School holiday is here with us once more, however, with a difference. Thrice in a year, schools break for holidays, the December one being the longest, spanning about two months.
Many parents regard this as both a blessing and a curse in equal measure. A blessing for having their children back home to be with them, and a curse because of the enormous responsibilities that comes with it.
Due to the complexity of the ever changing social economic life, parents are placed between a hard place and a rock.
This cycle of events attracts divergent reactions from various quarters. For instance, Rita Musyoki, a resident at the Embakasi Pipeline Estate, says it is expensive to have the children around as she works as an attendant at a local social joint, while the husband is a mechanic assistant at a garage in the area.
Rita says during such times together with her husband normally pool resources together and have their children join their grandparents back at the countryside of Makueni County.
“When they are here and not going to school, in the morning they have the usual cup of tea made of one packet or one liter of milk from a local milk ATM machine at about Sh60, but, they are back again an hour later with cries for another cup with something to eat of course, inform of a cake, and indeed they are better at ‘shags’ (rural home),” she notes.
Some parents who opt to stay with their children in urban areas, where they are working from have their share of challenges too.
They are either forced to draw a semblance of a time schedule to control the free time the children are exposed to. They leave behind instructions as to when the children would watch favorite programmes in the TV, when to go out to play and interact with their peers at the Estate grounds, as well as what time to re-visit their school work.
Lina Chebet from Ruaraka, Nairobi and working at the City Centre and the husband, Robert Kipkoech, a Police officer, stationed in Nakuru are a worried lot.
“Yes, I have all this do’s and don’ts conditionality for them, but, no one to enforce or supervise while I am away at work place. My 10-year-old child overrules the house-help and does his knotty jinx the whole day only to come back in the evening dirty with all sorts of injuries,” she says.
With such scenario across nearly all homes, there is great risk of increased juvenile delinquency.
James Waweru and his wife Ann from Ikinu, Githunguri, Kiambu County, are also a worried couple, their son Erick 17, a form four leaver, seems to be having a growing closeness with their neighbor’s daughter, a 15-years-old, and just in form three.
The parents have observed that the teens have a habit of creating an afternoon long chats and incidentally, the son has also developed skills in sneaking out using a farm’s pick-up vehicle. He returns home late, sometimes past midnight.
According to a Kiambu based counselor and psychologist at Queens of Peace Counselors, Mrs. Rosemary Mathenge, parents’ need to accept reality and know that schools have closed and their children are at home.
She says it is time for parents to play their rightful role of parenting and create ample time to bond with their children while charting their path to the future.
Mrs. Mathenge adds that a home and family are important social institutions in human life and should be safeguarded at all cost.
“A family set-up is a foundation and a pillar of an informal education and strengthening of tender age personality development,” she notes.
The counselor encouraged parents to work closely with relevant institutions, such as religious organizations and other stakeholders in boosting their parenting during the long festive holidays.
“Parents should encourage their children to join seminars, workshops and youth mentorship programmes, where they will receive counseling and advice on positive living besides providing and a conducive environment to identify and nurture their talents through various games offered,” she advises.
In counseling, if the interaction of the family with one of their own becomes a stress, it becomes a sick system and if allowed to dominate, it will not only cause misery to the individual but to the rest of the entire family.
Deputy County Commissioner (DCC), Githunguri Sub-County in Kiambu, Mr. Meru Mwangi, concurs that parents need to recognize the role of religious institutions and professionals in offering guidance to their children during this festive season.
Mwangi admits that though the National Government Administration officials will work round the clock to ensure adequate security during the holidays, parents have a greater and noble role to play and exert authority in the protection, control and guidance of their children, particularly along the spheres of peer influence. This is especially in habits such as use of alcohol, crime and substance abuse.
The deputy county commissioner believes that to mould a holistic adult from a child, there is need for concerted efforts by all stakeholders.
“There is need for participatory approach and inclusivity by all stakeholders in the society to overcome challenges and risk facing children and youth during their holidays,” he added.
On the other hand, Mathenge says parents should be encouraged to nurture their children and monitor them closely throughout their development into adulthood.
She advises that parents should not only look after the young, but also the relatively grown up and who are still dependent upon them.
“This is an everlasting duty. Honour it and pursue it with all your dedication and energy, without fear, for these are your children and the country’s posterity,” she observes.
Mathenge says parents need to teach about moral values and to lead by example, noting that children learn more through observation.
The counselor notes that some parents tend to take their children for an outing and during the occasion they engage in drinking, while children are either seated with them or are playing at the bouncing castles under the watch of house –helps and managements of such establishments.
This, she says leads them to get interested in what the parents are doing, sometimes, she notes, misunderstanding may crop-up between the couple under influence of alcohol but in the presence of their children.
Mathenge says parents should be ready to guide their children, particularly teenagers, through life challenges and how to overcome them.
“They need to be told the importance of respect to adults and their friends, effects of peer pressure and how to avoid and the need to focus their lives in their future aspirations,” she says.
The counselor adds that in order to effectively shape the behaviors and attitude of the children, parents need to be more responsible and be nearer to them as closely and as often as possible.
She encouraged parents not to give up in their parental responsibilities, saying that sending children to their grandparents would make them more vulnerable as some ‘grandees’ are known to be excessively protective to the children.
“Teenagers, particularly girls need to be protected and guided through their discovery stage, they risk running into incest and early pregnancies if left under grandparents watch,” she observes.
She says that it has been reported in the past, situations where uncles and aunts mess up with the morals of such children. Mrs. Mathenge says incestuous relationship may crop-up and before it is discovered damage could have already occurred.
The counselor at the same time challenges parents to always monitor what their children are being exposed to while browsing internets either in their mobile phones, laptops or family desktop.
“Parents need to take control of their children access to internet. This modern technology is welcomed and beneficial to all of us, but it is so addictive such that if allowed to take over the Childs’s time, then it becomes destructive to their lives. Look-out, the children will be exposed to pornography and chats that may affect their view, attitude and mind-set in life Vis-a-Vis actual reality,” she warns.
Mrs. Mathenge warns that teenagers between the ages of 13-15 are very vulnerable to peer pressure with most of them suffering from recognition syndrome, particularly in development of self-esteem and the struggle for identity.
The Counselor encourages religious organizations to take-over the vacuum left by parents and arrange for holiday workshops, camps and seminars where the youth will meet together under a structured programme, share experiences, be counseled and more so identify their talents during games championships.
The Deputy County Commissioner, Ruiru Sub-County, Mr. Geoffrey Githinji Ithai, directed members of the ‘Nyumba Kumi’ initiative to intensify their vigilance, particularly of organized end-year parties and in social places.
He warned that proprietors of alcohol outlets entertaining children below the recommended age would have their businesses shut-down and owners arrested.
A the same time, Ithai warned bars to seriously observe operating hours, while cautioning wine and spirit outlets not to take advantage of the free operation time to sell alcohol to the youth.
The deputy county commissioner urged chiefs and their assistants to take personal responsibility in the crack-down of drugs and illicit brews, saying such toxic substance may end up in the hands of the youth.
By Lang’at Edwins