It is a very common experience to have a teenager or a young adult presenting in the psychiatric clinic, possibly from a responsible family background where the parents are well respected, have a good career pedigree and they are devoutly religious and responsible citizens, as a case of mental illness due to abuse of substances or frank case of depressive illness with strong suicide ideations.
Harmonious family life has been identified as a protective factor against the occurrence of mental illness, although this has not always proven to be true in real life and has provoked many questions yet unanswered.
Spontaneous dramatic protects ensue when some parents in this category are invited by the school authorities to come and pick their children who may have developed behavioral problems secondary to abuse of drugs.
Such protests emanate from the confidence that their parenting philosophy is error-proof and should have been protective against mental illness, especially when it has a good dose of religiosity. However, more questions than answers arise: Is there a particular way children can be raised that could guarantee protection from addiction and other dangerous lifestyles that could predispose them to developing behavioral problems?
For those who thought they had a great parenting philosophy, what did they really miss out? I am tempted not to get into scientific jargons in trying to answer some of these questions. Children get into families with empty slates that psychologists call “tabula rasa” where we write certain standards on the tablets of their minds, which will invariably modify their behaviour that could progress in the direction of mental well-being or mental distress.
A good number of parents have not extricated themselves from the own abuse they suffered from their own parents, which they have unconsciously incorporated into their parenting philosophy. Some were brought up by dictatorial and authoritarian fathers who carved the image of being larger than life despite many flaws that the children could not confront.
The disconnect between what the parents espoused and the reality of their lives is very eloquent but conflicting parenting modulators. Some modern parents grew up knowing that their father was frankly selfish, while certain tradition makes it impossible for you to confront him.
This obviously creates some cognitive dissonance, which some of us survived since we did not have the luxury of expression that our children now enjoy.
Our Children are definitely more expressive and more engaging and the traditional repressive parenting modalities of our parents may not work in their context. Some of us may even leverage religious tenets to mask and unleash wickedness, pride and selfishness, which children do not ordinarily decipher but mount defence mechanisms.
They watch our budgeting and how we apportion limited resources to service our own needs rather than the larger issues in the family. They also watch how we acquire wealth illegitimately and scrutinise our core values, irrespective of the cultural and religious embellishments.
Some of our children are living in suppressed anger and bitterness against us, which are breeding grounds for addiction and other mental illness. The synergy that should be a natural product of a healthy marriage is another great substrate for a good parenting philosophy that could ensure the mental well-being of children.
Most marriages are scripted where there is no spontaneity, vitality and connection.
In most cases, one of the spouses is mentally and emotionally dead, while the other is dominating and running the show in an unbalanced and skewed manner, especially the man in our patriarchal society. The children receive discordant double bind commands that set them up early for mental illness. The marriage may look harmonious on the surface but discordant. Children want to grow up with real human beings, not masquerades. They detest parents leveraging on age or culture or social advantage when there are issues to deal with in the family.
The African cultural philosophy of hegemony that does not allow any measure of expression from children may be one of the factors responsible for Increase in the incidence of mental illness among our children who are being exposed to a more dynamic culture.
Some of our marital situations are getting skewed where the man may have relinquished absolute authority to the wife, who administers the children and may take decisions, according to social norms and sentiments. Some parents have completely outsourced the training of their children to television, schools and the social media on the premise of personal ambition.
Parenting is more than a science. It is an embodiment of what the parents are in their real selves, which dictate values, communication styles and the principles that govern the life of the family and will definitely protect the mental health of the children that grow in such an environment against addiction to drugs and mental illness.
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