Opinion | Is bad parenting to blame? Reflecting on the Stellenbosch University incident

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In an allegedly racist incident at Stellenbosch University over the weekend, a white student broke into a black student's room at Huis Marais residence and urinated on his belongings. 

As the university scrambles to investigate, and the student in question has been suspended, I am considering what drives a boy to behave in such a disrespectful way? 

Urinating on someone's possessions is inherently degrading. Beyond being a destructive act, in this case destroying the victim's property, it humiliates and dehumanises the victim too. 

As a mother, I shudder at the thought that my son might one day be capable of such an act, and I also immediately have questions about his upbringing and wonder what his parents must be thinking now. 

I'm sure his parents must be ashamed of his behaviour and likely question their own parenting over the years. 

I wonder if he was raised in an environment that encouraged, or even just allowed, a culture of 'boys will be boys', casual racism and toxic masculinity. 

Or maybe he faced immense peer pressure at university and wasn't equipped to push back? 

Out of my depth but looking for answers, I approached Megan de Beyer, international specialist parent psychologist and author of How to Raise a Man: The Modern Mother's Guide to Parenting Her Teenage Son, for insight into the teen boys mind.

She shares with me that the troublesome thing in this particular case is that the perpetrator is willfully and on his own, doing a belligerent, vulgar, malicious and belittling act. 

Must read: NGO empowers young boys to tackle gender-based violence in their communities 

Of the video that has been widely circulated, she says that it is hard to see if he was drunk, but thinks that he doesn't appear so. 

Either way, I can't help but recall the words attributed to French Enlightenment philosopher Jean-Jaques Rousseau: "A drunk mind speaks a sober heart".

Even if he was blind drunk, it doesn't excuse his behaviour, and the fact he called the victim, 19-year-old Babalo Ndwayana, "boy", a known racial slur, on camera. Off-camera, it is alleged that he also said "this is what they do to black boys", which speaks to a deeper issue. (Update: According to Ndwayana, when the recording stopped, Du Toit told him "it's a white boy thing" which he interpreted to mean "this is what they [white boys] do to black boys". Du Toit then left the room.)  

What about the role of peer pressure? Stellenbosch University is known for it's archaic initiation rites, and this has been pegged as perhaps a motivation for the incident.  

"If it was gang inspired, then I would have some understanding as group dares often cause stupidity," de Beyer admits, but adds that, nonetheless, from what she can see, he is willfully doing this. "This says that he feels strongly that it is the correct thing to do," she says. 

"He believes he has the right to hold a rigid and outdated belief about race or about his superiority. This would certainly come from his 'tribe' and the community he lives with," she says, stressing that it would be difficult to say that it is his parenting, as at his age he could have had other adult influences.

De Beyer says that this teen's community and the adults that support and influence him are also responsible for their rigid beliefs. 

"These beliefs and prejudices are about believing 'they are more powerful and right' than other groups and this is destructive and outdated. It is time for us to take agency as a community to dissolve such coarse prejudices," she says.

Also read: Opinion | What about the boy child? 

So how do we do that? Every home and culture has its ways, and it can be difficult, even painful, to do the kind of self-reflection necessary to identify and then bring about change. While we can attempt this at home, once our children leave our care, other people, organisations, trends and influences will make their mark too.

De Beyer advises that if we are to make any progress, every home and family need to talk about their values and examine how their destructive beliefs are fueling destructive racism. 

She agrees that it is only through education, conversation and understanding that we can build a better and more compassionate environment in our homes. 

"We need to strive towards kind and inclusive values in our homes and raise teens to adults in a balanced way," she says, adding, "We need parents to be the adults in the home - leading the way towards compassion, understanding and inclusivity." 

Of all the people involved in this awful incident, I can't help but feel that the one person who has shown himself to have the most decent moral fibre is the victim himself.

In an interview with News24, where he admitted "It was traumatising and I feel like my dignity was taken away," Ndwayana also showed sympathy for his fellow student, sharing "[My parents] are very upset. I tried to calm them down and [told them] they must not worry. My father said I must lay criminal charges, but I said to him it's already enough now. He's also someone's child and the way [they] feel about what's happening to me… This thing also traumatised him." 

Ndwayana said the perpetrator's suspension was "not enough, but it's the process", adding "I'm trying to not lose focus… I have to focus on what I came here to do." 

He comes across as determined, empathic, focused but patient... to me, these traits speak to good parenting. 

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