By Lineo Seogete/@Lineothefeline
Dear parents, isn’t it time you changed your tone? The thing is with or without your consent your kids are having sex. The threat of eternal damnation for engaging in sexual activity outside marriage or banishment from the family due to the shame attached to teen pregnancy no longer works.
Granted as Africans we still have a large amount of ground to cover in terms of speaking openly and explicitly about sex, but there are other means. In 2014 teen-pregnancy in Zimbabwe stood at 115 per 1000 girls between the ages 15-19. We cannot blame all incidents solely on poor morals because even girls who were brought up in loving and wholesome homes find themselves confronted with the prospect of motherhood before they reach adulthood.
In order to sensitize girls about the dangers of unprotected sex and the plight of becoming an unplanned young mother, it is time we speak to them in their own language. The “top-down” approach historically used is clearly becoming less and less effective and unconsciously promotes the behaviour. Apart from cases whereby young girls are forced into marriages before they can make the decision for themselves we have to interrogate the manner in which messages are communicated. When a grownup says “don’t”, the rebellious nature of youth tends to rouse defiance; especially if the young individual feels (s)he is being oppressed.
When some guardians notice that their girl minors are coming of age through exhibiting an increased interest in matters of puppy-love and sex, the guardians assume that using derogatory labels/names against the minors will compel them to adjust their behaviour. What happens instead is that many girls internalise the insults therefore leading to diminished self-esteem and negative perceptions of self.
Furthermore, minors resort to doing things on the sly which eliminates the opportunity for them to seek advice, let alone disclose their experiences. The negative repercussions then range anywhere from an increased risk of contracting HIV, unsafe back-door abortions and abandonment of foetuses to running away from home or hiding pregnancies and jeopardising the health and wellbeing of both mother and child.
In many sitcoms and films we observe and laugh at kids’ comic embarrassment when they are confronted with discussing sex and dating with their parents, but we ignore the seriousness buried within. In other cases we are introduced to open families where members communicate comfortably with each other as friends would. Conservative viewers sadly dismiss the possibilities of such a scenario within their own lives on the basis that they are witnessing fiction and not real-life. I do not support the adoption of western ideals at the compromise of our own. I do believe however, that there are models we can borrow from and customise to the African context (like we do in art) so as to arm our societies against the challenges we face.
My dream is to see more musicians, writers, filmmakers and other artists in Africa consciously take it upon themselves to use their popularity and influence to craft messages that will focus on and resonate positively with the youth. Creatively weaving advice and useful information into what they produce while keeping it hip and fresh (versus mimicking the meaningless content we often see depicted in the media) will help us overcome teenage pregnancy and other social ills. Preaching and the use of intimidation are methods quickly losing their fervour, and so is applying violence to regulate behaviour. Many grown-ups are set in their traditional ways of thinking and it is near impossible to move them from it, this is why artists may be a fitting intervention.
My sentiments are informed by times spent in the presence of teenage girls and boys and listening to their thought processes. Sadly, another tradition which still governs us is that young people are meant to be seen and not heard. Our elders, educators, administrators and priests are unaware of the level of wisdom and intelligence contained in young people due to censorship on either side of the spectrum. I do not have a quick-fix solution of how to bridge the gap but I know that both groups stand to benefit greatly from each other if only lines of communication may be opened a little wider.
My daughter and I began writing letters to each other when she was six years old and she resorts to it as a communication channel whenever she feels distressed by me or has something to get off her chest. She is a blunt little genius whom I have massive respect for, especially because she is preparing me for the tough teenage years ahead when verbal communication might sometimes prove a challenge for us both. We have found and will continue to invent alternative modes of communication so that our relationship remains open. I truly believe that if similar methods are employed by others we’ll begin to see a decline in teen-pregnancy rates and even HIV infections. Responsible guardians have the best intentions for their children while young people have high hopes for themselves too and both desire as few obstructions as possible to the futures of the latter. It is upon the grown-ups to write a new song because the old one is quickly becoming just noise.
For more by Lineo read her piece on loving her stripes, a look at the beauty of pregnancy.
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