You will agree that raising children is not as straight forward as it was, say, a decade ago — not with the advent of the internet and its rapid connectivity.
Now, most families in urban and suburban areas have access to the internet, access that has made the world a small village and opened up a multitude of communication channels, changing how we consume news.
Thanks to this exposure, children are more enlightened and therefore questioning more, which is a good thing. However, the internet is a double-edged sword with its own dark side where obscenity, pornography, addiction to gadgets and other vices lurk.
With this in mind, today’s parent has to be doubly vigilant and put more effort into parenting lest their child is drawn into this cesspool.
For those that have no idea where to start, there are numerous tailor-made programmes that teach parents how to bring up their children better. They include initiatives such as Mothers of Sons, by Transform Nations, Lea, an initiative of Mavuno Church and Raising Future Parents, driven by Navigators Kenya.
Another is New Dawn, steered by Irene Tongoi, a mother of three grown-up children aged 33, 31 and 28. There is a fascinating story behind how this initiative came to be.
Then a stay-at-home mother of two teens and a pre-teen, she woke up to the challenges that come with raising children in this age group when one day, her son, then 14, announced that he would be bringing home his girlfriend.
“My husband and I encouraged our kids to be transparent with us, therefore when he made this announcement, we told him that we looked forward to meeting her,” explains the 61-year-old grandmother of four.
“I still remember the culture shock I experienced when the young girl turned up dressed in a crop top that revealed her navel and a micro mini-skirt,” she says.
Irene’s greatest concern was the fact that the girl had too much flesh on show, and the realisation that her son was now a young man who needed guidance on his sexuality. At the same time, she was not sure this was the girl she wanted for him.
“But mum, you can look into her beautiful eyes for 24 hours!” her infatuated teen protested when she voiced her concerns. Before this incident, her daughter had told her about two schoolmates, a boy and a girl, who had been “grinding” on each other in the school bus.
That, she says, and the visitor that her son brought home were her cue to start teaching them about responsible sexuality. It is also then that Irene embarked on researching about sexuality.
With no solid plan in place, once she was satisfied that she had enough material, she got together her daughter’s four closest friends, with their mothers’ consent, and hosted them in her home one Saturday afternoon.
“I had also asked the girls to bring a friend along, bringing the number to eight. We not only talked, but also ate and danced to their choice of music. I used the opportunity to give them my first lesson on ‘decency’,” Irene says.
The girls enjoyed the session so much that they requested another the following Saturday, explaining that they had many questions to ask about sexuality and other topics they had discussed. Eventually, Irene and the girls’ mothers agreed on monthly meetings since weekly ones were not viable.
“I coached this first group of girls for three years. By the end of the third year, I had incorporated two other groups of girls. It was evident that the girls were different; they knew their boundaries and understood about responsible sexuality. Their parents could see it, and spread the word to other parents,” she says.
Eventually, parents with boys began to enquire whether there was a group for boys, prompting her to bring on board young male trainers who could address issues related to boys.
Eventually, New Dawn was born. The three-year programme has a curriculum that teaches children life skills centred on their sexuality, relationships and community service. The programme conducted by professional facilitators, aims to train children how to become responsible adults.
So far, over 2,000 children have gone through it since its inception in 2001. Initially, it was designed for children aged nine to 12 years, but due to a growing need, the facilitators have designed a programme for five-to-eight-year-olds.
“Though I now had a big group to work with, I was keen on replicating the pillars I used to found the original group. The concept involves getting parents with children of around the same age to form a group guided by their value systems. They do not necessarily have to be Christians. Once the groups are in place, we come in. The three-year programme costs Sh20,000 a year per child.
Mumo Mutiso has three children aged 13, 11, and six years old. The eldest has completed the programme, while his second, Lydia, is winding up the three-year programme.
“She has two more classes before she graduates. Thanks to what I’ve learnt, I’m now able to have teen conversations with my children that I had earlier found difficult,” says Mumo, a salesman in his 40s.
The facilitator chairs the classes that are carried out in the participating children’s homes. He or she debriefs the parents once the classes are over.
“The lessons tackle a variety of topics, including sexuality and pornography. It then becomes easy for us parents to further discuss them with our children since they are not hearing about them for the first time,” says Mumo, who has found that the programme does not only create positive peer pressure for his children, it also brings the parents together.
They end up becoming one another’s support system.
“The initiative has not only fostered friendship among our kids, us parents have also found a forum where we can discuss our struggles and edify each other,” he says.
“This has really been an eye-opener for me because it has also helped me understand my daughter better. For instance, when she is moody, I’ll not just scold her because I now know it is normal for
her to have mood swings as she approaches her teenage years. I’ve also learnt what to expect and how best to deal with it,” Mumo adds.
The programme also taught him the importance of spending more time with his daughter.
“I now go on dates with my daughter, which has improved our bond. The other aim of our dates is for my daughter to learn how a man should treat her when she eventually gets to that stage,” says Mumo, who believes that going through the programme has eased his parenting and given him clarity regarding how he brings up his children.
“I’m not saying that it’s smooth-sailing, but I’m not operating blindly now, I’m more aware of how I parent Lydia and her siblings. Yes, we still have our fights, but we have a much better relationship,” Mumo says.
As good as his relationship with his daughter is, there are times when he gets home in the evening and she wants to be alone.
“You can be available, but at this age they want to be alone, and when they need company, they prefer to be with their peers,” he says, adding that he and his wife are comfortable with her forming friendships with the opposite sex since they are confident that she knows the boundaries that come with such friendship.
Tabitha Tongoi, 28, was among the first beneficiaries of this initiative, which was founded by her mother, Irene Tongoi.
“My dad was always a loving man, but the programme brought us closer because we were expected to go out on dates,” says Tabitha.
“Every little girl wants to be daddy’s girl and have their father affirm her beauty, worth and femininity, being the first man in her life. This affirmation went a long way in making me realise my worth as a young woman,” she says, adding, her father’s active involvement in her life communicated that he loved her and wanted the best for he.
“I’ve made my mistakes, but even in the darkest of days, I knew that he still loved me. It’s from my parents that I learned the importance of self-worth and nurturing myself.
“This awareness of self has instilled confidence in me and I’m able to stand up for myself.”
Tabitha, a digital marketer, says that experience also opened up communication channels between her and her parents, such that she can now discuss anything under the sun with them.
“My friends usually express surprise when they visit home and realise that there are no forbidden or taboo topics at our dinner table. I’ve had candid conversations with my parents on careers, relationships gone wrong and men,” Tabitha says laughing.
She points out that the programme is not about not making mistakes, but rather, it teaches you that you are a valuable person, whether you make a mistake or not.
Above all, you are taught to involve your parents in your life and allow them to be your support system.”