Adolescence is fraught with issues that every boy and girl must experience and become comfortable with. For instance: body image issues; increasing social expectations and demands from family and the society TV; changes in the physical looks of the body derived from the interplay between hormones, genes, nutrition and the environment; grave uncertainty stemming from hormonal as well as environmental factors – all contribute in no small measure to make or mar teenagers.
In my opinion, the most delicate challenge that a teenager must be supported to overcome is the self-image hurdle. Parents and teachers must strive at all times to empower these youngsters, who have just begun their double-digit journeys of life, to build up strong positive opinions of themselves. Sometimes death, poverty, job-loss, divorce, separation, disease and sickness hit a family and create a significant measure of dysfunction.
Dysfunction in any form leaves young minds vulnerable to peer pressure and abuse by age mates or older people. Power (in terms of social status and affluence) can intoxicate both young and old. Sadly some ill-informed children, who sense, feel or know that their parents have the wherewithal, may harbour prejudices and express discriminations against other children. Whatever you do, keep your teenagers level-headed.
Recently, a friend of mine, Aderonke bumped into a secondary schoolmate of hers as we all cleared immigrations at an international airport. Pleasantries over, my friend turned to me with eyes hugely filled with tears. I was stunned and quickly asked what the matter was. She just blurted, `that girl Aderonke – made my life hell in school and for many years after`. `How? I asked. My friend simply replied, “you see, God is good – no condition is permanent. No one can close your chapter!”
Bukky`s mum, the bedrock of her family, died the year she turned 13 and in form two. With her mum`s demise, regular provision of basics like food, clothing, personal hygiene supplies, regular school fees and provisions, gradually dwindled to ‘finito’. Very quickly, extended family and friends redirected their attention to their own issues. ‘Callers dwindled until virtually no one visited us again’ according to Bukky. My friend winced as she shared how some close members of the family bluntly asked her and her siblings, on different occasions to stop coming!
Bukky shared how, for lack of bus fare, she did a great deal of walking to and fro daily, from their Surulere home, to a famous secondary school at Yaba, Lagos. This back and forth daily walk to school proved too much for her young legs so she resolved to stand at Masha or Stadium Bus-stop in the mornings hoping to flag down school mates that were being driver-driven to school. The success rate of this wasn’t good but it led to her being offered a daily ride by a girl (and her mum) in the same form as she was.
Unfortunately, each daily ride soon turned into a bitter daily experience for Bukky. Gradually, Aderonke began to brag about her daily benevolence to Bukky to the hearing of other affluent girls (big girls) in school. Bukky cried as she relived how Aderonke and her cronies turned her into an errand-girl in school. She relived how at break time, this hideous group of teenagers passed her their money and list of snacks to fetch for them, from the tuck-shop. Bukky shared how she timidly bore their tauntings and servitude, fearing that a refusal would mean an end to her ride in Aderonke`s car.
Of particular interest to me was the atmosphere Bukky described, in the car, whenever Aderonke`s mum also rode with them. Bukky told me that on several occasions, Aderonke`s mum had negatively commented on her brown rubber-palm sandals – the best she could afford wear to school. Aderonke`s mum laughingly referred to them as shoes worn by `Sabarumo` (Yoruba term used to refer to a poverty-stricken person or to an unkempt peasant). Aderonke carried this derogatory description to school and of course it became one of Bukky’s labels.
Omoru writes from the UK