Is Absentee Parent(S) Entirely To Blame?

By Evelyne,W. Wangechi.

Who brought this child up?” were the words that went through many people’s minds when a teenage boy, a primary school pupil from a catholic school in Nairobi posted unsettling content online.

The child’s confidence and mastery of obscenity soon became agenda for the social media, radio stations and even newspapers. In a matter of hours the boy was trending; he was aware and was proud to be famous.

The social media lit up with all sorts of reactions, clearly signifying that the Kenyan society is probably in denial of how exposed our children are.

Dr. Ezekiel Mutua, the Chief Executive Officer of the Kenya Film Classification Board (KFCB), pointed out that the child’s behavior, was typical of today’s society.  According to him pop culture characterized by indecent music, films, and poetry on you tube is glorified. Media houses accord most of their airtime to impropriety albeit unethical since it sells the most – what someone else doesn’t want printed is good business for the media houses, the rest is advertising.

Our children consume such content sometimes under the very noses of their parents or guardians who are either too busy to supervise the children’s use of the Internet, or regard the content as harmless, resulting in internalization and adoption of the same as a way of socialization.

As Dr. Ouko asserts, it is a “monkey see monkey do” kind of business. As a matter of fact, the child was not new to his utterances the videos he posted, he was clearly pre-exposed.

Albeit vital, family background does not necessarily equate a child’s outcome. A child can evidently be upright, regardless their family background; covenant family- whereby mother and father are present, a SPF (Single Parent Family), an orphan, broken family or any other type or family. Prominent role models, all over the world come from all sort of family backgrounds.  This matter proves to be deeper than the family unit issues.

The challenge here is by and large- bringing up an overall new generation comprising digital native children on one hand, parents suffering digital divide on the other. These are the so called “Generation Z” children who are a technologically aggressive lot, they grow up and are socialized by technology right from when they are months old. They learn their first language through you tube where they learn their first Sunday school rhymes and how to count. Lullabies are inexistence in any other world apart from in the Internet. The Internet is the language they understand the best.

Most children are put to sleep by the care givers using music downloaded from the internet. Many have confessed that children feed better as they watch the music that is mostly streamed from the internet as opposed to when the environment is set differently. It doesn’t take the children long before they can operate the same gadgets by themselves at an early age of three years in most instances. Meanwhile, the parents to these children are busy at work away from home – the reason why a majority can hardly operate the very gadget that they bought for their homes. Before they know it, the children are already proficient in operating their parents’ phones. When the parents are home in the evening tired and catching up with the news, the child is quietly coiled at a corner in the same room glued to the phones. This child explores Youtube, as they download children songs and games. This is usually the exodus of the long walk, a walk that has now proved to be a dangerous as it leads to an exasperating journey to recovery, all isn’t lost. The bond of the child and the parents officially takes a different twirl at this point.

At the age of eight, that same child expresses a desire to own their own gadget. The busy parent, who does not want to disappoint their “munchkin” buys it for the love of their child. As the child explores the world of the internet, which is usually paid for by the same parent, the friends are doing likewise in their homes. When they are together, their conversation is modeled along what they are internalizing from their environment.

By the time they get to twelve years, they already know much more than the parents can ever imagine. They are at this point demanding for the latest phone models in the market, basically because they feel the need to show off to their peers. As the years progress their browsing skills gets to a level that the parents can never contest. They have no clue what happens in the world of their children, who are ever busy on their phones or computers, mostly in their rooms.

Parents evidently ignore the fact that, this kind of aloofness whereby everyone at home is busy doing their thing may cost them dearly. They will never know until there is some kind of reaction from their children.

Take an example of Lorna* a mother of a 15 year old girl in a day school in Kasarani Sub- County, Nairobi. She is a married mother of three children and a busy career woman. Her daughter had been suspended from school for two weeks following gross misconduct.  Due to her busy schedule, Lorna was not immediately available to go to school to find out what exactly had happened since the daughter could hardly explain.  Though they live under the same roof, and meet every evening at home, theirs was a strained relationship – as the daughter accuses Lorna of favouring her younger brothers over her.  She is closer to the father who had travelled out of the country on job related assignment.  Lorna therefore opted to call the school. Unfortunately, the administration declined to comment on the matter until the parent is available to accompany the daughter to school. She was finally available after three days (all this time, the daughter mostly locked herself in her room whenever the mother was around and she could tell, that she was mostly online).

To her utter shock, she learnt that her daughter had engaged in a physical fight with and showered with unprintable insults at the class prefect after she was punished for making noise in class. The disciplinary master had told her to explain the incidence in writing, which she had been told to read in presence of the mother.  Lorna was sure that she had never heard any of the words uttered in her house. She was sure that the school did not condone such behavior.  It dawned on her that she was actually seated on a time bomb. Their aloof daughter-mother relationship, her busy schedules and uncensored exposure to unregulated content on the internet, other types of media and letting other people bring up her child had led to her daughters’ indifference.

This is a typical case in many Kenyan families. Families are no longer what they used to be; they are no longer places of refuge for the members, they are close in proximity yet so far at heart. Children do not realize that freedom comes with responsibility, they aren’t taught so. The society in which they grow does not take freedom responsibly either. Digital-age parents on the other hand are not present in their children’s lives – the internet plays the parenting role instead, and the outcome is here with us.

As Psychologist Ciru Ngugi puts it, Lorna’s daughter, the teenage boy, and other children out there should not be blamed for the outcome of being exposed to unregulated online content.

It takes a village to bring up a child. The village in this era is unlike in the past where the neighbours and the extended family would be responsible for a child’s behaviour. Therefore, government’s regulatory bodies and media houses should step up their game in order to have children protected. The Communications Authority of Kenya (CCK)’s ‘BE THE COP’ campaign should vigorously be out there in order to have our children protected. A child should be every parent’s most valued asset and a reason to be conversant with the Computer Misuse and Cybercrime Act of 2018. General Data Protection Regulatory (GDPR), Children online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) for protection against cyber crime and cyber bullying of our children, it is time to have all the stakeholders come together for this cause.

The writer is Communications Specialist and a teacher of English