Let me begin with a flaming neon disclaimer. This is something of an opinion piece and needs be taken in such a light. Much of my experience comes vicariously through the clients who come to see me and to a similar extent through being exposed to various sectors of society in the other aspects of my work. I am always struck at the differences that exist in the experiences of those I come across. As always, our socioeconomic status will set the tone for the lives we live and this is always a consideration, so perhaps best to look more closely at those that are more in line with my socioeconomic status.
I will never forget, working holidays and weekends during high school, a small girl, no older than 7 coming into our store with her parents to peruse watches and jewellery, only for them all to leave empty handed. As it turns out, they came back even emptier-handed than before. The young lady was in tears and inconsolable, as she had lost her cell phone somewhere in that shopping centre and they were desperately searching for it. HER cell phone, not her mother’s… On another occasion, a guy from my school, a few grades below me (maybe about 15 years old) walked in hand in hand with his father to pick out a replacement birthday watch, as he didn’t like what he’d been given. He complained and pouted until has father agreed to upgrade their purchase to a watch worth half as much as my first car. Dad capitulated and he withdrew from the verge of tears and smiled triumphantly. I was incredulous. I couldn’t even get my dad to buy me a ninja turtle action figure when I was 10, not without some bargaining, car washing and the like.
By the time I was 23, I was on my way to work and travel in the UK and little did I know, about to have the world take me down a peg or two. Needless to say, I started to realise how lucky I had it under my father’s roof back home, with my air-conditioned bedroom, domestic worker and many of the other luxuries we take for granted as youth. Since returning and completing my studies, moving into practice and making a life for myself, I cannot help but look back on these instances, including my own and always compare how, by that age, my own father had done his basic training, served in the navy, found meaningful employment and was about to have his first child with my mother. Here I was, part of a whole generation learning with shock what the word “tax” meant.
While the world is not what it was 30 some odd years ago, with many more stressors than before, I can’t help but feel that there is some imbalance in the way that we are treating our youth, some disservice we are doing them, by allowing them too much of a safety net. I know I am not alone in this, as I still meet clientele of the very age group in question, who feel inadequate and unprepared for life when they leave tertiary education, because they have seldom had to do for themselves those things that are so essential to daily living. Not knowing how to rewire a plug, run a washing machine or change a tyre at 23 years old is not something they are proud of. For those of us who know what a meme is, there is one I saw that will forever exemplify my thinking. It shows a top picture of the Normandy invasion of 1944 with the caption “in 1944, 18yr olds storm the beaches to defend democracy,” underneath it shows a clearly adult child having an emotional moment, stating “in 2014, 18yr olds need a safe place ‘cos words really do hurt”.
While extreme as mentioned before (I don’t ever want to see my son in combat fatigues), it still feels like there is a gap between protecting our children and preventing them from experiencing life and learning valuable lessons.
I know that going forward, I will always try to protect my child until he can do so for himself, but never want to prevent him from learning a valuable lesson where and when he can.