OPINION: We are living in a wounded society

If you have children, parenting is not optional, and it's a big job.

Your children are your responsibility, everything else is grace. Imagine how it would impact the world if more children felt chosen, loved and enough. These are the lessons that parents must teach if they chose to have the children.

As an old-by-now and quite imperfect mom to four children, my wish is that new-age, hands-off parents and new-age over-protective parents could meet somewhere in the middle and raise a new generation of empathetic, purposeful, selfless people. Competition is healthy once you have learned to compete with yourself, then you can compete with others.

The battles of young children in downtrodden communities with high levels of unemployment, low levels of education, big pockets of unemployable people, the ensuing frustration of residents with ambitions for themselves and their children who are trapped in the confines of their survival, are very well documented. They look around and their role models are not appropriate, the people who have more are generally not the educated, entrepreneurial, professional or business people.

I have many opportunities to put names and faces to these children in sub-economic communities. Their perspective of the world is narrow, many have no dreams, they settle for a little or nothing more than what they have. They don't feel robbed, done in or owed. This is what they know.

I spend time with them and all I see is possibility, promise and potential. It is easier to raise good human beings than it is to repair damaged ones. Looking around the world today this much is clear.

This new generation can be revived by early interventions at home and in their schools. Many parents are leaving the socialising and discipline of their children to the schools. It is obvious from the comfort of a middle-class existence to prescribe that boundaries and guidance must be embraced and entrenched at home. Sadly, this is not the reality in some communities. The reality too, in some modern families, is that the children are raising themselves and have vast amounts of choice, with no guidance.

In some no-fee or government schools, classrooms are overcrowded, teachers are stretched and don't have class assistants as we have become accustomed to in leafy suburbia. The classes are inclusive, so if there are any high achievers or learning difficulties or behavioural problems, no special treatment can be afforded to any. It starts a vicious cycle.

This nonsensical cycle takes me back to the big fish pond of the shebeen we used to walk by on our way from school on the Cape Flats. We peered under hushes and sniggers through the proverbial white picket fence, as acts of defiance and curiosity. The pond was big, the fish were big and the shebeen owner was treated like a deity. He had quantity, he had a double storey house, and he had deck chairs and a remote-controlled gate. Well, not a real remote control, but rather a man that used to slide the gate open and closed for quick entering and exiting cars with tinted windows. We later discovered the gatekeeper was also his watchman. The shebeen king had control over neighbourhoods struggling to make ends meet and some crooked policemen who reciprocated favours.

As I now explore the lives and living of these communities, I am ashamed that nothing has changed. There has been a regression. Some children are not going to school in order to escape the rat race of a spinning wheel with no destination, many would rather be wondering the streets, bucking the system and resisting any form of intervention from parents or teachers. The willing learners are probably in the majority, but the minority and the cycle causes practical and other disruptions. It is not hard to believe that some parents are better educated than their children in this day and age.

An intervention is necessary. The headline on a newspaper poster this week read 'Education Department lets schools down'. I have heard countless stories to confirm this. The parents blame the school, the school blames the parents' and the unavailability of Education Department officials is a reality. The learners are boxed in, taking a lot of undue blame.

My understanding is that parents are meant to look after, protect, nurture and prioritise their children. Parents must present their children with better opportunities than what they had. What other explanation could there be for accepting the privilege of children? Alas, across class and different schools, it appears more and more parents are abdicating responsibility for their own children. It appears in our busy world it is easier to allocate blame to peer pressure, social media, trends.

Unfortunately, too many children are being damaged and undervalued. One answer would be to start instilling in young children a pride, a self-respect, a self-worth that will carry them no matter the circumstances at home or in their neighbourhood.

From the media, in the middle-class dinner conversations and the many critics of the Fees Must Fall campaign, the response to the violent student unrest and the blatant disregard for authority is steely eyed and directed to these same children who are not being guided from childhood on how to respond to crisis, how to negotiate with words and not violence, how to visualise an inclusive and free future which is abundant.

Education is a privilege afforded to everyone, it gives us all access to what's possible. Many generations before today's students have forsaken a promising future for a promise of freedom. Others chose to get educated no matter what the collective had decided, to be ready to step into freedom with a skill and the competitive edge.

Now we have our freedom, but we are not free.

"There are no unplanned babies, only unplanned pregnancies". This, I believe, makes it easier to help one child at a time to create a future they didn't previously imagine.

The accompanying abuses in some communities from which they come appear to be a way of living. I know a young man who didn't know that his dad beating his mom was wrong or bad, even though he says he had a bad feeling in his stomach, he didn't know what it was. His granddad used to beat his granny, so surely it must have been acceptable? These were his role models. This informed his status as a bully at junior school. It is so easy when the back story is not obvious to blame the bully. There is always a back story.

I heard an interview with a young woman who was raped three times as an adolescent and teenager. She only learned that it was rape when she attended a workshop through her company as an adult.

We are living in a wounded society. Some of us informed and somewhat protected, and many of us unprotected, uninformed. There is no black and white, just grey and guessing, trials and many errors.

In 2016 I am making sense of how attractive those double-storey homes with the fishponds and deck chairs must look to young children who don't know a different life to the one within which they are wondering through. Drug lords, a life of crime and quick access to money cuts out the effort, sacrifice and commitment of earning a living. Quality over quantity should replace 'gains' and 'young money, cash money', which are not founded on principles of work.

I have watched with despair parents who expect the village to raise their children, with little to no input from themselves. The eight-year-old boy, who makes it to school on a Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday because his alcoholic parents need him to be the adult on Fridays and Mondays to take care of them and his five-year-old brother, needs to know this is not his responsibility. If he makes it out of this, it will be in spite of them and because the village stepped in and supported him. There is an old but worthy story about the children of two alcoholics. One grew to be an alcoholic and one grew to be very successful. When asked how it was possible for each of them to end up where they were, they each responded: "With parents like that! What did you expect?" My hope is that this little guy ends up on the successful side.

I have learned over 22 years of being a parent that raising adults is quite distinct from raising big children.

Lisa Joshua Sonn is a social activist. Follow her on Twitter: @annalisasonn