The Systems Formula for Child Rearing
We often hear the words, AToday=s young folk are so different,@ usually followed by descriptions of negative attitudes and behaviors. Many elders have given up on young people. Do we resign ourselves and accept this as the new reality?
I=m afraid we=ve become spectators to our own lives. Chart our family and community practices from Africa to present. They, too, are different. While the dominant culture perceives events as isolated, unrelated occurrences, we must know they are related. Dr. Asa Hilliard offers guidance to parents on the importance of socialization in his book The Maroon Within Us.
African cultures revered children and involved them in daily life. Africans believed the infant to be a returning ancestor, hence the reverence and they realized that the infant would grow up to become caretakers of the village. You may not believe in reincarnation, but nurturing those who will lead your community and world makes sense today. Rituals, rites of passages, time spent with elders and family duties groomed African children for responsible adulthood. What can we do today?
Our role as parents has not changed. The job is more difficult now because the village has been replaced. If we accept as valid the African proverb AIt takes a village to raise a child@ and if we can=t identify the village, do we resign ourselves to being unable to raise our children or do we re-create the village?
From conversations with individuals who work effectively with youth and my own experiences, young people respond positively to respect, individual attention and recognition of their ability. Adults who listen to them, assist in clarifying their purpose and involve them in real-life problem- solving, gain their trust and respect.
The question, AWhat can we do today?@ is probably similar to the one that was answered with, AA journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.@ Each one of us can apply the systems formula – input plus process equals output – to rearing or relating to children.
If we bake a cake and it turns out hard, we know to make adjustments in ingredients, the temperature of the oven or the length of time it baked. If a plant dies, we know that the growing conditions were not adequate – the soil or the amount of light and water.
While Arecipes@ and Ahow to grow tags@ don=t come with children, social scientists have validated human needs. They align with values of African social systems which we credit for our ability to not only survive but thrive in spite of slavery and oppression. The input for child rearing would include spending time, involving the child in family activities, listening, communicating, instilling values, recognizing and developing talents/skills. A commitment to yielding a good product requires a commitment to make adjustments. The formula works if you work it.
Since this is the last month of summer vacation, I suggest a project for parents of children five years and over. Plan with your child a family calendar of activities for the upcoming school year. Be sure to include activities that develop any interest that you=ve noticed in the child.
Teach your child the art of brainstorming and negotiation as the process begins as a wish list and becomes the to-do list after surviving work, school schedules and other commitments and subjected to a values inspection.
Parents and children each take an activity and research what=s needed to make it happen. Reports can be made and input added at family meetings. Weekly family meetings are a great way to connect if the dinner table is no longer the gathering place. Time and length of meetings can be set according to the family=s schedule. Children learn research, planning and reporting skills in a real-life family situation. They are involved and their opinions are being heard.
A project for non-parents is to select one or two children and each time you encounter them; inquire about their day, their likes and dislikes, ask their opinions, acknowledge them for accomplishments – get to know them.
Monitoring the output and making needed adjustments will move parent and child from the spectator stands onto the courts and they will be in the process of transforming their lives and re-creating the village.
Next time we=ll look at ways to enjoy after-school hours. E-mail comments, questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.