When parents need parenting!
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When parents need parenting!

After witnessing a mother smoking in a car with her children in the back seat, Terence Pillay questions parental responsibilities.

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I recently witnessed quite a disturbing scene while I was driving to work. It was raining and I noticed that the woman in the car next to me had her window ever so slightly down and was smoking with children in the car in the back seat. I hooted and signalled for her to stop but she flipped me off and sped off. I was livid. These were children that had no choice but to sit in this smoke-filled car with this disgusting woman who really should be behind bars.

Children of smoking parents inhale the same amount of nicotine as if they themselves smoked the cigarette. And according to Act 23 of 2007 Section 2(1) (a) of the SA Tobacco Legislation, “No person may smoke in any vehicle or car when a child under the age of 12 years is present in that vehicle.”

Besides, you also can’t smoke within ten meters of an entrance, so I would say being inside a typical hatchback that has five entrances, with a child mind you; you are absolutely breaking the law.

This whole incident sparked a raging debate amongst my friends and for me; broadly, it actually speaks to parental responsibility more than anything else. One of my friends said that as a parent, you always have this paranoia about what you can do wrong and most parents try their best to be good parents, but the fact is so many people don’t really know how to parent responsibly.

So when something happens  - say for example some school kid goes on a killing spree – one of the first things people say is, “But he came from such a normal home.” And as a parent, you think the things that you do will influence your child; the whole nature versus nurture notion and it’s a huge responsibility.

I recently saw a picture of a former Miss SA and her family where she was holding her child in her lap in the front passenger seat, minus a seat belt while the father drove. There was no seat belt and no car seat and for me, that is just as irresponsible as someone who smokes in the car with their children in there. You cannot drive with children in your lap in the front passenger seat – it’s as simple as that.

There are things that are obviously irresponsible, like smoking with the child in the car or putting your child in the car without a car seat; things that parents do that don’t protect their children. But then there are the subtle things, the little things you do that might influence their outcomes. There is a huge responsibility that sits on the shoulders of parents in order to raise them to be happy, healthy and generally well-adjusted; living their best life.

I have seen parents in the parking lots of shopping malls that let their young children get out the car before they do – and they are usually faffing with makeup or a cellphone – and these children run around wildly. I used to be so paranoid taking my nieces and godchildren out when they were younger, I invented a game where their hands were magnets and needed to be stuck on to the car when they got out until I made sure the area was safe and we could walk in. I have witnessed parents just letting their children run around the parking lot or into the street and not be cognisant of the imminent danger of a speeding car.  Even in a parking lot, in a shopping center, there are still people who drive like maniacs.

Then there are the parents, who drop their children off at malls, give them R300 and say, “I’ll pick you up at 10.” Do you know exactly what your kids are doing and with whom?

There was an interesting experiment making the rounds on Facebook in which an American guy, with the help of parents, set up internet stalking of their children to see if they can lure them out. The guy would friend the child on social media or on some other platform on the internet arranges to meet that child. He had a white panel van and the parents would pretend to be going out to dinner but get into the van with the man doing the experiment. He would then send a message telling that child to come outside and they could go for a ride. The girl in this instance told him her parents were out, arranged to meet him in ten minutes and got into the van when he pulled up. And bear in mind, this was a complete stranger and the only interaction they had was over the internet. When the girl gets into the van she is confronted by her parents and they scare the daylights out of her.

So this kind of irresponsible parenting goes beyond smoking in the car or making sure your children don’t run into the street, because in this world we are living today, the risks and the threats are on a whole other level. So parents need to be little more involved. It’s not only about making sure they don’t do stupid things around them; you also have to know what they’re up to because when an incident happens you shouldn’t be asking yourself, “How did I not know this was happening?”

So there are things that you do as parents that can be irresponsible and put your children in harm’s way, but there are also things that you don’t do. For example: not knowing where they are, not knowing who their friends are, not having the contact numbers of their friend’s parents, not knowing what their internet life is like and having a hands-off approach to raising a child.

The fact is: you probably should be following your child on social media, given the kind of society we live in and the dangers they face on a daily basis, especially if they’re underage. So what is the acceptable age for a child to be on social media? I have a friend with a ten-year-old daughter who has an Instagram account. Is this acceptable? It’s a very different world these days.

I’m sure teenagers got up to all sorts of things back in the day, but nobody really knew about it. Nowadays, these teenagers live their lives online. So, it’s very easy to be exposed and also make your parents terrified. I saw a friend’s fourteen-year-old child, who happens to be my godchild, on Instagram in a video in which he and his friends were playing a drinking game. Each time someone answered a question wrong, they would take a sip of the beer they had.

The idea of what’s appropriate and what’s not seems to have changed because when you think back to a time of no social media and connectivity that in itself was protection against certain risks. Unless you as a teenager who just deliberately puts yourself in harm’s way for example go into dodgy areas or go to a nightclub and meeting up with an older person, nowadays the way in which that can happen is so much easier. So whereas running around the streets, playing your silly games or puffing a cigarette behind the toilets used to be considered something that naughty teenagers did, these days the risks are far greater. 

You can email Terence Pillay at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter: @terencepillay1 and engage with him there


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