Have you ever thought about the phrase “It takes a village to raise a child”? I have always thought it means that it is good for children to be exposed to many people and experiences so that they learn as much as possible. Another way to think of it as that quality communities raise quality children. My colleague Dr. Ronald Wachtel discusses this phrase and it’s connection to our work at Kav L’Noar.
The phrase, “it takes a village,” may have its origins in African proverbs that address the community’s role in raising children.
Roseto, Pa, was a town entirely made up of citizens who immigrated from the village of Roseto Valfortore, Italy. In the 1950s, it was discovered that its residents rarely got sick. Medical researchers studied this phenomenon and were shocked to find no differences in diet, exercise, weight, smoking, or genetic predisposition (in fact, slightly higher on some of these risk factors). Nearby towns with the same climate and environmental influences had an incidence of heart disease 3 times that of their Rosetan neighbours. Social scientists described a unique sharing of experiences that defined the town’s social structure. People developed relationships which were characterized by a real caring for one another. Strong leadership led to a feeling of trust and security, religious values, sports and social clubs, labor unions, youth groups, and front porch socializing. Researchers concluded that the extraordinary health of this unique population could only be explained in terms of “extended family” and “community.” Follow up research in the 1980’s found a new generation that rejected the tight knit Italian folkways with statistics on heart attacks showing a rate higher than in neighboring towns.
The importance of a caring community in the development of a child.
Dr. David Pelcovitz, an internationally-respected psychologist and educator, has often cited the above research when discussing the importance of a caring community in the development of a child.** “The risk is much lower when there is a sense of community and people notice if something is wrong. The highest rate of difficulties occur when kids have somehow escaped the caring hand of the community”. Youth at risk sense that the community’s grasp is not for them. Often these teens are judged if they are a little different and do not feel that they are part of the community.
In earlier generations, the village surrounded everyone. It was not unusual for extended family to share living quarters. Grandparents were more likely to join a nuclear family in one home than they are today. Neighbors often became akin to family.
The absence of these caregivers in the lives of today’s children is significant. Parents who have no one with whom to share their parenting challenges may feel overwhelmed or frustrated. Conversely, children do well when they have a variety of positive adult role models to emulate. When the parent-child relationship is filled with tension, trusted adults fill an essential role for the child. They may become a teen’s confidante in a way that parents rarely can be. Furthermore, they can provide a broader perspective for the teen related to his or her well-being (or lack thereof) than their own parent.
At Kav L’Noar, we create a version of the village community
Young Adults mentors provide teens with guidance, support, and a listening ear. An extensive 2013 Canadian study evaluating the Big Brothers and Sister programs indicates dramatic improvement for teens who had a mentor in academic performance, self-confidence (especially girls), anger management (especially boys), and all around increased ability to stand up to negative peer pressure.
Kav L’Noar’s mentoring program pairs young adults with teens who meet at least once each week to address the concerns and challenges that the teen is facing. Our mentors are carefully trained to build the strongest bond possible with their mentee. This bond enables the teens to face their challenges with support and the tools which they learn to use in the setting of the mentoring relationship.
Mentoring is not an abstract idea. Kav L’Noar’s mentors commit to at least one year, giving their time and energy to develop lasting relationships with their mentee. The relatively small age difference between our mentors and their mentees contributes to the ease with which the pair gets along. Teens turn to their mentors to talk through decisions and to have a shoulder to lean on when they run into trouble with peers, their families, or anything else that might bring a teen down. Mentors are supervised and receive ongoing training. In addition, mentors participate in professional development workshops to enhance their understanding of challenges facing today’s youth.
In a world where so much interaction takes place in a virtual way online, Kav L’Noar’s Community Mentoring Program has been successful because it is up close and personal. While a mentor may not bring all of the parts of the village that once was, he or she are definitely providing their mentee with many of the caring components that they are missing.
Kav L’Noar is proud of its mentors and the amazing efforts they’ve invested to foster relationships that will hopefully contribute to the well-being of the next generation
**The quote from Dr. Pelcovitz was taken from a lecture sponsored by Kav L’Noar in Jerusalem in 2005 entitled: “Raising Healthy Children in an Unhealthy World.”