Free Kids

The animated movie “Free Birds” is an eponym for the title of this article. However, whereas the movie covers the liberation of turkeys from Thanksgiving meals, this article highlights a form of pseudo-liberation that is in effect a form of bondage. 

Last week, I boarded a taxi, and sitting right beside me was a little kid on her way to school. Being in a bit of a hurry, nothing crossed my mind until another passenger asked the driver whether the kid’s mum entrusted her child into his care. The driver replied in the negative. Immediately, the other passengers began a discussion on the “laziness” and “nonchalance” of many mothers (generally, mums prepare kids for school). At this point, I asked the little girl about her age. “I am six years old”, she meekly replied, further aggravating the horror on the faces of the passengers (I was the only male passenger).

As I pondered on the matter, I realised that the passengers would have been less harsh on the girl’s mum if she had at least told the taxi driver to help ensure her child gets to school safely. At the end of the taxi’s route, the kid would have to cross a busy intersection before reaching her school. I can only imagine how easy it would be for a six-year old to safely cross in the midst of Nigeria’s impatient drivers.

The little girl’s daily school trip typifies a trend by an increasing number of parents to put more responsibilities on the plates of their kids. Giving a six-year-old money to board a cab and head to school is akin to asking a six-year-old to eat bony tilapia fish (popularly called “Office pin”) without any assistance. The child may succeed in eating the fish without any problem, but the odds are that the child may choke or get bone fragments painfully inserted in parts of her mouth.

With the increasing “busy-ness” of many parents, kids are being left on their own more frequently, and at much lower ages. It is no wonder that there is now an increase in violence against children. It has become more common to read news reports of a child being raped or sexually abused by a paedophile. The possibility for children to be harmed increases as parents continually look the other way or hurriedly entrust their kids to neighbours or relatives.

Less inclination of many parents to do the expected in terms of guidance and supervision of their children means we now have more “wild” children. A free bird is apparently free to fly anywhere, anyhow, anytime, free to mingle with any group of birds, free to do whatsoever it likes. Many children are growing up like that. No control, no rules, no supervision. Mum’s off to work, dad’s been at work for weeks, Uncle Joe and Auntie Jane do not want to be disturbed. It’s the Wild Wild West!

Parents are “freeing” the kids. In a world that encourages liberality, joining the trend appears to be a smart choice (or so it seems). However, “freeing the kids” should come after their formative years. During the formative years, a child needs all the care, protection and guidance he can get. It is then that a framework for the child’s life is laid. Who is more qualified to help lay the framework than the child’s parents? They owe the child that responsibility.

The “free kids” are actually in bondage. They are in bondage to their own unseasoned and unwise reasoning. They are in bondage to the dictates of their peers. They are in bondage to the whims of malicious adults and older children. Their freedom makes them easy prey for predators. It is not the best world for them.

Parents must live up to their responsibility. Guiding a little child to execute a task is not the same thing as leaving the child in the lurch to figure out the steps by himself. If you want to be a parent, you must be ready for the responsibilities of parenthood. Else, you can get a teddy bear. Little Teddy won’t mind being left home alone.

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