Your Family is Important

This article is part 4 of our "Tale of Two Children" series. Read Part 1

... our home environment was a major factor that shaped who we are ...
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If there is anything that is obvious to all of us as adults, it is that our home environment was a major factor that shaped who we are and that defined our own expectations and goals for ourselves.

That’s certainly true in the real-life experiences of the two five-year-olds — Tiffany and Briana — who have been the recent focus of these Perceptions columns. These two girls are being raised in totally different circumstances, and both are lucky enough to have parents that are working hard to do the best for them.

Children Benefit from a Stable Home Environment

Briana lives in a family and a neighborhood where children have more resources and more positive influences, which in turn equates to fewer obstacles to her intellectual, social, and emotional development. Her mother and father, who both graduated from college, already talk to her about how she can be anything she wants to be when she grows up. She’s had a library card since she was 18 months old, and her parents gave her a tour of the Benjamin Hooks Central Library at a young age, and she’s been taken there regularly for special activities or just to sit and read in the captivating children’s department.

Instability Introduces Challenges

Tiffany lives in South Memphis, and she’s lived in three different houses, which has created turmoil in her life. Her mother is a high school dropout, but she is working hard to make sure her daughter’s future is not limited by the extra hurdles that result from poverty. She knows that there are some people who already want to categorize her daughter, using terms like high—risk and challenged, but no one knows more than Tiffany’s mother about the challenges of poverty, and she is determined to access community resources that can help her. That’s why just last weekend, she attended the opening of the Neighborhood Christian Center’s Orange Mound Women’s Resource Center, where there is early childhood parent training and help for her with personal needs.

Parents Can Help Their Children Overcome

What motivates Tiffany’s mother most is that she can see in her family the consequences from negative home environments. She sees children in her neighborhood who are struggling to get parental attention, falling behind in school, and who have spent most of their time in front of televisions since they were born. She has a niece whose crowded home and lack of resources undermine the quality of the caregiving environment and amplify the stress, anxiety, and depression that often result from poverty, making positive parenting so difficult and resulting in young children in these families typically hearing fewer spoken words than their middle—income peers and hearing a higher proportion of negative statements.

The facts of Tiffany and Briana’s lives illustrate the research that shows that the families of low-income children must overcome the reality of having access to fewer enriching experiences and learning resources than families with higher incomes, and parents often have fewer social and emotional supports that they need to deal with the demands of their lives.

All of this is why Memphis and Shelby County have special incentive to offer Pre-K for every child and to reach out to low-income mothers with the help and support that they need to achieve their hopes and dreams for their children. Today, 32 percent of Memphis families with children are below the poverty line – and 39 percent of all children in Memphis live in poverty.

A mantra at The Urban Child Institute is that demographics is not destiny. As a community, we have no greater moral duty than to protect children and to give each one a fair start in life.