I often find it intriguing when adults talk nostalgically about the ‘good old days’ whenever they argue about how ‘out of control’ today’s generation is. Comments such as “today’s children are disrespectful”, “they don’t greet elders”, “they are so violent”, make up most of the debate as majority would agree that, “ during our time, we would not have gotten away with that!” The argument today is that, parents are no longer hands-on in the upbringing of their children.
The 2012 First Botswana Youth Risk Behavioural Surveillance Survey of youth aged between 10 and 19 years revealed that young people are faced with challenges such as tobacco, alcohol and drug use, transactional sex, multiple sexual partners, intergenerational sexual relationships, suicide related behaviours amongst a host of other cringe worthy maladies that probably did not exist twenty years ago. Of the sampled population, 35.6 per cent reported to have ever used drugs which included marijuana, glue, mandrax, cocaine, sextasy or any drug not prescribed for medical purposes. The highest prevalence of ever having used drugs was amongst Standard 5 students while the lowest was among Form 1s.
In addition, the media has also recently been awash with reports of rampages at schools, suicide and rape cases of children, situations which indicate that there is a crisis looming that compels for a reality check among parents/ guardians and children.
While the Children’s Act of 2009 Part IV subsection 28 (1a) states that parents have the right to control and guide the child’s upbringing , it is evident from experience and reports that something is going right. Question is, what exactly went wrong and who is at fault?
Explaining the ideal role of parents as per the Setswana culture , Bonno Baitsemi, a retired mother of two adults and grandmother to one boy and girl said, “The reality is that parenting has become a challenging task in these modern times. Back in the days, fathers went out to work and while mothers also did, they always reserved time in raising the children and taking care of the household. However, in the modern society, both now need to work to accomplish the economical stability of families because the lifestyle and demands of families have changed. Nonetheless, no one should neglect the roles that each has to play; a parent ought to take up the role of a parent and so should know their place.”
According to Baitsemi, the parenting role embraces several aspects which include amongst others , seeing to it the that the child is well fed, dresses appropriately and training them to carry out duties undertaken by any responsible being. “It is within the home that both the boy child and girl child are taught duties that prepare them to be responsible mothers, fathers and citizens of tomorrow. There are taught love, compassion and botho,” she explained, adding that it is these three pertinent traits that the society usually judges them on. “That is why when a child misbehaves, the first question usually asked is, ke ngwana wa ga mang? (Whose child is this?) This is because it is firstly the trainer (parent) that is thought of, as it is assumed that the behavior displayed by the child corresponds with what they were taught,” she explained.
“I believe parents are to be blamed for the wayward behavior of children because even though a child may copy some unacceptable behavior from the streets, it is still the responsibility of the parent to see to it that they are brought to order,” she pointed out. “I usually look and listen at the things my grandchildren do and say and get so surprised because even their mother when she was their age she couldn’t say what they say.
“Today’s children are seldom beaten; the way they are disciplined, if it all they are, is done verbally as opposed to back when one would be given a very good hiding. As the old adage goes, Spare the rod and spoil the child, well it has been spared and look at what is happening today,” she remarked.
For Gosego Kgaladua, 23, the modern way of parenting is about parents always being busy with their lives and leaving the children to raise themselves. According to Kgaladua, that has created a gap between children and their parents. “Parents are absent most of the time, unlike parents back in the days who were hands on in the upbringing of the child. They have no control on morals and traits of their children because they are not present to teach, observe and correct what their children do and say, rather maids, the media and peers have taken over. This is sad because even when a child has a problem such as drug abuse or a learning disability, they only come to learn of it at a very late stage,” she said adding that parents should create time between their schedules to spend with their children and also to create platforms to know their families.
“But on the other hand modern parenting is good because it teaches the child to be responsible, especially when you are an older child like me as I take care of my younger siblings during our parents’ absence, ” she said. Kgaladua, who calls the modern way of parenting as rather democratic, said one of its advantages is that the child’s voice/opinion is heard when discussing family issues. “I also feel that this democratic style creates a trusting and open relationship with us children and the parents because we feel free to discuss issues,” she pointed out.
For his part, social worker Kgomotso Jongman said the challenges faced by parents nowadays are due to the disintegration of the family. According to Jongman , there are no families, hence the definition of a family justified. “There are father -headed families, mother -headed, child headed, nuclear families, gay families, amongst others. It is these different meanings of a family that bring challenges in parenting because there is nowhere to look up to for a family model,” he said.
He suggests that the biggest challenge that many parents face is the scarcity of time. “A day’s twenty four hours has to be juggled between self, career, home, church, friends and children. However, modern parents seem to give the former priority, subsequently ‘neglecting’ their parental duties ,” he said, advising parents to always create time and to be hands on in the upbringing of their children. Adding on, he pointed out that an imbalanced life also added to the challenges. “Consequently, parents’ absence in children’s lives results in emotional dissolution; there is no emotional attachment between the child and the parents. They become strangers to each other, and that is why in some instances the child would cry for the maid and not the parent,” he maintained.
Meanwhile, Jongman said there was a growing concern of parents’ failure to mend the moral fabric in children. “Most parents find it difficult talk to their children; they fail to integrate the moral values and norms on the child and to simply tell the child if something is a taboo or not. O kare batsadi ba tshaba bana ba bone. (It’s like parents are scared of their children). They are just failing to provide tough love for fear of being viewed as backward parents.”
He advised that parents should carry out intrapersonal assessment exercises to find out if they are doing enough to raise their children and also that the nation should recreate the family.“Aunts, uncles and grandmothers should also have to play a role in the upbringing of the children,” Jongman said, adding that policies and Acts geared towards building the family should be made.
Sharing the same sentiments, UNICEF Child Protection Specialist Benito Semommung said another challenge was that parents become parents without any light of what parenthood entails. “It is important that they be parenting skills programmes to equip them with necessary skills. Currently there are no programmes to that effect and perhaps government should also have a budget for children and related issues,” he said. Semommung said when parents do not feature anywhere in the children’s lives, they instead learn from their peers and most of the time it is the wayward behavior that they learn.
However, he said in order to remedy the current situation a paradigm shift is needed. “The family support system should be revived and so should the education system, strengthened to curb the trending unacceptable wayward behavior,” he said.