BY GERALDINE AKUTU.
Taiwo Akinlami is a child protection specialist, independent legal and social regulatory expert on child’s rights and responsibility issues. He is also a consultant to UNICEF on child protection and the Principal Taiwo Akinlami Inspires Limited. In this interview with GERALDINE AKUTU, he talks about moral decadence in our society and suggests ways they can be handled.
Moral decadence amongst children is an issue of concern in our society, what do you think is responsible?
I think we should begin by defining what we mean by moral decadence. It is important to note that the phrase moral decadence comprises of two words. I will therefore consider the two words separately. What is moral? I believe moral in this context refers to ‘holding or manifesting high principles for proper conduct.’ Decadence on the other hand refers to ‘moral or cultural decline as characterised by excessive indulgence in pleasure or luxury.’ I think the combination of the two words connotes decline in high principles for proper conduct characterised by excessive indulgence in pleasure or luxury. To my mind, it simply means living without any identified code of ethics.
Moral decadence has become the second nature of our society today both old and young. I do not think it is more rampant among children but permit me to limit myself to children since that is the focus of this discourse. Our children are nothing but a reflection of our society. The state of our society is the state of our children because every entity produces after its kind. The behaviour of our children today is a reflection of their psychology. It is basic in the study of human behavior that the foundation of psychology is socialisation. As we know that socialisation is ‘the process by which children and adults learn from others. It is important to note that‘we begin learning from others during the early days of life.’ It is my most profound and well considered opinion that socialization is superior to psychology. It therefore means that to address the present state of our children, we must address their socialization.
Looking around us we find that sound principles of human existence and interaction seem to have broken down almost irretrievably. We find around us the agents of moral decadence. The chief of the agents is the media. Today we are faced with over-democratised media platforms and multiple channels of access. There are no internal regulation or censorship at the level of the family and national regulation censorship at the level of regulatory bodies, which are saddled with the responsibilities of ensuring sanity in the media.
I think one major reason for moral decadence among our precious children is negative socialisation of our children passively or actively endorsed by the primary and secondary caregivers due to lack of knowledge of the times; lack of skills to help children to respond to the enormous challenges of the times and lack of fortitude or moral character to provide strong leadership for the children in their quest for positive examples.
What is your organisation doing regarding this issue?
We recognise that in the words of Clare Boothe Luce, ‘there are no hopeless situations; there are only men, who have grown hopeless about them. Therefore, we believe that no matter the seemingly insurmountable nature of moral state of affairs with our precious children and distinguished youths, there is hope for a moral revolution. That is why we have devoted our efforts to value reorientation. We organise programmes aimed at inculcating positive values as the most potent antidote to the craze for vanity resident among many of our young people today. We teach sound principles, which touch on personal identity and moral soundness, based on a deliberate effort at swimming against the tide of popular acceptability of moral decadence. We tell young people that being young does not mean being irresponsible, being stupid or being immune against the consequences of their actions. We help them to understand that there are only three things constant in life, namely, universal principles created by God to govern the affairs of this world; choices and change. We teach that universal principles cannot be broken and until our choices are based on these universal principles, desired change cannot be attained. We help them to understand that there is no absolute freedom. We teach them to understand that if freedom is sweet, responsibility is the spice.
Since 1997, when we began our outreach programmes to children/youth and the year 2000, when we made an entrance into the private school sector, at the Atlantic Hall, Lagos, we have empowered thousands of children and young people with balanced knowledge, skills and attitude on how to take responsibility for soundness in the midst of moral decadence in our society today.
Do you think moral character should be taught in schools?
Moral character could be taught in the classroom but we must never get it twisted that character is developed in the classroom. Character is developed in the face of crisis and strengthened by examples. When it comes to children, the challenge is not whether to teach moral character or not. The real challenge is for the teachers and school leaders to demonstrate character by example. What is the use of moral character lesson to children in a school where children are aided by parents and the school authority to engage in reckless examination practices? It is also important to state clearly that development of character does not begin from the school. It begins from the home and it is by example. Children do not do what we say, they do what we do. Abraham Lincoln said the best way to lead a child the way he should go is to go there first and come back to take the child with you. Either as a family or as a school, we cannot give what we do not have.
However, I should state here that there is no shortcut to building character in children it requires time mentorship from the primary and secondary caregivers and mentorship answers to time and wisdom.
What exactly do you think children should learn in order to be useful and be responsible citizens?
I think the answer to this question is found in Sections 19 and 20 of the Child’s Rights Act, 2003, which gives expression to the age-long truism that freedom without responsibility is the breeding ground for chaos. Section 19 of the Act therefore outlines certain responsibilities for the Nigerian child as follows:
Family Cohesion: working towards the cohesion of their families;
Respect: respecting their parents and elders;
Service to Society placing their physical and intellectual capabilities at the service of the state;
Moral Consideration: contributing to the moral well-being of the society;
Peace Building: strengthening social and national solidarity;
Patriotism: preserving the independence and integrity of the country;
Tolerance: respecting the ideals of freedom, equality; humaneness, and justice for all persons, relating with others in the spirit of tolerance, dialogue and consultation;
Global Commitment: contributing to the best of their abilities solidarity with and unity with Africa, and the world at large.
Section 20 of the Child’s Rights Act mandates the primary and secondary caregivers thus, ‘every parent, guardian, institution, person and authority responsible for the care, maintenance, upbringing, education, training, socialisation, employment and rehabilitation of a child has the duty to provide the necessary guidance, discipline, education and training for the child in his or its care such as equipping the child to secure his assimilation, appreciation and observance of the responsibilities set out in this Part of the Act.’ I strongly believe that if the foregoing are well taught and exemplified, our precious children would turn out to be responsible citizens.
What advice would you give parents concerning morals?
Parents are expected to lead by example. They are expected to provide positive moral template for their children to follow. But I do recognise that it is easier said than done. It is important to note that parents also are products of their environment and upbringing. A parent, who was not brought up with sound moral principles lacks the capacity to pass same to his/her children.
He/she may not even know any other standard except the crooked one with which he/she was brought up. Laura Schlessinger said in her book, Bad Childhood Good Life: How to Blossom and Thrive in Spite of an Unhappy Childhood. I believe that many people don’t even realize that their childhood history has impacted their adult thoughts and behavioural patterns in unproductive ways. They don’t realise that some of their less pleasant or destructive adult emotional reactions are reflective responses forged by their unfortunate childhood challenges. They don’t realise that much of their adult life has been dedicated to repeating ugly childhood dynamics in an attempt to repair deep childhood hurts and hurting.’
Except such parent encounter is new knowledge, which is able to lead to transformation, the cycles of weak moral legacy will continue. I think many parents who are not able to provide positive moral example were themselves robbed of same while growing up. I think the critical exercise they must embark on is to revisit their childhood and seek immediate help if such was unpleasant.
CULLED FROM THE GUARDIAN