Some time ago, I attended an event at a popular hotel in Asaba, Delta state. At the end of the occasion, Lady Boredom cajoled me into taking a stroll around the hotel, savouring the evening air and engaging in the proverbial clearing of the head. A little later, I stumbled upon a children’s party in full swing. It had bouncy castles and face painters, gaily dressed clowns and pink candy floss; infact, all the paraphernalia of an upscale kiddies shindig.
And then I saw some of the dresses.
Little girls, surely no older than eleven years, seemed to be the most sorely plagued, as some were decked in heavy make-up and skimpy dresses. My eyes fell on short skirts and ridiculously long hair attachments. As I sat on a plastic chair under a canopy, wondering the last children’s party I attended, a very fat middle aged woman strode past me with two children in tow; the boy had a blue t-shirt and black khakis while the bespectacled girl, who I presumed to be his sister, was wearing the shortest pair of jeans shorts I had ever seen on a prepubescent girl. The children disappeared into the party while their fat mother engaged in banter and back slapping with other grown-up guests.
Maybe I was surprised because I had always assumed that a child party would be characterized by girls in elaborate frocks and boys in shoes with multicolour shining lights, all jumping about whilst waiting for cake and Styrofoam packs of jollof rice and one piece of meat. Well, maybe that’s why I’m a bit old-fashioned
I was still caught in thought in the plastic chair under the canopy when the DJ changed the song. Chai! The new song was a horrible choice for a gathering of children, majority of whom may have barely started secondary school. The lyrics were flavoured with ‘18+’ words like ‘ashawo’ and ‘ukwu’.
*eyes open in shock* Nna mehn, come and see dance steps
The very small children were twirling about happily without a care in the world; they were largely left to their own devices. All the attention and applause was lavished on the ‘elder’ children who were seriously wriggling their waists like their next meal depended on it. They knew all the right directions to pull and push, the right time to gyrate downwards and then slowly come back up, in summary, the way to do some serious ‘rocking’. Fast forward a couple of years, delete the under-sixes and throw in some booze, and I might as well have been in a night club in Ikeja.
After I left a while later (I didn’t want to be accused of staring), a part of me dismissed everything as harmless fun. They were kids and they knoweth not what they do. The oldest child at the party would not have been more than 14 years and such interaction was good for self-esteem.
Today’s world is a tough & terrible terrain for a child to grow up in. Parenting has become individualized and thus more difficult to practice properly. Schools are ‘in loco parentis’ in name only. Parents are either too arrogant or too ignorant to ask for help. Exempli gratia, try correcting another woman’s child in a public or private setting. More often than not, your attempts at discipline will be rewarded, by the mother of the erring child, with a big Ghana-must-go bagful of insults, pressed together and running over. Some parents have hectic schedules and alternative care is scarce and expensive. Your cheerful next door neighbour might be a child molester. The end result is that children are forced to grow up faster. They have become little adults instead of just being kids. I accept that look after growing children can be a bothersome chore but we’ll have to put our backs into it. The television pedigree for babysitting is deteriorating beyond repair. You never know when Iyanya or Timaya would jump on-screen demanding for ‘waist’ or ‘ukwu, treating us unabashedly to quivering derrieres. Don’t put MTV and Trace in place of playing in the sandpit or with LEGO. Many children can’t sing the second stanza of the national anthem but they’ll gladly sing how they are ‘looking for Caro’
Sometimes civilization comes with a lot of silliness. Maintaining the status quo will yield a morally bankrupt generation. This vicious cycle will even be more detrimental for our grandchildren as you can’t give what you don’t have. Parents have to roll up their sleeves and become good examples as the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Spend good time with your child as children are highly impressionable. Every action always has a reaction (at least Isaac Newton thinks so). Let them play soccer, chess, ludo, scrabble or ten-ten. Let them learn musical instruments. Maximize that developing intellect.
Some have argued, and I tend to agree, that no matter what you do, ‘pikin wey wan spoil go spoil’. But every child is a product of nature and nurture. Many children are exposed to things that they are not ready for.
So, instead of allowing society to teach your child how to dance ‘azonto’ read her a nice story.
*listening to Mike Okri’s Hear your papa, hear your mama