With the influence of western civilization, the concept of “my child this” and “my child that” has replaced the African communal concept of “our child.” Ordinarily, a child in a typical African cultural environment was seen as a gift and investment of the society. Therefore the whole community contributed positively to the raising of the child. Parents were allowed to have the priority of dealing with their children in some areas but generally, the child’s character was molded by the culture and tradition that obtained in the societal environment wherein the child was raised.
Even in those few areas of life where the parent(s) had priority rights in making decisions affecting their children, such parent(s) took into consideration what effect such decision would have on the general society. In such an environment the child was taught to develop love and respect not only for the parent(s) but the entire society. It is pertinent to note hear that past traditional African societies have no place for organizations like the Administration for Children Services. The society acted as the watchdog and a child that was too wild for the parent somehow succumbed to the pressures and checks of the general society.
People did not stand aside and let one child perpetrate violence on another or others simply because those other children belonged to someone else, neither did they keep calm and watch another’s child go astray for fear of persecution by state laws. An Ibo proverb says – “an elder will not stay at home and watch a goat die while tied to the stake with a rope (leash) around its neck.” One of the most memorable slaps I got as a child came from a distant uncle when I was a little too wayward while my parents were away from home. That slap helped convince me to readdress my ways as a child and I am glad today that this uncle of mine dealt me such a memorable slap. Yes, children should not be slapped or battered, but in the context in which he acted, my uncle’s action was neither an abuse nor an assault, and in fact my father later thanked him for it and even added his own punishment to it all. I would not have taken precaution or learnt my lesson otherwise. Many children are like that, though not all.
Make no mistake about it, child battering (or abuse) as a means of raising children should be condemned. There are many ways of raising a disciplined child today without resorting to battering (or abuse). Nothing influences a child more like the knowledge that he would suffer some consequence or a loss of benefit when he goes contrary to set-down rules of discipline, and this can be achieved without battering. It is called responsibility – the greatest check on freedom, love, and even power. In the same vein, a child should be rewarded for a good deed but not bribed to be good as many parents do. To always give the child something for him to be good is to tell the child that someone must pay for him to be a nice person. A child should be made to realize that to be a good child is the first choice and a sort of civic duty that does not have to be paid for by anyone, while being a bad child has its unpleasant consequences. The worst damage a parent would do to a child’s future is to let the child believe that he could do anything and get away with it. If such a child develops such an attitude at home, he is bound to extend it to those outside the home as he grows, and this could manifest as intolerance, selfishness, carelessness, violence, and anger at the world.
A child ought to be loved but such love must go with responsibility. It is called ‘tough love’ in some parlance. It is questionable for one to claim that he/she loves a child when he/she allows such a child to cultivate habits that would endanger or ruin the child’s adulthood. That is ‘sparing the rod and spoiling the child.’ Most times, children hardly ever know what the test of life or the future would likely bring, and it is the responsibility of the adult to give them a realistic idea of what likely obtains. In recent times, we have heard or read about children who grew up to revolt against their parents simply because such parents did not insist on the right course for the child who was oblivious at childhood.
On the face of it, it would seem that western societies afford children more freedom than African societies, and this piece will not dwell on that since every society is different. However, in view of the fact that many Africans are now immigrants and qualified citizens of foreign countries where they have gone to make their living, the question of what tenets these Africans would use to raise their children becomes of paramount concern. Other questions that arise include: – how helpful is it for African parents to completely imitate the tenets of the western world in raising their children? What are the consequences of ignoring the African concept of respect and discipline (which many of these parents still unconsciously expect these same children to follow)? Are we loving our children today or raising brats for a terrible future?
In today’s western world, you could be sued or punished for trying to discipline a child. Unfortunately, this trend is slowly but steadily creeping into African societies. And people now let children get away with offensive behaviors for fear of the law. Yes, the law of the society in question must be respected, but respect and discipline could still be imparted without offending the law. An essential key is to start early.
There is danger in letting a child always have his (often unruly) way simply based on excuses like – ‘oh he is just being a stubborn 2 year old.” At 2 and during the formative years, a child will listen, and characters are easier to mold. The tender age is the time to let the child know that he cannot have all he wants all the time. That is the reality of life and the child must be ‘practically’ made to realize that point as early as possible. It may be too late to wait till the child is older when the temptation to use force to overcome his stronger resistance could become too pressing and ultimately lead to violence. It does not have to get to that.
Many parents are quick to say things like “he will get over it when he gets old,” “I do not want my child to suffer like I did,” “I love my child and want the best for him,” “I want my child to be confident and outspoken.” Yes, these are all positive objectives but too much of everything is bad, so goes a popular saying. Some of these type of parents can hardly be convinced to concede otherwise and most of them come back to regret it when the child turns out to be far from what they have hoped.
An African lady that I will call Mrs. X for anonymity, ignored several warnings by her relatives about the manner she was raising her children when she came over to the United States. Mrs. X insisted that the world has changed, and children should be allowed to do what they like, “after all it is a free country.” However, when the first child became a big boy, he was out of control and would even threaten Mrs. X when she attempted to discipline him (too late). Mrs. X then decided to send the big boy to her relative whom she felt had a good disciplinary grip on his children (too late). Mrs. X failed to realize that her relative seemed to have a grip on his children because he started early and never abandoned basic African tenets while raising his children. Well, at this point, even the relative could not exercise any control over the boy (too late), and when the boy started passing on his flawed characteristics on the otherwise disciplined children of the relative, the relative had to beg Mrs. X to come and get back her child. Now she is stuck with the boy. Perhaps, very soon she may start passing the blames of her failure on someone or the society.
This piece does not suggest a preference of any particular tenet in bringing up children, but regardless of how one wants to look at it; a parent cannot ignore his or her culture in raising a child in any environment. A typical American child of a typical American parent cannot be raised entirely on the basis of African culture simply because the parent is a diplomat or immigrant in an African society. The same goes for an African parent and an African child in a country in the western world. The key is balance and adjustment. If there must be a leaning it is always helpful to lean on the side of the parents’ culture, and where the parents have conflicting cultural background the situation would require even a tougher effort.
Today in the name of love, comfort, and privacy, we allow children to have their own TV and stereo systems which is not really bad, but we fail to teach them that it requires hard work to earn the money that can be used in buying such pleasures of life. We let children lock us out of rooms we paid for and gave them. So when they build pipe bombs, raise arms, and go on a deadly shooting rampage as in the Columbine case, we cry victim and claim ignorance of any danger signals.
Sometime ago, there was the news of the 12-year-old girl who hung herself because ‘her boyfriend’ left her. How did we get to a point where a child of 12 got so much into dating that she would kill herself because of a fallen or ill-fated relationship? Before, a parent troubled by a disobedient child would come to school and report the child for punishment and discipline. These days, some parents encourage their children to disobey their teachers. Some privileged parents even harass teachers (in defense of their children) who insist on strict discipline. Children are no longer being taught to expect punishment for wrongdoing, or that certain things have to be tolerated in life. Children are being raised without being taught how to share their toys, their food, clothes, space, etc. Rather they now kill or commit suicide if things do not go their way.
Recently, I read an article on this subject by Jeanne Sahadi, CNN/Money Staff Writer. I was very impressed by her reasoning, considering that she writes for a mostly western outlet as New York (CNN/Money). It assured me that even in America, there are those who believe that loving our children does not mean raising brats. From her essay, I have come up with the following six signs of raising a brat. Answering yes to even one of these questions would suggest that one is possibly raising a brat.
- Does your child equate house chores with capitalism? The child needs to feel like a productive member of the family and view chores as part of home life. Getting tipped for performing well is counterproductive.
- Does your child use up an allowance carelessly and ask for more? Let your child live with the consequences of making a bad financial decision.
- Does your child insist on designer accessories even when he knows that you may not be able to afford it? Feel free to put your foot down and say no sometimes even if you can afford the designer jeans, or shoe, or shirt, etc. Tell your child to save for it if he thinks it is too important.
- Do you boast to others about what you get for your children? This teaches your children that their worth in the eyes of their peers is tied in part to what you can afford.
- Do you give in to your child’s constant but different requests? By that, you are setting your child up for long-term discontent. There is nothing to look forward to. There is no respect for what he is getting. There is no incentive to save.
- Do you always bring home gifts or use money to vie for your child’s affection to get back at a spouse or ex-spouse?
Remember, saying no can be beautiful, disappointment could be a blessing, hardship may not endure forever, hard work could lead to glory, and discipline attains a goal, a future.
LOVING OR SPOILINGAnd to the children we have had,
We owe a duty to raise them well,
To teach them love as a way of life.
But how shall posterity have us judged
If we commit children to freedom spend
And leave no mark on how to account
For deeds they did and still would do,
Simply because we thought we loved (them)?
The child today, tomorrow, man will be,
And if rod is spared to spoil the child,
Shall we complain when trouble reigns
And old age is troubled by delinquents
Who care for none but just themselves,
And our world is ruled by insatiable leaders,
Molded by poor lessons learnt when young,
As we taught when we thought we loved (them)?