30 January 2013

Kenya: Teach Children to Make Decisions


In our youth program at the university where I teach, one of the things that we stress is the need to have a personal strategic plan. Where do I see myself in the next ten years and what am I doing to make sure that I get there. It is always painful to see the number of young adults who have no clue and who live their lives as though their future is their parents' problem.

It is disheartening to sit with a 17-year-old or an 18-year-old who has no clue what they want to be in life and are waiting for their high school results to determine the courses they will study and the course their lives will take in the next few years. These are true victims of circumstances.

As a parent, my one true fear is that one of my boys will grow up to be one of those 'zombies'; a person whose whole life and destiny has been shaped by Tony's and my decisions.

Or worse still, a victim of circumstances. I have realised with my interactions with some of these young persons and their parents that getting there is quite easy. All it takes is to so shelter your child so much from making bad choices that the fear to goof cripples them from making any kind of decisions. For instance, little Kamau wants to give out his favourite toy to his friend so that the friend can agree to play with him.

As his parent, you may know that this is no true friend and that the toy may get broken in the process. But it is a good opportunity to let Kamau learn that true friendships cannot be bought. The toy gets broken, your child's heart also, as the so called friend walks away to another child with more to offer, but hopefully your child learns that if a person will stay, it has to be for whom he or she is and not what he or she has. Next time hopefully, they get to choose better.

The other way I have observed parents rob their child the opportunity to take responsibility is by constantly taking the fall for them; refusing them to suffer the consequences of poor choices. Every parent has that inbuilt drive to nurture and protect their young one, it is only natural. But there comes a time when we have to let go.

Think back to the time your child began to walk, it was scary. I remember watching TJ struggling to walk from one sofa to the other. He would take a few steps then land on his backside, after a few seconds he would get up and try again.

Over and over he did this till one day he was able to get to the other end without falling. Now, don't get me wrong I am not talking about being irresponsible or allowing your child to get caught up in situations in which they have no capacity to handle, what I am talking about is creating safe opportunities for them to exercise choice and learn from it.

I could not have allowed my eight-month-old child to descend a flight of stairs on their own but I knew that very little harm would come to him trying to get from one end of the couch to the other.

All in all, suffice to say that as parents we have a responsibility to take care of our children, but more than that we have a responsibility to help them become functional responsible members of society and we cannot do that by sheltering their every move. At times, parenting means inputting the knowledge and then letting go; this takes a lot of courage but as the saying goes, parenting is not for cowards.

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