People say that the world is coming to an end. That it is fraught with disasters and now overrun with immorality. They say our fathers were noble, and the fathers before them full of honour. That our mothers were chaste and our mothers’ mothers knew their place in society. They say we were brought up right, and godly and parents of today are doing a really poor job: they are trying to be friends with their children instead of being parents; the rod is not being used and the child is being spoiled; children are talking when they should, instead, be obeying.
In the past 48 hours, videos of children having sexual intercourse have gone viral, and the social media space has gone agog, lamenting the moral decadence in today’s society, the overexposure of the children, the ineptness of those meant to guide them.
But there’s something unsettling about the way the issue is being addressed; it comes from a place of scorn and condemnation, instead of a place of teachings. There’s “oh my God, these children are spoiled, they need to be beaten and dealt with”, then there’s “thank God for my upbringing o, our parents were strict but at least we turned out well.”
But did we really turn out well? Children having sex, teenagers getting pregnant, people being “immoral” has been in existence since time immemorial, we simply live in a world where actions are captured on cameras and then uploaded on social media for everyone to see. We are in a world where we now live through our lens; people are swift to bring out their phones to capture everything and anything. Instead of enjoying events, we’re capturing the moment. Instead of helping accident victims, people are whipping out their phones to take videos. There is something about the constant need to record things and share, and that makes vices bare. So the idea that the world is now so unscrupulous is a very facile way of thinking. And the idea that children need to be beaten in order to set them right is equally shallow.
Let’s face it, the generation that was beaten, hung to the fan or tree to be flogged, shamed in the village square are not more honourable than this generation – they are the ones fighting to marry underage girls, embezzling funds, becoming fanatics and what not. Pray tell, how can you explain a video of little children engaging in adult activity going around on social media and adults screaming “please share it with me,” “send it to my DM, abeg”? If your parents raised you well, why will you, on social media, be begging to watch such content? The only difference between then and now is that we did not have our videos taken when we erred, and our mistakes were not so bare for the entire world to see.
But we are here now, in this new world, and all we can do is think of how to make things better. More than ever before, we need to embrace the communal mode of parenting – the need to realise that we all have a role to play in ensuring that the next generation turns out as right as they can be. Children need to grow in a safe and healthy environment, and this is the work of the entire community – family, school, religious organisations, political organisations and so on.
It is the duty of the family to protect children and this protection includes them not being exposed to sexual predators, or sexually illicit content at a tender age. You cannot beat hormones or curiosity out of children, but you can arm them with the knowledge they need to navigate this world and discern right from wrong. If, as a parent, your child, at such a young age, is performing such sexual activity, is being subjected to the jeers and sneers of the school – teachers and students, is being allegedly taken for pregnancy test – all in a span of one month and did not for once open up to you, then you need to go back to the drawing board and ask yourself tough questions. Ask yourself if beyond the whips and rods, you have created that environment where your child can tell you any and everything. Ask yourself if your child can find solace in your words or arms when they fall into trouble.
I once listened to an interview where Michelle Obama talked about telling her then 13-year-old daughter to come to her for solutions when she is in trouble, “no matter what you’ve done, come to me” she said, “don’t meet your fellow 13-year-olds for solutions because you are all equally foolish and childish.” That is the way to go, children will always do foolish it, but how we, as adults, take charge of and handle the situation matter the most.
We must also admit that parents who raise children right still have to deal with children falling for peer pressure or being harassed and influenced by older ones. The actions of a child does not always reflect on the training received at home. Sometimes, a parent can do everything they feel is right and the child still follows their path. A child is a whole human being, not necessarily an extension of the parent. That is where the community also comes it. Like the school.
When you start a school, you are opening up your arms to children from all walks of life – the bad, the good, the liar, the honest, the dull, the brilliant. Opening a school means you have the capacity to take care of them, teach them certain values, and influence their actions. When schools begin to deflect and not take full responsibilities for the actions of the children under their watch, then there’s a problem. Acceptance of children into your school means being responsible for them all the times they are in your care. If you do not see it this way, then perhaps you shouldn’t be a school. Schools should not be allowed back in the business of educating young people if 10-year-olds can be engaged in illicit actions under their watch, complete with video evidence, and they aren’t taking full responsibility for it.
It is the same with the society at large. Moments like this aren’t the best time to tell us how well you were raised and how the new generation is already condemned. It is to reevaluate what exactly we are feeding young ones – content-wise. From cartoons to music, street slangs, movies, billboards, and so on, what are we exposing them to? How do we also help our younger ones when they make mistakes? Little kids having sex does not automatically mean they are condemned, it means they need help, and the first thing we can do is to not share their videos knowing fully well that actions like that have huge impact on their future. The fact that adults are gleefully sharing that video under faux concern while pontificating on it is an indication of how messed up society is.
As a society, we must learn to extend grace to children; one bad decision or act does not make the child bad. As kids, we weren’t good or obedient at all times. Else, we miss the chance to actually teach and mould generations to come, and then build the kind of society we all want.