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Are we nurturing dysfunctional children hoping for the best?

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By Muyiwa Adetiba

I was at Ikoyi Club on Monday to have a haircut. This is something I do every two to three weeks—your life gets into a sort of predictable, almost monotonous pattern as you age.

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I was about finishing when a strapping young man came in with a slightly matronly lady. Although he looked a six footer, he couldn’t have been more than 16.

I wondered briefly why a grown boy needed an escort to a barber’s place, but then you see all sorts of things these days in parent/ward relationships. My attention—and that of the other people in the salon—was drawn when we heard a sob from the boy’s cubicle.

The lady, who turned out to be his mother, looked up sharply from the phone in her hand and shouted ‘why are you crying because of a haircut?’ ‘It’s too low mummy,’ he sobbed. That was when she noticed the beard was still there. ‘Remove the beard as well,’ she commanded. ‘They won’t allow it in school.’ No, they will.’ The boy pleaded.

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‘How can a teacher be wearing a beard and the student will also be wearing a beard? What kind of school will that be? She asked no one in particular. The boy’s eyes were pleading but defiant. This made the barber to hesitate. She reacted to the impasse with ‘I am not having this. I will have to talk to your dad.

’She picked up the phone and said, ‘Your son is acting up. He doesn’t want to shave his beard.’ After a minute, she said ‘Ok hold on for him.’ The phone went to the boy for the barest of a minute then back to her. ‘Don’t worry, I will handle it.’

She said to the phone. In minutes, the beard was gone. A clean shaven, good looking but sullen boy emerged and headed for the door. ‘Don’t worry, it will grow again. And later in life, you would be wishing it wouldn’t grow so quickly,’ I said trying to placate him. The mother thanked me and got up too.

This was the time another ‘silent witness’ spoke. He thanked the woman for her firmness. He explained that his wife owned one of the oldest secondary schools in Lagos. He mentioned the name. It is indeed, a school that is familiar to many as a well- respected brand. He explained the problems they experience with parents on simple, basic rules.

Many parents want to bend, and sometimes ignore the rules—from arrival time to provisions, to school wear, to discipline—in favour of their wards. And that they have had to tell some parents to either conform or take the wards away if they didn’t like the rules. ‘Your child is only one of many’ they’d tell them sternly.

I also commended her firmness. Many of the modern parents these days would have conceded to the boy with ‘it’s ok if he says the school will allow it.’ In other words, it’s left to the school to maintain discipline and propriety. I know that it would have been inconceivable for me to have had a beard in secondary school with or without the school’s permission. Just as it was inconceivable for my son to have had a beard in secondary school.

In fact, his mother had a running battle with some ‘modern parents’some two decades ago when she was the Vice-Chairman of the PTA of a top private secondary school in Nigeria. She encountered parents who wanted their wards’ undies washed for them, the rooms cleaned for them and hot water provided for their baths under the guise of not lowering the ‘standard’ they were used to at home. Open Days were another opportunity for these parents to show ‘their class.’ They would come with food and drinks big enough to feed a whole class. No thought was spared for the psyche of the ones whose parents couldn’t come because they were out of the country or were separated or simply couldn’t afford such lavish displays.

One parent brought crates of water on resumption day because she didn’t ‘trust the school water.’ What would the child drink after the bottled water finished? Another wanted Coca-Cola served with evening meals because she discovered that her child had low blood sugar during the holidays and she had to compensate with coke.

Can anybody imagine anything more ridiculous?  Meanwhile, the weightier matters of values— honesty, integrity, moral uprightness, discipline—and the falling standards of education are hardly discussed at PTA meetings. Speaking of values, some parents have been known to bribe teachers so that their wards can be favoured in school or that money and provisions can be illegally passed on to them. Some even bribe so that their wards can be promoted!

I live in an estate where the expatriate community is quite large. It isusual to see the children of these expatriates in large numbers every evening engaging in sports that range from swimming, cricket, basketball, cycling, to football. You also see the elders in clusters chatting and generally keeping an eye on the children. I often wonder where our own young ones are. Or their parents.

They are probably ensconced in their rooms browsing or chatting on the internet because it ‘is safer to be indoors’ while the parents are either out there hustling or at the clubs. Meanwhile, the children of those who ‘created’ these gadgets are outdoors playing and interacting with each other. In my days, it was impossible not to know and play with children on your street, or the next street or the one after it.

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These days, it is possible for children not to know those living next door to them! We delude ourselves if we think this is a healthierway to raise children.

Modern parenting Nigerian style means removing every conceivable obstacle from the path of the children. If it means projecting thoughts and taking every major decisions on their behalf, so be it. If it means infringing the law and cutting corners on their behalf, so be it. We forget that it is in the hardship of breaking out of its cocoon that the wings of a butterfly become strengthened enough to fly.

You cannot expect a girl who has never boiled an egg in her life to suddenly become domesticated. You cannot expect a man who is not used to taking decisions to suddenly become a leader of men. Our struggles define us. Our experiences define us. Our past defines us. We should stop indulging our children in the name of love. Otherwise, we would be raising dysfunctional children and hoping for the best.


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