There's no denying the gang background -- drugs, crime, violence and jail time -- but for the purposes of this documentary about the challenges facing 21st-century parents and children, inner-city Winnipeg resident Kelson is just a dad who wants the best for his kids.
"I went to jail, did a lot of time in jail, had a lot of friends killed. I don't want that for my kids," says the young aboriginal father of six, one of several Manitobans featured in the CBC/Doc Zone feature Angry Kids & Stressed-Out Parents, which airs Thursday at 9 p.m. on CBC.
So Kelson (no last name is used in the film), and spouse Jennifer have enrolled the youngest of their children in an innovative program focused on providing intense, one-on-one, language-focused training they hope will increase the chances of breaking the cycle of crime and poverty that has enveloped their families.
Angry Kids & Stressed-Out Parents, written and directed by Vancouver filmmaker Maureen Palmer and narrated by Ann-Marie MacDonald, is an hour-long documentary that builds upon a troubling statistic that speaks volumes about where we are as a society: for the first time in North American history, more children suffer from mental-health conditions than from physical ailments.
The causes are many and varied, and the long-term consequences are hard to quantify, but there's agreement among the experts in the film that it's crucial to start finding solutions immediately.
"If we don't start early in providing those (educational intervention) resources... we will not have a society in which any of us are happy, safe and productive," says Leanne Boyd of Healthy Child Manitoba.
The film examines three intervention-based programs aimed at giving extra help to children at risk; two of those segments were filmed in Winnipeg.
Kelson and Jennifer have three children enrolled in the Abecedarian Program, a local version of an initiative developed in the 1970s to assist impoverished African-American children in North Carolina. That program's intensive linguistic training produced impressive results: by age 30, members of the original Abecedarian class were four times more likely to have graduated college, 50 per cent more likely to have full-time employment and 84 per cent less likely to be on social assistance.
Kelson, the product of a family of residential school survivors, never received positive parenting and lacks the skills to provide it for his children, but he's wise enough to seek help.
"I don't want to be like those people," he says of his parents and grandparents, "like the way they raised me. I don't want to be raised like that and have my kids raised like that. I want to change myself."
Also in the spotlight in Angry Kids & Stressed-Out Parents is the PAX Good Behaviour Game, a deceptively simple tool available to all Manitoba elementary schools. Its focus is on using positive social reinforcement to turn learning self-control into an entertaining game, and research has shown that PAX has positive effects on rates of high school graduation, adult criminal behaviour and suicide.
When it comes to parental anguish, there's nothing in Angry Kids & Stressed-Out Parents that matches the comments offered by Monique Lépine, whose son, Marc, was the gunman responsible for the deaths of 14 young women at Montreal's âcole Polytechnique in 1989. It's almost too painful to watch as she shares the story of a son doomed by decades of abuse and neglect, and then ponders what might have been avoided if only she'd had the tools to be a better mother. If only.