OPINION | The tragedy of helicopter parenting

Her daughter celebrated her birthday recently. She ‘ordered’ her mother who is my friend to provide cake, ice cream and pizza. Ordered? You need to see the way she argues with her parents especially her father. Her logic can’t usually be faulted. Theirs is an example of classic democratic parenting. Does this style of parenting have its consequences? Would you dare argue with my late soldier-father? Or order my mother to buy you things outside your daily fare? You had your share of meal and things as required, timely, but no perquisite and were indoctrinated to be contented with what parents could afford. End of story. Looking back, it made us better, somewhat.

People learn moral dignity from elders. We were taught by our parents that trials and misfortunes bring out the best in people by the way they conduct themselves. And unlike the ‘all is well preachers of today’ that trials will come in torrents. It was an African allegory which held and I believe it to be so that, “when an old man dies, a library burns down.” That library should be our path to the future and not our destruction. Dialogue, with parents for the right reasons should be encouraged. I support sensible dialogue, but not dialogues that take authority away from parents.

Today, moral cosmos is alien in many places in Nigeria and youths go about cavitting at institutions with glee. Allow me share personal stories. In undergraduate school at the University of Ibadan, Tolani for reasons I have yet to deduce asked me to run for student union elections. “No,” I told her flatly. When she demanded to know my reasons, I told her that I was not good at shouting and that students who competed for offices loved to shout. At a student union meeting earlier, I heard union leaders cursing, using swear words and pouring invectives on the school’s management for the failure to do ‘this’ and ‘that.’ None felt squeamish about it. I was disappointed for obvious reasons: I expected to hear intercourses and exchanges of great ideas but got none. That was the last time I went to that building. Not long after, a comrade rode to the student union presidency by shouting, “no retreat, no surrender.” You would think the university was at war with its students. As soon as he became president, he couldn’t fulfill campaign promises, the “no retreat, no surrender” had become a tired expression students didn’t fancy.

Youths in undergraduate schools hardly negotiate with management in a civil way on critical issues. They create a disorderly scene, and resolutely believe in the cause of ‘dealing’ with the school authorities. Many times I wonder how some youths relate with their parents. I recall a frustrating  experience when there was no water in same university as above. I guess it went on for two or three days, not sure now and students quickly wore their militaristic garb. The VC called in the riot police who for obvious reasons couldn’t come in but were stationed at alert at the school’s main gate. Students saw this as an affront and thought it best to teach them (police) a lesson. They trooped to the main gate and began to throw rocks and pebbles at police men. Police responded by firing canisters of tear gas which students intercepted and threw back at the police. When it became unbearable, the police opened fire into the air to disperse students.

We have lost our values, culture and tradition as a people such that young people today love to hold court in places where there are elders. According to Professor Dele Owolawi, “ when people think sentimentally, their vision of worthy courses is blurred. To liberate youngsters from the shackle of ignorance, government must invest heavily in education. When the mind is liberated, the burden of obtuseness fizzles. The path, therefore, of freeing the mind is to teach people to know what is sensible and what’s not-nothing compares to education in the process of moving from irrationality to rationality.” Respect for elders is not negotiated – it is an entitlement. The cultural shift is one where youngsters today are nimble-footed in joining issues with elders, without respect. Could this be because of failed, democratic, and helicopter parenting?

A few moons back, I saw a little girl who was about three years away from entering the women’s estate, at a particular place at night in my neighbourhood, arms encircled with men. I concluded that that was her place for a tryst, considering it was a dark back-street. I told the mother to watch her daughter. Surprisingly, she told me I was not the first to tell her this. I couldn’t have told the husband; the woman runs the home. Today the daughter consorts with men older than me and is so world-wise without control that the mother is frantically in search of solutions. “I didn’t live this way as a young girl, so why does my daughter? Are my enemies after me? she asked through tears. The teenager who once engaged in cloak-and-dagger behaviour, is now a fiend for novelties, and she sleeps out when she chooses.

Last night, I saw two children who couldn’t be up to seven years old walking gaily with no direction at about 8p.m. in my neighbourhood and I had to ask them, “who are your parents?” At that age we were forced to be in bed at that time. Helicopter parenting has made couples fail to appreciate each other and find fault instead of celebrating one another, including the differences. They assume that the  grass is greener somewhere else. They fail to keep romance and friendship alive.

Some parents, it would appear, are in love with titles for ego gravitation purposes, not necessarily for the education that ought to come with it. They send their wards at an early age to school so they could say, “my child is a graduate and holds a PhD at 21 years-old.”

The importance of delaying university education for more experience and exposure cannot be overstated. It has been proven that people who delay gratification in all areas of life end up as successful persons.

The idea of school for some youngsters today is a place where they must express themselves wrongly. Unfortunately, our universities are not custodians of archetypes anymore and these ones do not know anything but to express self wrongly. Schools need to strictly enforce the dress code. Even-handed people are bothered to see girls on campus lark about without wearing undergarments (up and down) anymore. Don’t ask me. It is clear for all to see. Secondary schools need to organise orientation programmes for would-be school leavers, principally on how they should manage time outside school and decent behavioural habits in the universities. Helicopter parents need to delay rushing off children who aren’t mentally ready to look after themselves into higher institutions.

Could they consider allowing them work for a year or two, even if it means without salary to gain experience in a vocation of their choice? This will toughen them up to face life alone. Once, a parent whose child I supervised in the past, called me to advise the boy in question. His grades had started falling in the university. For a lad so brilliant, it was a cause for concern.  We took a long stroll. “Talk to me as a friend, not as your former head teacher. You were and are a brilliant lad. Why are your grades so poor?” “Sir, I am so sorry, you see I was never allowed to go out by my parents in secondary school, so that when I got into the university, I got exposed to too much freedom and couldn’t manage my time. My academic work suffered because I and my friends went out a lot. And sir, my parents made me study a course I was never interested in. This disinterest made me not to exert so much effort as I should have.” ‪
Do I have to go on?
• Simon Abah, Port  Harcourt, Rivers State.

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