Are we doing enough to instil integrity in the youth?

2013-05-24 00:00

OUR media space is dominated by stories of unending disputes, violence and corruption. What stands out in the discourse is the fear that we are losing our moral values and integrity.

For instance, the ideals of education have been overtaken by labour disputes, reducing millions of pupils to casualties of these battles. There is no time to prepare children to deal with the challenges associated with good citizenry, responsible behaviour and, more importantly, the values they need to survive the demands of institutions of higher learning.

The issues that are being fought within the ambit of our human rights may well compromise the very ideals we want to see in our children.

Let us talk about integrity.

Basically, integrity is the opposite of hypocrisy. It refers to the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles, and consistently doing the right thing. Integrity is one of the fundamental values that every home, community and employer wants to see.

The question is: what is it that we can show that we are doing to instil these values in our children?

We all accept that the mind of a child is like a sponge and they tend to replicate many of the behaviours they are exposed to.

There is a list of things that we say and do as elders and we regard many of them as minor. It is a fact that many parents do not keep those little promises they make to their children. Parents forget. These may escalate into more serious issues.

How does it feel for children to witness unending arguments and fights? This could be in the family or in the neighbourhood. What is the meaning of a broken family to a child? Are we suggesting to these young minds that disputes can only be resolved by force?

Taking disputes to the streets has become the norm. Mothers, fathers and uncles all take to the streets as workers. We are constantly saying to children that we cannot co-exist. This is a social disaster in the making.

It is a sad truth that gender-based violence has found refuge in many kitchens and bedrooms. What are we telling our future decision-makers and economic actors?

The point is that we should not be surprised then when students at institutions of higher learning go on the rampage and destroy property that is supposed to help give them an education.

We should not be seen as promoting violence and the destruction of property when we fail to resolve disputes. Life at a university is demanding, just like life after school.

As a parent, employer or role model, it starts by doing simple things — honouring your word and being on time as promised.

Naturally, doing what you preach should follow easily. Transparent, timely communication remains very important to communicate changes in the plan to all parties if necessary. If this does not happen, people start making negative remarks about integrity.

We should be looking for ways to reinstil good values. Taking disputes to the streets is a clear manifestation of a failure to negotiate, for which both employers and unions can be blamed. This is the reality we have to face.

We no longer have people who can handle disputes and negotiate amicable settlements. Kangaroo courts are a serious reflection of communities failing to settle their disputes in ways that encourage good morals in the younger generation.

Gender-based violence suggests the same at the household level. We therefore need to find ways that can improve negotiating skills and we should be worried that our society is losing people with these priceless skills.

Again, the launch pad for this should be at the household level, where family members lead by example. Our families, our schools and our neighbourhoods are best placed to find appropriate solutions to reinstil the values that can improve social cohesion and co-existence.

Although households may be experiencing financial pressure, this is no reason to ignore the need to invest in our children’s upbringing.

We should not forget that good morals and integrity manifest themselves when people face challenges, and they also continue to help them succeed. This should ring some bells for resilience, which is also important for preparing children for their futures.

Lastly, children spend much of their time with teachers. Teachers need the parents to reinforce acceptable behaviour and vice versa. For children to internalise the messages of good behaviour, they need to be praised when they do well and called to order when they cross the line.

These are messages they must hear everywhere. In this way, they will be prepared to face the stressful academic and adult life.

In simple terms, it takes two to tango.

• Nqe Dlamini is a rural development consultant.

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