It was Frank Olize of NTA, anchor of the popular Sunday night news titled “Newsline” that always started his program with the words “It’s 9 o’clock do you know where your children are? I thought of that question some time back when I happened upon a conversation somewhere on social media where an uncle was agonizing over the sexual content he saw on his 15 years niece’s phone. It also came to mind when a friend called me because she discovered that her 13 year old was having conversations with a boy in her class about sex toys.
She couldn’t believe that her prayerful, tongue speaking child was having such conversations.
Back to Frank’s question, I am sure most parents especially in those days would have answered in the affirmative as their children were most probably by their sides watching the news or asleep in bed or so they thought, and they were mostly right especially with respect to children of primary and secondary school age but I doubt if today’s parents can answer the question with the confidence our parents had.
Gone are the days when you were sure that your adolescent child was where she/ he was supposed to be. Then, if your child was at home you knew they were home. Nowadays, a child may sit next to you but is far from you. They may be in their rooms in Lagos, Nigeria but are chatting with people in Japan, Siberia or some far flung country.
We may not like to hear it being said but our children live double lives, they know us, know what picture of them we carry in our heads and try to ensure that they fit the frame when they are with us or in places where we have some form of control bidding their time until they are in supposedly safe places where their true nature or character can come to the fore.
I assure you, that this kind of behavior is normal and I am sure that everyone of my readers did stuff that their parents have no inclination of, including traveling to visit boyfriends in other states, sneaking out to parties whilst everyone was asleep, dating or making friends with people their parents would disapprove of, so I am a bit surprised especially with my generation- who are more religious than our parents were, when we buy into the delusion that because we know God, serve Him, have daily prayers at home, quote scriptures over our children and send them to “Christian” schools , that our children will be perfect and not subject to the social pressures plaguing their world.
However, the reality of our times is that, now, more than ever before, we are living with children who are exposed from a very early age to sex, drugs, alcohol, bigotry, depression, mental health issues and dysfunction of all sorts due to the advent of social media. Easy access to information of all kinds ( many which are are inappropriate for children) and sometimes bad parenting, too, are reasons behind it.
When we hear stories about a child who has gone down the wrong path, we are quick to castigate the parents for not being watchful or knowledgeable about their children but a lot of us do not know that our ‘little saints’ at home are doing the same things or even worse than the child that was caught. Some of us suspect that all is not well with our child but we tend to downplay our suspicions, justifying them or alternatively rejecting them as not being our portion.
Some parents don’t even know anything is wrong, we are consumed with ourselves , our work and the day to day business of living and surviving these times that we just take things at face value, hope and believe that the façade our children put up when we see them is true.
The truth is that our children will not tell us everything about their lives and the reason is very simple. We are their parents.
We live in more difficult times than our parents and one of the main culprits that has helped a lot in promoting a double lifestyle is social media. Because of the invincibility it gives anyone to be anything they want behind the screen.
So what can parents do to help their kids live authentic lives?
1. Be real. There is so much ‘fake- ness’ going on in our society today and our children see it and use it to justify their own behavior. So be authentic, present your self -warts and all to others and your children will be free to do the same.
2. Limit access to social media and screen time, set schedules, buy phones and gadgets that are appropriate for the child. ( A child in primary school may have a phone but not one that is internet enabled ) I for one do not believe in taking phones off the hands of pre-teens and teenagers because they have become means of social interaction and non-access to them may be more harmful than beneficial in terms of self esteem issues etc but I am a firm believer in restricted usage depending on their ages.
3. Talk, communicate with your children, ask questions, create scenarios, draw them out, ask for their opinion on issues in a bid to know them better.
4. Listen without being judgmental. I struggled a lot with this in the past because I am very opinionated and my children kept things from me but told their father who was more accepting of their escapades. I am much better now and I have learnt to keep a straight face and not lecture( most times) when they tell me the things they are up to even though my heart may be thumping hard in my chest over the things they are saying.
5. Snoop around. Everything may not be as it seems and never believe hook , line and sinker all what your child tells you, check their phones, follow them on social media but don’t stalk them.
6. Befriend their friends, sometimes you will get the authentic gist from a friend who inadvertently makes a slip. Some of them block their parents on social media but will accept another adult who they think is less judgmental of their lifestyle.
7. Accept that your child is human and capable of evil behind their cherubic and angelic smile. Knowing this will make us give allowances for bad behavior especially when we remember what we ourselves were up to at their ages.
Today’s children are under a lot of pressure to conform and be like their peers and their secret lives are fueled by the need to belong, our acceptance and understanding of this phase which we all went through should guide us in navigating the hard times with them but no matter what we do let’s know that we will never ever know all they are up to.
So today I will rephrase Frank’s question and ask it’s 2021, do you know what your child is up to?