Image via Wikipedia
Having spent most of my life in England and Nigeria I have noticed a few significant differences in the way both countries raise their kids. Talking about the way kids are brought up is often a very sensitive subject. Most of us are familiar with the defensive statement “don’t tell me how to bring up my kids!” said by parents when they are confronted with any form of criticism about their child’s behaviour.
At first I thought this trend was universal, but the truth is this response is common particularly among American and European parents.
In Nigeria for example, it is not a strange occurence for a child misbehaving in public to be spanked by an absolute stranger, while his mother looks on appreciating the fact that this person she doesn’t know was kind enough to discipline her child.
If this incident was to happen in England, the stranger would be arrested for ‘child abuse’.
It is differences such as these that throw light on the impact that culture has on a societies way of life.
In England kids believe they should be free to do whatever they want, speak to their parents how they feel like it, and their parents don’t need to be thanked because they are only putting up with it and taking care of them because that is their role as parents.
This once again stems from the culture of the society. The law in England is so particular about childrens rights and child abuse that parents have run out of ideas on how to bring up their kids without getting on the wrong side of the law. TV shows such as “Supernanny” emphasise this trend, where it is common to see kids shouting and insulting their parents, spitting and throwing things at them, hitting, slapping, and displaying all sorts of aggressive behaviour. I often joke that a show like “Supernanny” wouldn’t be very successful in Nigeria, because each episode would only be 5 minutes long. The child would shout at his mom, get spanked by Aunty Iyabo (the Nigerian Supernanny), and he would be well behaved for the rest of the scene. Mission accomplished.
Nigerian parents are firm believers in the “spare the rod spoil the child” philosophy. Even within the educational system most schools are expected to smack their children when they get out of hand, for reasons ranging from disrupting a class to not doing homework. This practice is unheard of in an English institution and the thought would be met with immediate outrage. By contrast English parents follow the “my child’s happiness is what matters” philosophy; so even if a child has misbehaved, it is more important that the child does not end up crying or throwing a tantrum, than for the child to be properly disciplined for his/her actions.
The defining difference between the parenting techniques of the English and Nigerians really boils down to their attitude towards discipline and respect.
In England when a child misbehaves (s)he is likely to get grounded. The parent would send the child up to their room, sit them in a naughty corner, seize their mobile phone, ban them from watching TV, using the internet, and relieve them of their video games for several hours.
This sort of punishment is clearly not a sufficient enough deterent for bad behaviour, because if you think about it, for kids of certain personalities the attention gotten from misbehaving is well worth the repremand of being sent to their room – where they can play with their toys after being naughty.
To be honest a lot of the disciplinary methods the English use just wouldn’t work in Nigeria. Seizing the mobile phone wouldn’t make a difference because the kid probably didn’t have any credit in the first place. Depriving the child of the internet, TV and video games wouldn’t be effective either; because there would probably be a power cut in the next few minutes and the kids are quite accustomed to the frequent lack of electricity.
Spanking and punishments that create actual discomfort though, are a universal solution when applied to discipline. Nigerians have recognised this, and when it is put into practice the truth is one cannot deny its effectiveness.
As a child I received many spankings. In fact its amazing that I’m here proclaiming the benefits of being spanked because as you can imagine I hated it at the time. But when I think about the impact that this discipline had on my life, I cannot help but feel thankful.
I remember very vividly that if I was to step out of line when out with my parents, all my dad had to do was give me a certain look; and without the exchange of words I somehow automatically knew that I was doing something wrong. My mind would flash back to previous smacks and I would find myself asking the question “do i want to get spanked?” and my body would respond with the immediate answer, “no”; and regardless of the pleasure I was deriving from misbehaving, an angelic spirit would seemingly return, steering me back on to the path of righteousness – for fear that I would regret my actions. Its worth noting that all this would take place in the space of about 2 seconds.
Contrasting this with the English way of life it is not difficult for me to see why the control parents have over their kids has gotten out of hand. A child can walk out and slam the door in the middle of a conversation, smash objects in the house and report their parents to the police claiming they are being maltreated. Instances such as this are almost unheard of in Nigeria. Most kids wouldn’t have the nerve to talk back to a significantly older sibling, let alone their parents.
The truth is parents in England are not really allowed to parent their kids. What they can and cannot do is more or less spelt out by the government, and the parents feel that they need to make sure their kids are happy so that they don’t get in some kind of trouble with the authorities. At 16 if a child wants to move out the government is likely to provide him/her with a flat and a bit of money for upkeep; this prospect alone ensures that a lot of kids hold on to the threat of “leaving home”, so that their parents bend to their will for the sake of maintaining contact.
Its one thing to criticise, but I won’t leave you hanging without making a significant point.
Speaking as a parent myself I recognise that there is a thin line between discipline and child abuse. Beating a child out of anger with fists and all kinds of objects isn’t something I would do to a child. If my aim is to “teach”, then my approach needs to consider the childs level of understanding right from wrong, knowing the childs personality, and being calm enough show the child what s(he) has done wrong.
Using 2 fingers to smack a 3 year old child across the arm for example wouldn’t kill or leave a scar; and doing this early on in life goes a long way, because later on the threat alone of being smacked is often sufficient enough to send a clear message – when compared to “your gonna get grounded”.
I will admit that i am generalizing. In a topic such as this it is very difficult to make a strong point without generalizing to some degree. But I will end with what I consider to be a substantial conclusion.
If what matters to you most is your childs “happiness”, you are going to make a lot of bad choices in your efforts to fulfill this. Parenting is not about making your child happy; there is a time and a place for that. What matters most is “teaching” a child the way that (s)he should grow – to recognise right from wrong, develop self control, and amongst other things realise that there is no reason to throw a fit when things don’t go their way. Parenting is about equipping a child with the tools they will need to function independently when they go on to face life outside the nest.
A key element missing in the story is “balance”, and on that note it would be fair to say that much can be learned from both societies.
Even though the Nigerian method is more likely to generate respect and submission to authority; the English way of life is better able to create a relationship where the childs opinion and feelings are taken into account.
An extreme Nigerian is in danger of bringing up a child that lives in the constant fear of doing something wrong. An extreme English parent is in danger of bringing up a child that is spoilt and only happy when he gets things his way.
There is nothing wrong with being friends with your kids; but in the early stages of growth the child doesn’t a friend, (s)he needs a parent.
Click Here To Read More Of The NIGERIA vs ENGLAND Series