Living in fear is not the answer, but having a plan is – as is teaching women’s rights to boys
In the wake of a recent spate of violent and tragic murders of women and children, and the threat against their lives, panicked parents may be wondering how to protect their vulnerable children against the stark reality of the violence we live with daily in our country.
You may be thinking of not allowing them to go to certain places unsupervised, or allowing them to go anywhere alone at all, or not buying cellphones, and other stringent measures in an effort to protect them from the evils that came to the fore this past week.
But according to human potential and parenting expert Nikki Bush, the horrific cases of recent weeks –including the murder of East London boxer Leighandre ‘Baby Lee’ Jegels; the cold-blooded rape and murder of UCT student Uyinene Mrwetyana; the chilling murder of four children in KwaZulu-Natal by hanging, allegedly at the hands of their father; and the abduction of six-year-old Amy’Leigh de Jager – all present a potentially life-saving teachable moment.
Bush herself is the survivor of a violent attack at her Douglasdale home nearly two years ago that tragically left her a widow after her husband of 26 years, Simon, was shot and killed by the intruders.
All that saved Bush and her then teen son, she told City Press last week, was having a plan.
And it is this scenario planning, and having a series of conversations around safety with your children, that Bush advocated anxious parents to adopt too in their households going forward.
THE WHAT-IF MOMENTS
“I can honestly tell you that I’m alive today because I followed the scenario that I taught my kids from when they were four years old. That scenario was simple: if I ever wake them up in the middle of the night they need to run. They must not ask me any questions, run to the bathroom, lock themselves in and do not come out until I tell them to.
“When we got attacked, that’s what I did. I followed the plan. I was very firm, clear and stood my ground. I ran into the bathroom and I didn’t let anyone in. They tried kicking in the door, but couldn’t,” she recounted of the early hours of that November 2017 morning.
Bush said that the snowballing cases of assault, rape and murder of women and children these last few weeks confronted parents with these “what-if moments” where they faced their own vulnerability, and that of their children.
“How prepared are our children for what-ifs? We need to give our children scenario plans for those what-if moments. That can be anything from ‘If I’m not at school to pick you up at a certain time, what will you do?’
“At the end of the day as a parent you have to be firm, and you have to be clear because that is what saves lives,” she stated.
“What you’re trying to do with the scenarios is to get children to think ahead about their own safety, because at the end of the day they may to have to protect themselves in a situation.
“For instance, teenage girls going to a party – you have to have had a conversation about spiked drinks, you have to.”
At the end of the day, Bush said, the quality of your relationship with your child will be what protects them the most.
Granted, Mrwetyana’s case was an “outlier” she said, as she was performing the relatively mundane task of collecting a parcel from the post office.
“And that’s what has made her case so scary for all of us,” Bush said.
However, she emphasised having quality conversations with your children.
“Children want more conversations that matter and fewer speeches that don’t. And what is happening in families where there aren’t conversations, is that there are speeches called ‘the talk’. There are three talks that take place these days and all three are very scary for a child to sit through: the first being on sexuality and sex education, the other technology and kids, and then subject choices in Grade 9.
“We need to stop having this one singular talk, but start having regular conversations.”
Andalene Salvesen, parenting coach and speaker, said because a teenager’s prefrontal cortex was still not fully developed (that only happens to young adults, at the age of 25), they needed their parents to help them with boundaries until they developed wisdom – which can only be gained through experience.
“I believe the core issue is to spend time with your children – rules without relationship causes rebellion – so that you can enforce boundaries and be respected. But the tendency these days is to be friends with your teen instead of being a parent, so too much freedom is given before it is earned,” she said.
Regarding restricting children’s movements in an effort to keep them safe, Salvesen said, “Anxiety causes you to make unwise decisions. Caution and vigilance is good, fearful and anxious is not. Your child will sense the difference and follow your lead. Your child needs to feel safe while implementing the safety measures as suggested by their parents.”
A SEMINAL MOMENT
Gender activist and commissioner at the Commission for Gender Equality, Mbuyiselo Botha, said the narrative also had to change from teaching girl children on “what not to do” to stay safe, to teaching boys that they are not entitled to a girl’s or woman’s body.
“We are a society that has taught boys to think they are entitled to a woman’s body, that a woman’s no can be a yes. We have men in our families who behave in a way that has institutionalised the degrading of a woman – and it’s a norm,” he said.
Botha said this seemingly seminal time in the country didn’t need “kneejerk reactions” such as the calls for the castration of rapists or the death penalty, but doing the “real tough work” of making sure the structural injustices women face on the path to getting justice are dealt with.
Bush acknowledged that actively speaking to your teen children about current affairs and scenario planning were “unpleasant, but a fact of life”.
“Of course it takes away aspects of their innocence, but we live in a society where our kids are not free to roam.
“They are not, and haven’t been for a long time. That’s why this is a teachable moment; use this moment. We need to empower our children as much as we can for them to take responsibility for their personal safety.
“Do we want our children to walk around being suspicious of everybody? No. But we want them to trust their gut feel. If something feels off, it’s off. If someone tells you to keep a secret, that’s off. If someone threatens to hurt you if you tell, know that it’s a red flag that something is off,” she said.