Parents as the first and most impacting educators, their need for support for better parenting, parents’ decision-making patterns, the complexity and responsibility of being a parent – this was the focus of this year’s LEGO Idea Conference, a topic and tone that would have been unimaginable even a couple of years ago. It is nearly impossible to summarize 3 days of playful learning of academics, practitioners, policy makers and parents in a blog post, so we are only attempting to give you a teaser. We will continue together with LEGO Foundation at the Parents First – Parent Summit in November 2019 in Vienna.
The event started with an inspirational video highlighting key words of 21st century parenting: what we wish for our children is happiness, less stress, less pressure, creativity, resilience, adaptability, lifelong learning skills, exploration possibilities and leadership opportunities.
This can be achieved if parenting support follows these 5 principles:
- There are many kinds of parents and caregivers, and we need to embrace the diversity of those caring most for children
- Context and culture matters
- All caregivers want the best for their children, they have the potential and inherent ability to become the best parents
- We need to have a strength-based approach rather than focusing on deficits
- Caregivers are one set of actors in a complex eco-system, we need to consider the whole when planning intervention and support
UNICEF’s Pia Rebello Britto had set the tone of the conference by a call for action to shine a spotlight on parenting and act together as there are millions of lives at stake. She shared shocking statistics about children not having an adult constantly engaged in their upbringing (25%) and those who will not fulfil their full potential if there’s no support for their parents (43%). UNICEF prioritises the parenting eco-system as an important policy and practice agenda item already, but they definitely need to engage organisations like Parents International for more impact.
Some presenters, including Ariel Kalil, Jennifer Kotler Clarke, Rukmini Banjeri, Marc Bronstein, Sumitra Pasupathy were sharing research and experience on parental decision-making, aspirations, parents’ wishes for their children – all of them feeding into professionals’ deeper understanding of parents and thus enabling them to design better support means for them. The general summary of these presentations very briefly is that parents in general are more knowledgeable and have better intentions that professionals generally assume, and there is a need – as we have demanded for so long – to consider parents as competent decision-makers and educators.
One factor that needs to be considered, and has not been high on our agenda yet, is the ‘present bias’. It means that parents often make decisions that lead to certain benefits in the short term rather than focusing on options leading to better outcomes on the long run. When designing interventions and programmes we need to consider this psychological factor and include immediate rewards for choices that benefit children most on the long run.
Parents International’s Eszter Salamon had the opportunity to moderate two workshops. The first was focusing on two parental empowerment programmes during the Agency and Voice session. Samarthya is an Indian programme empowering parents to become fully acknowledged members of school boards, and Room to Grow supports parents of very young children in their role as early years educators.
Our proposal for an Action Team was accepted and thus our second workshop focussed on professionals that parents trust, and thus have a potential to support better parenting. In the workshop the participants listed these professionals, considered existing barriers that may prevent them from supporting parenting and started working strategies on solutions and next steps. Parents International will carry this forward and hopes to implement projects to inform and train professionals, and to influence policy to put parenting support high on national and regional agendas, too.
The annual LEGO Idea Prize was awarded to our friend, Jack Shonkoff from Harvard University, Center of the Developing Child. In his speech he expressed his view that there is no need to unlock the power of parenting, we just need to give parents the opportunity to follow natural instincts. The most important interventions necessary are the ones that can relieve parents of burdens of extreme poverty and requirements overwhelming them. However, he emphasised the need to unleash the power of parents to become community changers. Science needs to become accessible and actionable in order to provide parents with enough scientific knowledge
You can learn more about what happened at the event if you watch the videos of plenary sessions available here: https://legoideaconference.com/videos/