In the African household dynamics, children have little or no platform of self-expression and should do as they are told. In fact, rules in some of these households are carved in stone and should remain unquestioned.
It is almost impossible that a parent and child sit in the same setting discussing matters that affect the child where discussions are headed by the child. Because of the lack of wisdom that comes with age, which, of course, the child does not have, it has become acceptable that everything from the parents goes with no questions.
For example, it is almost impossible for the girl child to ask her parents to increase their curfew from 20h00 to 23h00. It is almost impossible for both the boy and girl child to tell their parents that they have a partner or they have become sexually active. With the fear that parents are never questioned because it may come out ‘disrespectful’, one can only imagine the weight of problems children today carry and go unheard. What makes it even worse it the fact that those who they wish to share this weight with never have the time to listen. In fact, such a platform does not exist.
Children thus grow up in four walls that replicate life in a prison cell. They grow up in environments where they take what they are given and should they utter any words, they should be responses like – ‘Yes mom’, ‘yes dad’, ‘I will never do it mom’, ‘I fully understand you dad’, ‘I am sorry’.
As a consequence, the child starts living a dual life – a phase that is acceptable for the parents and a phase that s/he expresses herself the way s/he wished her parents had the time to listen. The two phases never meet eye to eye.
Panduleni Thomas (not her real name), a 21-year-old student attests to the fact that growing up under her parents’ roof, she is forced to have a reserved lifestyle. This is because her parents always keep a close eye and do not tolerate anything outside the ‘normal’.
As a freshman three years ago, she would sneak out of the house to go clubbing once in a while with her friends. “I would drink so much alcohol to the point that I would blackout and my friends would have to carry me to the car. The fact that I could not have this conversation with my parents meant that I would rather listen and have it with friends,” said Panduleni.
Parenting in its nature is a full-time job that no parent is educated for. Societies have come to view parenting as more of a guide to prevent children from that which is wrong in the eyes of the parent. Needless to say, it has become a one-way practice where those at the receiving end only take in what they are given.
As is today, society has many young people who have unsolved issues with their parents. The issues remain as such because there is almost no time parents get to listen to their children. And if the platform is provided, children do not open up because of the fear to get the lashing.
“What happens is that the child becomes so frustrated and cannot wait to leave the house. It is even worse when they are young and cannot afford to leave alone. This is also why we sometimes cannot understand what leads an 18 or 16-year-old to commit suicide,” says Social Worker Andreas Hamunyela.
Hamunyela says society has downplayed the role of parents and their children’s surrounding in the recent growing suicide cases, saying there is a link if one objectively investigates. “It is mostly children who come from homes with ‘strict’ parents [that] have it rough.”
Relationship expert and gender equality practitioner, Ngamane Karuaihe-Upi, emphasizes that a stable household environment is paramount to the up-bringing of meaningful and productive youth saying: “parents need to reclaim their place in parenthood within the household”.
“The role of parenting is a dual responsibility with all parties involved stepping up to the plate. Parents can do their part in educating their children on what is socially acceptable however children have the liberty to choose their own paths,” says Karuaihe-Upi.
According to The World Health Organisation, Namibia is ranked 157th in the world on suicide cases with 3 percent attached to teenagers.
“Just because some adults grew up in strict environments and made it through does not mean every child is as strong. It is thus easy for adults to downplay or even entertain why teens commit suicide because they went through worse. What parents miss out is the fact that not every child takes in the strict environment strongly. Not every child can adapt to environments where they have no say. In the end, regardless whether you thought it is stupid for a child to take their life, you will be sorry for losing that close relative,” says the social worker.
Karuaihe-Upi shares the same sentiment saying parents should open dialogue with their children even on topics that are perceived too mature for children. “Parents must do away with taboo issues because withholding such discussions means that the child will discuss it with somebody elsewhere.”
Whether society comes to terms with reality or not, today’s young people are not of the same caliber as those of yesteryear and situations differ by default. Depression, stress and all psychological problems do not discriminate with age. And what is worrisome is the fact that there are many people with problems but do not have the right people to hear them out.
“Parents and guardians should make time to listen to their children. It may come out disrespectful but at least you know what the child is going through and you have a starting point in guiding your child. Be the friend that your child needs else they will seek for advice from another person and you never know what direction they will be given. Just open the dialogue before it is too late,” concluded Hamunyela.