A LETTER TO THE AFFLUENT NIGERIAN PARENT
Dear Affluent Nigerian Parent,
The world is a global village and you must always remember that. The internet has come and put the whole world next door. Contrary to your experience and beliefs, a University education (even in a professional course like Medicine, Law, Accounting and Pharmacy) is no longer adequate leverage in a competitive world. If you are monied, it will help but it will not always provide the perfect leverage for survival or success.
Your child needs more to survive, to succeed: language skills, self discipline, money management skills, a strong ability to follow through, ingeniousity and creativity, a clear mind, tenacity and sheer determination to work hard and give 100%. These skills are vital, they are relevant and a Nigerian child with these abilities will do better, go far and excel amongst his/her peers from the 194 other countries of the world.
It’s surprising how little emphasis is paid by Nigerian parents to what is not in their immediate sphere, there is much competition, much striving to give their children all advantages but only in the immediate sphere; which is why the average Nigerian child today still speaks only one major language and is discouraged from even speaking a local language; even in the upper middle class homes where the means to pay for language lessons exists. It errs me when I hear highly educated Nigerian parents RESIDENT in Nigeria say that their children cannot speak any local language!
Speaking atleast one local language brings no negative to your children... only positives... not least of which is the ability to think in different languages and sharpen their minds from an early age. English is not the only language your child should speak, if you have the means, avail them of the opportunity to learn other languages; because they will be competing with those who can do business/operate in more than one language.
I am a fan of the arts; but expensive piano/ballet lessons are a waste on a child who has no musical flair while language lessons started at an early age are never a waste or a pain as children find it easier to learn multiple languages and it will always stand your child in good stead.
Secondly, a little affluence in many homes has led to the total discard of self discipline and the children of food sellers, mechanics, tailors and low level civil servants in Nigeria today have more self discipline than the children of CEOs and Senior Managers. Why? because there is no maid to fetch for them, because they have learnt to wash their own clothes even when they are tired, to clean up after themselves, to rise early and get a lot of things done even before school in the morning. However the upper middle class parent can afford maids who lay out uniforms, run baths, lay beds and get the 13 year ready for school – how can this child learn self discipline if he or she cannot lay his or her own bed? Or wash his or her school uniforms? Every child from the age of 9 should have some household chores no matter how small. Institute time tables at home and ensure your children follow them. Reward good behaviour, punish misdemeanour.
Thirdly, the influence of good money management skills on future survival or success is poorly emphasized with the affluent middle class once again failing in this regard. The lower class and their biscuit hawking children are doing much better; because God help that child who comes home with a messy account of biscuit or puff-puff sold. But the upper middle class parent gives lavish allowances to children who already have too many toys and gadgets in a bid to give these children a better life.
I began to learn money management lessons from my dad from the age of 10 when I began to receive a weekly allowance – which I was required to account for in detail at the end of every week. This built in me very strong money management skills, teaching me to have practical justifications for expenses before making them, to keep track of my spending and most importantly to save. My dad rewarded my savings by doubling every kobo I saved at the end of the term.
Am I celebrating poverty? No, I am however saying that in giving their children a better life, the affluent Nigerian parent is coddling the child to death. You might be thinking “oh I am not affluent I am only giving my child a more comfortable life and so this does not apply to me”. If there is no lesson to be learnt in the comfortable life your child is living it is too much comfort. If your child has no responsibility at all and his/her only responsibility is to “pass school exams” that child is already too comfortable.
I am not an advocate of all teenagers in Nigeria going out to work after secondary school. Why? because the economic and socio-cultural environment in Nigeria makes little allowance for this nor does it provide the right support. Presently there are more graduates than jobs in Nigeria probably 10 times as much and the jobs that would have expectedly gone to secondary school leavers looking for work experience is presently being struggled over by fresh graduates, school term internship students and OND school leavers who have to work for a year before going for their HND.
So what should the Nigerian secondary school leaver do? I say the Nigerian secondary school leaver should learn a trade in between secondary school and University.
Like I stressed at the beginning of this letter – it’s all about survival, and succeeding in a competitive world and you never know what will come in handy; which is why you should equip your child as much as you can, help your child build the strength and capabilities to win.
So learn a trade – sewing, barbing, shoe making, jewellery making, painting (art & interiors), tie and dye, hairdressing, professional baking, professional catering – let your child learn something that the child can fall back on. In addition to providing an alternative means of income, it proves to an employer that your child is “up and doing”, creative, having diverse skills, and most importantly your child is teachable.
You may wish to imitate the Affluent parents of the Western world, and send your child on a gap year to find himself/herself, but gap years are known to have their downsides. Gap years that are not spent working/volunteering have been known to be a year of trying drugs, indiscriminate sex and what not... so think well on that one.
The ability to follow through, ingeniousity, creativity, a clear mind, tenacity and sheer determination are skills your children can pick up and hone if you cocoon them a bit less. Life, being the jungle that it is, rewards the ingenious... the ones who make lemonades when lemons are thrown at them.
There is nothing wrong with giving your child opportunities, every success story had the right opportunity but still you don’t have to run around putting in a good word everywhere and pulling strings at every opportunity. Your child is like a caterpillar that needs to fight its way out of its cocoon in order to build strength in its wings and fly.
Household chores started must be finished, projects begun must be completed, please have rules and stick with them and your children will learn to follow through, being a “finisher” is a strong skill; many have failed merely for an inability to finish what they started. Allow them to fill out their own application forms (even if you have to supervise or correct it) but let them do it! Your secretary shouldn’t do their home works or draft their CVs for them.
The importance of working right should be stressed not necessarily endless hard labour; but more of working to achieve results and finding satisfaction in achieving results.
For the few who own their own firms/companies which you hope to hand over to your son or daughter, please don’t bring your children into your firm at the head of the food chain, they will never learn the basics and they will not have the respect of the staff you want to leave them with.
Sometimes it seems that many affluent parents are trying to compensate for their absence from their children’s lives, to express their love in a multitude of gifts and large allowances. A lot of these parents having lacked these things in their own growing up years seem to believe it is exactly what their children need; forgetting that it is the very lack they had that pushed them to achieve, to be the best, to seek success tenaciously.
If you are one of these love buying, affection seeking parents then I will like to inform you that a lot of well proven studies have shown that the children of the affluent are generally more cruel to their own parents and less understanding as compared to the children of the poor who watch their parents slave and strive to provide i.e. your bribery is not as appreciated as you think and a “tough love” parent is respected in future more than a cuckolding one.
Finally, integrity and a good name are two things every parent must teach their child. It is easy for the Nigerian child of today to be disillusioned and discard these values because every situation in the country screams that stealing, lying, cheating and doing everything to have money is all that counts.
My father insisted that I learn a quote as a child and this quote never left me, I will pass it on to you now and to your children.
"He who steals my purse, steals trash, it is neither his nor mine; but he who robs me of my good name robs me of that which enriches him not but makes me poor indeed.”
Good day to you.
Written by Oyeronke Odewumi.