Written by Usiere Uko
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Author and personal finance coach, Mr. Usiere Uko, writes about preparing children to thrive in life as independent adults.
Most of us who are parents today grew up with various degrees of deprivation. One of our favourite topics of discussion is our childhood; going down memory lane and swapping 'war stories' about how tough we got it when we were young. Most folks born in the '70s and earlier have a story or two to tell. I have my own memories too. One of such is a water jerry can coming off my head and breaking on the floor when I could not take it anymore. I had trekked more than two kilometres from the stream and was about 200 meters away from home when my neck gave in. Being the second to the last born and coming from a large family, I showed up at the scene when my parents were relatively more well-off; I missed most of the action. I came to hear stories like my older siblings having to soak garri in water, leaving it to go to the village stream so that it will rise enough to go round upon their return. Those were tough days and good memories too. To a very large extent, it toughened us and helped make us become who we are today.
'I don't want my children to go through what I went through'
These are now distant memories. But the challenge is, after graduating from the school of hard knocks, we tend to keep our children away from any semblance of that school. We keep them in cocoons far disconnected from reality, under the guise of 'I don't want my children to go through what I went through'. Consequently, most of our children have no clue how the world or money works. Some have no idea how their parents make money. I know someone who had borrowed to the hilt to send her children to a university in the United States, and was being hounded from pillar to post by creditors, including being embarrassed at work. Despite this, she refused to tell the children what she is going through, nor asked them to chip in by taking part-time jobs. The children graduated, found no jobs; so the mother keeps borrowing to send them monthly allowance, including one who has a girlfriend.
Many young adults have no experience of work. We seem to put them in a microwave, on a race to nowhere. Many skip year six in primary school (some even skipping year five) and the trend has been taken to the secondary school level. Some students now take WASSE/NECO while in SS 2 and move straight to the university when they pass, as if in some race against time. The game seems to be about breaking the records as the youngest to graduate, and maybe saving parents some school fees in the process. A speaker I listened to on this subject coined a term for it - premature adultification. She used the example of trying to ripen a fruit when it is not yet time. The issue of rushing our children through school (without allowing them to finish) plus farming them out to boarding schools, often without adequate time to bond with parents and other siblings, is not the topic of this article. That is in the purview of psychologists. The interesting thing though, is that the western world we tend to copy from do not do that with their children. They take time to prepare their children for adulthood.
Are we preparing our children for real life?
The real world is a much tougher place than the nursery where we raise our children. With the rise of globalisation and death of job security, our children are being prepared for a much tougher and more competitive world than we grew up in. The idea of going to a good school and getting good grades so that you can clinch a good job no longer guarantees a happy ever after. Rather than bring up our children with an entitlement mentality, we need to train them on how to fend for themselves. The key question would be – are our children properly positioned to do better than us? If we make it much easier for them (sometimes bypassing process), will they do better?
Many fortunes have been frittered away by a succeeding generation that had no clue how to handle it. I have read many interviews on billionaires and one thing that struck me is that their children work for their money and don't depend on handouts from Daddy or Mummy. They don't fast-track them to the top. They go through the process. If you build a car and hand it over to a child without teaching the child how to fix it when it gets broken, that car will soon be history. That is the story of many companies and fortunes.
This is an excerpt from an anonymous piece, entitled 'Letter to Nigerian Parents', which I found on the Internet. It brings home the point about how we destroy the next generation in the name of shielding them from what we went through.
"I wish to start by adding the benefit of my time as a student and then resident in the UK. Living in Abuja now. The first thing that I discovered about UK-born, white, English undergraduates was that all of them did holiday or weekend job to support themselves - including the children of millionaires amongst them. It is the norm over there - regardless of how wealthy their parents are. And I soon discovered that virtually all other foreign students did the same - except status-conscious Nigerians.
I also watched Richard Branson (owner of Virgin Airline) speaking on the Biography Channel. To my amazement, he said that his young children travel in the economy class - even when the parents (he and his wife) are in upper class. Richard Branson is a billionaire in pound sterling. A quick survey would show you that only children from Nigeria fly business or upper class to commence their studies in the UK. No other foreign students do this. There is no aircraft attached to the office of the Prime Minister in the UK. He travels on BA. And the same goes for the Royals. The Queen does not have an aircraft for her exclusive use.
These practices simply become the culture which the next generation carries forward. Have you seen the car that Kate Middleton (the wife of Prince William) drives? VW Golf or something close to it. But there's one core difference between them and us (generally speaking), they (even the billionaires among them) work for their money…"
Are our children ready to face life on their own when we finally cut the umbilical cord? Can they survive and thrive without us and the exposure we have given them? Are we preparing them for life by shielding them away from it? Granted, we went through some things we ought not to have gone through. I almost broke my neck a couple of times, but is that enough reason to raise children who depend on us to make it in the world?