Defend Truth


Social media outrage is not enough to protect our children


Divya Naidoo is Child Protection Programme Manager at Save the Children South Africa.

We are a society filled with violent crimes such as murder and rape. These are the long-term consequences of adults who teach children violence from a young age through their own violent, abusive and irresponsible behaviour.

In the first five years of life, a child’s experiences and relationships stimulate their development, creating millions of connections in their brains. It has been scientifically proven that during this period a child’s brain develops faster than at any other stage of their life. This is the time when foundations are laid for learning healthy, lifelong behaviour.

During these first five years, these young inquiring children spend most of their time with parents and caregivers. This can become a wonderful time for every mother or father as they watch their “mini-me” learn from them, and the groundwork is laid for them as they become their own person. But what happens when parents and caregivers become the source for creating troubled childhood, embedded with wrongful lessons and a reckless lifestyle?

Recently a video of an adult (possibly the mother) giving her toddler an alcoholic drink and a smoke of hookah, went viral on social media. Understandably, and thankfully, there was a public outcry, And although as human beings, we do make mistakes, and there are times when some of us – for a brief moment – lose hope in humanity, it is reassuring to see that there are still certain unwavering boundaries that we simply cannot cross.

We need to do more.

How far are we willing to go as a society? Decisive action is needed now, more than ever. The question we need to each ask ourselves is: what are we going to do? Is it enough to post our wrath and fury on social media, or are we ready to do more?

When a great white shark washes up on a beach, a few good people automatically step in to help save its life. They know it will be difficult and risky, but they are driven by their innate human desire to do good. They value life and understand the role that sharks play in the ecosystem, such as keeping the food chain in check, keeping the ocean’s carbon cycle in motion and promoting the economy through tourism. This ultimately affects our lives as humans. So whether the action is based on the need to save a life or to prevent future consequences, we act.

So, why is it so difficult for some to see how important children are to human existence? What happens when we facilitate a childhood embedded with wrongful lessons and a reckless lifestyle?

Let’s look at alcohol as just one example. We know that alcohol is a depressant that slows the brain. But, did you know that alcohol, especially at an early age, places a risk on a child’s brain development, leading to memory and learning difficulties, affecting their performance in school? In addition, alcohol may be poisonous to nerve cells and increases the risk of alcohol-related problems later in life. Many would argue that a few sips of alcohol would do no harm, but research is still unclear on how much is needed to cause damage. Do we really want to use our children as guinea pigs to confirm this? Therefore, the safest choice is not to give children alcohol.

In The Ballad of the Running Man, Shelley Smith wrote: “Life is like a game of chess, in which there are an infinite number of complex moves possible. The choice is open, but the move contains within itself all future moves. One is free to choose, but what follows is the result of one’s choice. From the consequences of one’s actions there is never any escape.”

What are the consequences of our actions? We see this in our society every day with young people and adults seeking instant gratification, with no thought of the implications. We are a society filled with violent crimes such as murder and rape. These are the long-term consequences of adults who teach children violence from a young age through their own violent, abusive and irresponsible behaviour.

This calls for decisive and urgent action. Studies have shown that babies are born ready to learn, and their brains develop through use. Stimulating and caring surroundings, with diverse activities, give children a variety of opportunities to play, develop and learn. We need to ensure that the activities we expose children to embed good values, so that children develop and learn and grow into healthy, responsible adults.

Are we going to be like those good people who got into the water, or are we going to stand by and watch? Our history reminds us of what we can do to overcome seemingly insurmountable challenges – and we shall overcome… What is your next move? DM


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