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Nigerians in America: How (NOT) to raise our children

Written by Abiodun Ladepo
Ladepo, a resident of Los Angeles, California, USA.

It begins with the language spoken in the home. It is often the case that parents who share the same Nigerian language speak English to their children at home even when the children are just babies and toddlers. This is a waste of the child's wide repertoire for learning new things, including new languages. 

Various psychologists and socio-linguists opine that every child is imbued with an innate ability to acquire a language. What parents need to do is place that child in close proximity to the language and the child would pick it up effortlessly. Parents unwittingly underestimate the child's capacity to learn the parents' native language, internalise it as perfectly as the parents do and use it as appropriately as the parents do. By not speaking their native language to their children, parents deny their children the three theories of language acquisition: Imitation, reinforcement and active construction of grammar.

Also, by speaking our adulterated, impure American English to the children, parents unwittingly impede or, in fact, destroy the children's ability to learn American English in its purest form. Most of us who arrived in the US after 12 years of age or after puberty (according to socio-linguists) have forever lost the capacity to learn American English like a native speaker. We come from Nigeria with our breathy alphabets, twisted consonants, misplaced stresses, wrong diction, abbreviated vocabulary, and we unknowingly impose these habits on our children. Our imperfect American English is what we expose our children to, and through the three theories of language acquisition mentioned above, our children acquire our poor English. We do not recognise the fact just as our parents did not sit us down to teach us our native Nigerian languages, that our children would naturally and effortlessly learn from their friends at the nursery, higher schools and playgrounds.

It then goes on into subordinating or completely surrendering our entire mores to the American environment in which we live. Our children wake up and walk past us in the house without rendering the greeting of the day. Forget about girls kneeling down and boys prostrating. The children outright do not even utter the greeting of the day before asking us for whatever they want! A Nigerian man walked into his house with his friend in tow. He found his two teenage boys playing video games in the living room. Rather than greet their father and the guest, the children unplugged their video player and relocated into their room. When the father went to them and chastised them for not having the decency to greet his friend, the boys told him the guest was the father's, not theirs! They didn't think they had the obligation to greet their parents' friends. Some, in fact, call their parents' friends by their first names! Forget "Uncle" or "Auntie."

Where you find a teenage child too big to greet an elder, you will find one too big to do the dishes. It is not uncommon to find children who rise from the dining table taking only their own plates and expecting their parents to take theirs too. Some even leave their plates for their parents to clear and wash. These are the same type of children that have unlimited access to the refrigerator and kitchen cabinets. Many of them eat whenever, wherever and whatever they want. They eat all day every day. This lack of self-control and absence of parental control become so ingrained in the psyche of these children that they never develop any moderating tendencies.

Such children do not (and cannot) do their own laundries even when all it entails is merely putting the clothes in the washing machine and transferring them to the dryer. We have Nigerian parents who hire (on a weekly basis) cleaning maids that sweep and vacuum the house; wash and fold clothes, including those of their teenage children and wipe down the furniture. These maids even come during holidays when the children do not have to go to school! I understand that if you have the financial wherewithal, your children should not "suffer" like you did growing up. But such children end up not being able to do their own chores when they eventually move out of their parents' homes.
Or, do they ever really move out? Even if they move out physically, they are unable to accomplish simple tasks in their own homes. They rely on their parents to help run their homes, including their marriage. By their actions, you can tell what young man or woman did not get or did not imbibe the proper Nigerian home training. That man whose house is always in tatters - clothes all over the place, trash overfilled, entire home like a pigsty, lawn overgrown with weed as if you are in the bush; and that woman who cannot make eba or boil an egg without burning something – whose white bathtub is perpetually brown with soot and her commode as filthy as a dumpster, whose bedroom is always like a tornado went through it - that man or woman is an example of that child whose parents handled with kid gloves their entire formative years.

Our children now receive "time-outs" instead of the good old tough love spanking that kept us on the straight and narrow path when we were young. Out of the fear of being labelled a child abuser, many of us do not want to put our hands on our children at all. In the US, Delaware is the only state that prohibits any form of corporal punishment, to include spanking. Corporal punishment laws in Connecticut, New Jersey, Idaho, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Rhode Island and South Dakota are a bit ambiguous to me as a non-lawyer. But the rest of the states, including Hawaii and Alaska, permit "reasonable" corporal punishment when necessary for the promotion of the child's welfare. In fact, Colorado defers to the child's culture! According to the state's Civil Code 19-1-303 (I), "Any investigation of child abuse shall take into account the child-rearing practices of the child's culture."

While it is true that many children go through life and become productive citizens without having experienced corporal punishment ever, many other children do require "whipping" back-to-shape when they stray. It is up to the parents to identify which of their children needs to be spanked. If you allow your child to become rude, lazy, recalcitrant, greedy, indifferent and disrespectful, chances are the child will amount to very little in life and you may end up forever bailing that child out of jail and out of other types of jams.

And this may come to the Nigerian reader as a big surprise: Not a whole lot of American parents spoil their children rotten like some of us do. It is a myth that many Nigerians have ignorantly perpetuated and have allowed their children to use against them. You will be amazed how many American parents have tight grips on their households and on their children's behaviour. You will be surprised how respectful, courteous, dutiful, helpful, caring, loving, obedient and brilliant their children are. Ask your American friends how they run their homes. Better still; ask your children's American friends how they behave at home? And then ask yourself why you have allowed your own children to become the adult in your home.
The bottom line is this: What obtains in Nigeria obtains in the US, albeit with slight modifications. You do not need monkey-like somersaults before raising your child in God's ways. You cannot allow your children to be so spoilt to the point that they become incorrigible and constitute a permanent liability to you.

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