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The Vital Parent-Child Relationship

Help Protect This Vital Relationship

Parents play an irreplaceable role in the lives of their children. This vital relationship positively impacts a child's physical, mental, and emotional well-being. The right of parents to maintain a strong involvement in their children's lives has been continually upheld by Supreme Court doctrine. It is deeply valued by millions of American families.

"They’re my foundation," 17-year-old Kristiana St. John says of her parents in a recent Associated Press interview. "My mom tells me that even if I do something stupid, she’s still going to love me no matter what. Just knowing that makes me feel very happy and blessed."[1]

Kristiana was one of 1,280 young people asked to identify what makes them happy in a recent MTV/Associated Press survey. Overwhelmingly, the teenagers who were polled named spending time with family as their top answer. For nearly three quarters – 73 percent – their relationship with their parents is what makes them most happy.

"The hallmark of [the parental] relationship is the readily observable fact that this special adult is not interchangeable with others."

- Dr. Jack Shonkoff, Board-certified pediatrician, Harvard Graduate School of Education

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Quick Facts on Parental Involvement

  • Children who have parental support are likely to have better health as adults.
  • Students with involved parents tend to earn higher grades, have better social skills, and are more likely to graduate and go on to post-secondary education.
  • Children are more likely to be socially competent and have better communication skills when they have parents who are sensitive to their needs and emotions.
  • Teens who are monitored by their parents are one-quarter as likely as teens with "hands-off" parents to smoke, drink, and use drugs.

Parents Have an Irreplaceable Role

The role of parents in a child’s life is an irreplaceable one. "Even when young children spend most of their waking hours in child care, parents remain the most influential adults in their lives," writes Dr. Jack Shonkoff, a board-certified pediatrician who sits on the faculty of the Harvard Graduate School of Education.[2]

"The hallmark of [the parental] relationship is the readily observable fact that this special adult is not interchangeable with others,” he continues. “A child may not care who cuts his hair or takes his money at the toy store, but he cares a great deal about who is holding her when she is unsure, comforts her when she is hurt, and shares special moments in her life."[3]

The relationship that parents share with their children is one that impacts a child throughout his or her lifetime. Studies show that the benefits of parental involvement are manifold, affecting numerous areas of a child's life, including health and development, academic progress, and life choices.

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Time-Honored Parental Rights

The Supreme Court has maintained that parents possess a fundamental constitutional right to raise their children as they see fit. "The child is not the mere creature of the State," the Supreme Court concluded in a 1925 ruling. "Those who nurture him and direct his destiny have the right, coupled with the high duty, to recognize and prepare him for additional obligations."

"The child is not the mere creature of the State. Those who nurture him and direct his destiny have the right, coupled with the high duty, to recognize and prepare him for additional obligations."
- Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 268 U.S. 510
(1925 Supreme Court case)

The role of parents in the lives of their children has, historically, been one of unquestioned value, celebrated in cultures around the world. And the rights that come along with that responsibility—to direct the upbringing and education of one’s own children—have been consistently honored and upheld.

The Parent-Child Relationship Under Attack

Seventeen-year-old Kristiana's description of her parents as her "foundation" says a lot about the power of a parent in a child’s life. But tragically the foundation of parenthood is being slowly eroded.

The child-parent relationship is now facing danger.

Within the U.S. Federal Court system, a gradual change has been taking place. Today, instead of a robust defense of parental rights, one finds eroding support for parental rights from judges across the nation.

Many judges are now denying parental rights. Others are refusing to recognize them because they are not explicitly protected in the U.S. Constitution.

"Life affords no greater responsibility, no greater privilege, than the raising of the next generation."
- C. Everett Koop, Former U.S. Surgeon General

Protecting the Vital Parent-Child Relationship

There is only one way to effectively secure the foundation of parenthood for this generation and the next: a constitutional amendment that explicitly protects the child-parent relationship from unreasonable government intrusion. A constitutional amendment will ensure that the rights of parents to raise their children are honored by federal court judges.

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NOTES

  1. Jocelyn Noveck & Trevor Tompson, “What Makes U.S. Kids Happy?” (The Associated Press, August 21, 2007).
  2. Jack P. Shonkoff and Deborah A. Phillips, Editors “From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development” (2000), p. 226.
  3. Ibid.

ADDITIONAL REFERENCES

American Psychiatric Association, "Parents’ Antidrug Messages Beginning to Pay Off", Psychiatric News 2001 36:23, 9-9 (December 7, 2001).

Holly Kreider, Margaret Caspe, Susan Kennedy, Heather Weiss, “Family Involvement in Middle and High School Students’ Education,” Family Involvement Makes a Difference, Vol. 3 (Harvard Family Research Project, 2007).

The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, “Califano Calls for Fundamental Shift in Attitudes and Policies About Substance Abuse and Addiction” (May 2007).

National Education Association, “Getting Involved in Your Child's Education,” http://www.nea.org/parents/index.html (no longer available online)

National Education Association, "What the Research Says," http://www.nea.org/parents/research-parents.html (as of February 7, 2003; no longer available online). Reporting on A.T. Henderson & N. Berla , A New Generation of Evidence: The Family is Critical to Student Achievement (National Committee for Citizens in Education, 1994), p. 1, http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED375968.pdf

Jocelyn Noveck & Trevor Tompson, “What Makes U.S. Kids Happy?” (The Associated Press, August 21, 2007).

Benjamin A. Shaw, Neal Krause, Linda M. Chatters, Cathleen M. Connell, and Berit Ingersoll-Dayton, “Emotional Support from Parents Early in Life, Aging, and Health,” Psychology and Aging, Vol. 19, No.1, 4-12, (American Psychological Association, 2004).

Jack P. Shonkoff and Deborah A. Phillips, Editors “From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development” (2000), p. 226.