|Canadian psychiatrist and child advocate Dr. Elliott
Barker is the founder/director of the Canadian Society for the
Prevention of Cruelty to Children (CSPCC) and editor of the quarterly
journal Empathic Parenting (no longer in publication). His
compassion, insight and zeal have helped parents and professionals
world-wide to understand the critical need for treating children with
trust and respect.
In the late 60's and early 70's, Dr. Barker was the Assistant
Superintendent and Clinical director at a maximum security hospital
for the "dangerous mentally ill" in Ontario. His experiences
there with psychopathic patients and their memories of early childhood
cruelty led him to focus on the prevention of child abuse. As he
explains, "It is generally accepted that psychopaths are at best
very difficult to treat. But we know how to prevent the
'diseases of non-attachment', as Selma Fraiberg called them. Parents
generally seem oblivious to that knowledge. So we founded the CSPCC to
make that knowledge better known to parents-to-be."
To that end, the CSPCC published the highly-regarded quarterly
journal Empathic Parenting for 25 years (1978-2003). Although
the journal will no longer be published, CSPCC will continue to
educate parents through its website at empathicparenting.org.
Dr. Barker plans to make the site "user-friendly to elementary,
secondary and college students to get the best information possible on
child-rearing in the early years. Our goal has always been to reach
people before they have kids, and the website, as a source for school
assignments, may well do more than the journal. We also hope to have
all issues of Empathic Parenting available via the
The website, like the journal, will continue to emphasize the
dangers of consumerism and its effects on children. As Dr. Barker sees
it, "In the 70's, the world seemed hell-bent for daycare and by
the 90's daycare seemed almost normative - though insane. I'm not
optimistic about any real improvement for kids society-wide until
consumerism is exposed for what it is and some sort of brakes put on
it. The priorities of parents with young children are powerfully
altered in the direction of getting the goods and services marketed as
necessary and desirable, and parents are driven to overvalue social
status and careerism. The values of consumerism are envy,
selfishness and greed. Such values are inimical to the altruism
required to care for helpless little infants and toddlers."
To avoid the temptations of a consumer society, Dr. Barker offers
the following recommendations:
- Raise a child whose emotional needs are met so that there is a
well developed capacity for affectionate relationships and little
need for a compensating craving for things and thrills.
- Seek out a circle of like-minded people - existing
organizations, intentional communities etc. The Internet is making
connections between individuals and small groups of like-minded
people possible as never before.
- Seek out non-commercial spaces (parks, YMCA etc.) and genuinely
fun non-commercial activities (sports, cards etc.)
- Cultivate an awareness of and an allergy to all types of
advertising - stealth advertising, "free" this and that,
- Avoid as much advertising as possible - TV, radio, flyers,
newspapers, magazines. Is the content worth the price of exposure?
- Avoid stores and malls as much as possible.
- In a practical sense, the world would place an appropriate value
on child-rearing - reflected in the status accorded parenting -
financially and in every other way. Every town would have an
organization as motivated as the Chamber of Commerce to promote
the best for its children.
- Prior to conception parents-to-be would be as knowledgeable
about what is important in rearing a child as they are now of
things like their favorite sports, music, cars, fashion etc.
When asked to give just one piece of advice to an expectant couple,
Dr. Barker replied, "By the time a child is on the way it's
mostly too late, in the sense that the parents' priorities
are too established to alter much. They're locked into their
expectations of a standard of living and what is valuable to them
(usually without realizing it, like fish in water) - accepting their
views as immutable and into which the child must fit. In a
philosophical sense, perhaps infants and toddlers should be treated
more like powerful little messengers from another world from whom we
are meant to learn."