Parents First – the way forward in the digital age

International Day of Families 2021 message by Parents International

A year ago, Parents international published a global action plan for the post-covid era. Although in many countries, restrictions are still in place, we are working even harder on going back to our old normal with some changes that benefit our children more. As every year, we celebrate the International Day of Families on 15 May that now focuses on the well-being of families and the impact of new technologies on this. The United Nations has also acknowledged in its annual message the need for governments to shift their focus to empowering parents, the primary educators of their children. Thus, we have even more reason to celebrate this important day in 2021 hoping that the approach we have been promoting, focusing on parents first and foremost will become mainstream in policy and practice. We are using this opportunity to highlight some achievements and also to call the attention to some challenges that need our attention as well as the attention of policy makers in the coming years.

The focus on new technologies and their impact on families’ well-being is accompanied by another important act by the United Nations. General Comment No. 25 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child has just been published. This General Comment is a major step in acknowledging child rights in the online world, finally moving in the direction Parents International has advocated for many years. The document stops focusing on the risks only, and highlights children’s civil rights and freedoms, including rights to privacy, non-discrimination, peaceful assembly, education, play and weights them against the right to protection. It also highlights very clearly the rights and duties of parents in this field being primarily responsible for protecting all these rights as well as providing supportive guidance. This is a major step, and we at Parents International are proud we were contributors to this General Comment.

Digital technologies became part of daily life for millions of families more than they had been before lockdowns and school closures although there are huge inequalities in access to technology and services. As we have seen from research done at various points of the past more than a year, families clearly see the benefits of using them, but are also very careful to see a healthy balance between traditional and digital means in education, communication, work, play, and other fields of life. It has also become clear that well-being largely depends on developing various competences of both children and adults – parents and professionals alike -, for example critical thinking, active participation, collaboration, self-care, resilience and civic activism if necessary. These are the areas that initiatives referenced by the UN annual message should focus.

Parents International is ready to share our knowledge, experience and methodologies for trainings, coaching and mentoring by professionals as well as peers who also need to be empowered for that, while we are eager to learn from others. As part of fulfilling our call for action #ParentsFirst – #NewEducationDeal we have continued developing trainings for parents and for professionals working with them. We believe – contrary to what the UN message is implying – that especially for parents with challenging backgrounds there must be ways of improving their parenting skills in face-to-face rather than online environments, while the benefits of digital technologies can still be exploited to a certain extent. We still need to focus on training the professionals who can then in turn train and empower hundreds or thousands of parents each. In this spirit, during the last year we have partnered up with various initiatives and institutions from India to Europe, from Jordan to the United States of America, and will continue to widen this network. One of our partners, the HundrED community is currently evaluating parenting support initiatives, and we are proud to be on the expert jury for that. We have also teamed up with UN experts and subsequently digital technology providers for better education provisions. We have pledged for putting parenting skills in the limelight not only at international days and similar initiatives, but also by showing the multitude of them and their value even for the labour market.

In the past year, we have highlighted various areas where parents were left alone and governments – as well as other branches of power – have miserably failed. It is high time for centres of power to evaluate, ask for forgiveness, and start collaborating with and relying on parents. On the International Day of Families 2021, we are asking governments, intergovernmental institutions, school leaders, teachers, professionals and also the general public to acknowledge that parents are key to a future for our children that they enjoy at the highest level of well-being possible.

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