One of the conclusions of the Anchorage Municipal Crime Task Force was that parents must step up to the juvenile crime problem. Teachers and principals alone cannot handle this problem, nor can the police. No one can help as much as parents. As a result, we called for the creation of Parent Networks, so that parents can work together to help their children avoid dangerous situations and illegal activities.
Although this is still a pilot project, Parent Networks were featured in the March/April 1996 edition of the national PTA magazine, Our Children, and will soon be highlighted as one of 10 innovative programs in the Crime Prevention Month kit entitled Safer Communities, Brighter Futures, a publication of the National Crime Prevention Council.
It is a simple concept: Not wanting to duplicate the work being done by Crime Watch and other excellent programs, we kept the idea simple -- to urge each parent to get to know their children's friends and their parents, to have these parents over to discuss issues of crime and safety, to form support networks and create natural and vital communication links. The theme is keeping our kids safe.
Launched by the Mayor's Office, the Parent Networks Project was quickly endorsed by the Anchorage School District and the Anchorage Council of PTAs, which made it their number one safety project of the 1995-96 school year.
We began with a pilot effort in two of our six public high schools, but within four weeks it spread to all of them. Since then, parent volunteers have distributed nearly 20,000 How to Create a Parent Network brochures throughout the high schools, middle and elementary schools.
The brochure assists each parent in setting up a telephone list of the parents of their children's friends. It lists safety tips and recommends five ways to use a Parent Network effectively. For example, parents are urged to call ahead if their teen or pre-teen is invited to a party or to stay overnight. Will an adult be present? What activities are planned? When will it be over?
We encourage parents to advise each other when there is tension at school or in the neighborhood or where there are other situations which may lead to violence or illegal activity. For their children's sake, we suggest that they set up a check-in system so that they know where their kids are at all times.
This may sound like old-fashioned parenting, but often it is missing in today's families. Many teenagers have intimidated or worn down their parents with the time-honored lines, "Everyone else's mom says it's okay" or "Don't you trust me?"
One pleased high school principal says, "Parent Networks give parents the license to parent." An obvious result is better decorum in school and fewer discipline problems.
An unexpected result of the program is that some teenagers have discovered that their mom's or dad's involvement in a Parent Network can mean more freedom, not less, as their parents get to know the kids they hang out with, and get to know the families of those kids as well.
The Parent Network concept is working in Anchorage. It works because it is simple, takes virtually no public funds, and enlists the parents -- the only army big enough to address a mushrooming problem of this magnitude.
Contact: Office of the Mayor, (907) 343-4409
The United States Conference of Mayors
J. Thomas Cochran, Executive Director
Copyright ©1996, U.S. Conference of Mayors, All rights reserved.