Between violence and terrified parents, SA’s kids just can’t win

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Between violence and terrified parents, SA’s kids just can’t win

Recent incidents have fuelled parents' paranoia, which risks stunting children's development, say experts

Graeme Hosken and Alex Patrick
People picket outside Parktown Boys' High following the death of pupil Enoch Mpianzi.
Grief and anger People picket outside Parktown Boys' High following the death of pupil Enoch Mpianzi.
Image: Alon Skuy

Experts say death and violence meted out against SA’s children has created a culture of paranoid parents, whose hyper-vigilance is permanently scarring the country’s future generations.

With children under threat while walking from home to school, the shops or to play with friends, or going on school camps, child rights experts warn that parents are increasingly suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, which is affecting their children.

Since the start of the school year six children have been killed while either going to or coming from school, and on school excursions.

On Friday, the body of 15-year-old Laticia Jansen, a Grade 9 pupil at Graceland Education Centre in Elsburg, Germiston on the East Rand, was found raped and murdered. She disappeared while going home, allegedly after the school’s transport left her and other pupils behind.

According to the Gauteng education department, the police allegedly turned her grandmother away when she tried to report the disappearance.

Despite reporting Laticia’s disappearance to her school, and the school confirming she was absent, they did not help search for her, said the department.

Today, it is a far cry for parents to think that when their child goes to school, they will just be educated. The paranoia is almost impossible to stop.
Dr Shaheda Omar

On Wednesday, two Lekgolo Primary School pupils in Limpopo were killed and another two critically injured when a wall, hit by a truck delivering supplies to the school, collapsed onto them.

Two weeks ago an 18-year-old pupil from Kopanelo Secondary School in North West was stabbed to death as he stepped off a bus outside his school.

The stabbing occurred days after the body of Grade 7 Bekker Primary School pupil Keamohetswe Seboko, 13, was found at the bottom of the school’s pool.

Keamohetswe died the day Enoch Mpianzi, a 13-year-old Grade 8 Parktown Boys’ High School pupil, drowned while on a school orientation camp at Nyati Bush and Riverbreak lodge near Brits in North West.

Dr Shaheda Omar, head of the Teddybear Clinic.
Dr Shaheda Omar, head of the Teddybear Clinic.
Image: Supplied

Dr Shaheda Omar, Teddybear Clinic head, said while danger was inevitable, given the number of children who were killed daily, it was difficult for parents not to be paranoid.

“Today, it is a far cry for parents to think that when their child goes to school they will just be educated. The paranoia is almost impossible to stop.

“There were 1,014 children murdered in the 2018-2019 financial year according to police crime statistics. This is twice the global child murder average. It is no wonder there is a culture of paranoia among parents.”

She said many of the deaths could easily be prevented if people were held to account, and there were consequences for their actions.

“The driver who forgot the children seems to have done this on a regular basis. Seemingly no actions were taken against him before.”

Omar said the result of the paranoia was that parents were overprotective and smothered their children.

“This to the detriment of children’s development. This poses a danger as it stunts children both emotionally and psychologically.

“Parents are unintentionally contributing to the creation of a damaged future generation through the belief that they are protecting their children.”

Parents are unintentionally contributing to the creation of a damaged future generation through the belief that they are protecting their children.
Dr Shaheda Omar

Childline CEO Dumisele Nala said SA not only had paranoid parents but also paranoid children.

“We are a paranoid nation, with parents having to think twice before letting their children out of the door.

“They simply do not know whether they will really be looked after. Now, more than before, the issue of care, security and the role of adults in ensuring children are safe, has come to the fore.”

She said there urgently needed to be conversation about what it would take to create an environment where children would be safe at home, playing in the streets, and at school.

“We have to think out of the box and find other ways to ensure the safety of our children as the danger is coming from every angle and in so many different forms.”

Marc Hardwick.
Marc Hardwick.
Image: Supplied

Child protection advocate Marc Hardwick said most incidents occurred because people were reactive rather than proactive. 

For example, he said, most schools still do not cross-check staff against the sex offender register or the child protection register, with few schools implementing child protection policies.

Hardwick said it wasn’t only schools that needed to step up – religious and sporting environments also neglected to keep children safe.

He said today’s guarded parents had created a less resilient generation of children.

“We teach our children their rights but we forget to teach them to enforce their rights. 

Most schools still do not cross-check staff against the sex offender register or the child protection register.
Marc Hardwick

“No matter the culture, each parent teaches that children must be respectful to adults, but forgets to teach that children have a right to say no. People are taking advantage of that. We need to up-skill children to create a stronger future.”

But education psychologist Vanessa Gaydon said she did not believe parents were becoming overly paranoid.

She said circumstances around child safety had changed and parents were adapting to these changes.

“My children are in their 20s and growing up I would allow them to ride around the neighbourhood on their bikes – I would never allow my grandchild to do that.”

She said there were “helicopter moms” who were overprotective and did not allow their children space to learn and make mistakes.

“The results are anxious children who do not trust themselves to make the right decisions.”