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    Advice from Cosby's consultant: Spare the rod

    Blacks are at greater risk of failure because they're valued less than whites, Dr. Alvin Poussaint says.

    By TIM GRANT, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published April 4, 2003

    TAMPA -- Parents who spank their children may be planting the seeds of violence that can manifest later in life, said Dr. Alvin Poussaint, a leading authority on child psychology and race relations.

    "Why do we call it whipping?" Poussaint said. "That's what happened to us in slavery. I cannot condone spanking."

    The man who helped Bill Cosby revolutionize the way television portrays black families shared his views Thursday on how to raise healthy African-American children in America.

    Poussaint, a Harvard professor of psychiatry and a former consultant for the popular television program, The Cosby Show, gave the keynote address at the University of South Florida's three-day conference titled "The Black Child and Family: Reconstructing the Village."

    During Poussaint's hourlong speech at USF's Marshall Center, the audience was at times riveted, disturbed and entertained by the homespun humor that made him one of Cosby's most trusted advisers.

    "I agree it takes a village to raise a child," Poussaint said. "I have two children. I also know it takes a fortune."

    Poussaint said black children are at greater risk of failure in this society because their lives are less valued than whites.

    "You can see even in the death penalty that a person is more likely to get the death penalty if the victim is white," Poussaint said.

    He said half of the 2-million inmates in America's prison system are black men. And that predicament has tragic consequences for black families because children are being raised by impoverished single mothers, he said.

    "What are we doing with black females and males that makes females more likely to succeed?" he asked. "Is the school system structured to favor girls more than boys? The taint is stronger on black males than black females.

    "Mothers are always asking me what they can do to raise their sons. They rarely ask what to do to raise their daughters properly. That indicates the bonding between the two sexes must be different."

    As director of the Media Center of the Judge Baker Children's Center in Boston, Poussaint cited numerous examples of bad parenting he sees every day:

    Parents who fail to understand how important it is to read to their children between birth and 3 years old;

    Parents who hit their 6-month-old children instead of picking them up when they cry;

    Parents who beat their 1-year-old children while trying to potty-train them.

    "If we want to do the right thing for children we should require child development and child parenting education in all high schools," he said. "If it helps only 10 percent of the children, it's worth it."

    But of all the challenges facing black families, he said the most crucial is the community where children are raised.

    "Environment is important because it can overwhelm even good parents," Poussaint said. "I became a doctor. My brother became a junkie. The village can nurture good families or squash them."

    -- Tim Grant can be reached at (813) 269-5311 or at .

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