on the rise in Miami-Dade, as gangs composed of Haitian and Haitian-American youth have recently gained notoriety, raising serious concerns among school officials, community leaders, and local authorities (Ovalle 2006).

The experience of discrimination (Stepick et al. 2001; Zephir 1996, 2004) adds another dimension to this already clouded picture. Negative stereotypes attached to the Haitian culture interfere with the building of a constructive rapport between parents and the schools and between parents and their children. Professionals often point to the parents as being the source of their children's misbehavior in school, while parents accuse the schools of failing to discipline their children. Community efforts to provide support to Haitian parents are hampered by a misunderstanding of their paradigm, as well as the lack of parenting materials and resources that are culturally and linguistically relevant for that population. …

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