I could not be more impressed by the politeness and respect of the children in sub-Saharan Africa. From Nigeria, to Mozambique, to Angola, to Togo, I have never seen a single example of a rude behavior by a kid. There is no outrageous, senseless screaming, no uncoordinated, wild bouncing off the walls, no talking back. The kids always obey the adults, they always respect the adults, and especially the elderly, they are quiet and still when appropriate, yet they have lots of fun in the proper time and place and seem very happy.
What is the secret? What do their parents do differently to achieve this exemplary outcome? What could Americans learn from their African counterparts? I see a couple of major differences.
- No African adult would ever worship and obey a kid. Children are very important to the family and to the society, but they must know their place in the hierarchy.
- Children do not get away with any offense or mischief they are caught doing. They are consistently brought to order and disciplined by an adult or an older kid.
- It does take a village. Children are part of the society and with the parent absent, any member of the society brings them to order. The parents never get aggressive about that. To the contrary, they are grateful that someone else did their job when they could not do it in person.
- Kids work and I do not mean the child labor that is known as forbidden and undesired exploitation. I mean chores, long forgotten in kid-obsessed America. Doing housework teaches them respect for other people, for work and how to be a responsible adults in the future.
- Adults do not invent any fads of “parenting styles” changing every now and then. They do not read any “how to” manuals telling them that worshiping and spoiling the kid is the best. Some African farmers barely can even read. They learn how to raise kids by simply living in the society, around other people, around younger kids, watching, participating and naturally assuming their social roles.
I often hear Americans say that people in Africa should use birth control, and categorize all Africans as a group with the dismissive and contemptuous label of “poor”. I think this opinion is very unfair considering the level of knowledge (or rather lack thereof) an average American has about the continent. Instead, Americans should seriously take an example of the Africans for one simple reason: people in sub-Saharan Africa get impressive results worth following. It is not an outmoded or conservative way of raising kids as some Americans claim. It is realistic, practical and effective and should become a trend for everyone.