Child protection during the school holiday is of paramount importance. When it comes to the school holidays, most parents have mixed feelings. On one hand, they are relieved to have a break from the routine of early school drop offs and hours of homework. For those whose children are coming back from boarding schools, they get to have an extra helping hand around the house. In the same breath however, dreading having to find ways to entertain the children at home. These mixed feelings are heightened for parents/guardians of teenagers.
The majority of the world’s population now lives in urban areas, which are home to most of the world’s poor people. At particular risk in urban areas are people over half of whom are believed to be children who live in urban slums. Life in urban slums is frequently characterized by lack of access to basic necessities, living and working on the streets, sexual exploitation and abuse, HIV and AIDS, and violence. Sadly, most of these risks are heightened during school holidays.
Despite these risks, relatively little is known about Child Protection in urban slums. A high priority is to learn not only about the diverse sources of vulnerability but also about the processes, practices and mechanisms that people living in slums use in responding to and preventing violations against children.
This gives rise to the constant battle between giving the teenagers freedom and imposing domestic lockdown to, perhaps, ensure their safety and maintain some level of sanity during the school holidays. Parents fear that allowing their teenagers too much leeway may land them in bad company or negatively rewarding behaviors. For parents/guardians of teenage girls, their greatest worry is their daughters getting pregnant. Those of teenage boys, often fear their sons getting someone pregnant or engaging in drugs and crime etc. Parents are yet again put in the uncomfortable position of grappling with balancing their children’s need to socialize and that of shielding them from bad influence in the community.
Research has shown that, teenagers who are restricted from interacting with their peers grow into adults who do not know how to interact with colleagues and authority figures. The lack of coping skills may result in low self-esteem and relationship problems in adulthood. Social interaction helps young people learn how to behave in society. Locking down teenagers in the house is NOT a solution, as a parent/guardian, handling teenagers during the school holidays can be a challenging experience that can easily strain or badly damage parent-child relationship.
Teenage relationships with peers outside school is paramount for the social and mental development of adolescents. In childhood, parents are the most important players in teaching the child how to behave in society, but in adolescence, the role of peers increases and highly prioritized. Research shows teenagers who have good relationships with their peers have a much better sense of psychological well-being compared to their isolated counterparts. Psychological well-being at this stage translates into better physical health and better relationship skills in adulthood.
There is an undeniable importance of peers in the growth of teenagers. However, in as much as experts advise on the best approach being to sit with them, hear them out, respect their privacy; the dilemma for parents hangs at the mercies of how to strike the right balance between their children’s psychological needs to socialize and protecting them from bad influences.
At Child Space Organization, we are committed to ensuring that children transition well from one term to the next by constantly working towards ensuring their safety during and after the school holidays. Through the Parents Plus program, we work towards building capacity of the Parents/Guardians on matters parenting and empowerment; the program considers how best Parents can connect with and build good relationships with their Teenage Children, while also being firm and influential in their lives. It is important that parents cultivate a healthy relationship with their teenage children because that is the most fragile period in a child’s life.
Through the Smart Children Clubs we incorporate lively teaching sessions that seek to constantly nurture and walk with children throughout their teenage life and equip them with skills to enable them to think and act responsibly. We ensure that our stakeholders are sensitized and have their capacity built to ensure the holistic development of the children under our care. Through our interactions with the children we are able to identify and nature their talents, equip them with character development tools even while they engage and learn from their peers.
Statistics have shown that, defilement reportedly occurs frequently, most often in households by relatives and people known to the survivors. Poverty leads girls to frequently trade sex for food, money, mobile phones, payment of school fees, and necessities such as sanitary pads. On the other hand, boys often engage in sex with older, single women in exchange for paid work or a place to live. Particularly among teenagers, transactional sex is alarmingly widespread. Due to the scale of the sexual abuse and exploitation and also the high frequency of unprotected consensual sex, HIV and AIDS were reportedly widespread, yet survivors were badly stigmatized.
Through our Sexual and reproductive health rights program we ensure that the children are in a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being in all matters relating to the reproductive system. Sexual and reproductive health is a fundamental human right as well as human development issue that we all must strive to fulfill.
Therefore, school holidays should be a time where children are allowed to rest. In as much as parents/guardians want to ensure that their teenagers are occupied at all times, it is vital to remember that children have been in school. When they are home, please demonstrate some level of trust and allow them to have fun and catch up with their peers. Walking on egg shells around their development during their holidays is detrimental. Take the time off and spend it with the teenagers, doing what they like to do and watch how transformative and rewarding it is for them.