Dr Gladys Mwiti, a consulting clinical psychologist, readily admits that there is a problem with how boys are being raised nowadays and consequently how they turn out. The founder and CEO of Oasis Africa, a centre for transformational psychology and trauma, as well as work-life wellness knows this all too well, having worked as a psychologist for 28 years.
“The problem started when we let western education overtake how as Africans we had rites of passage that helped boys to transition into adulthood. This does not necessarily mean the circumcision but an informal examination where at every stage the elders mentored boys, teaching them on values, responsibility and handling relationships,” she starts off.
According to her, westernisation played a big part in eroding traditional systems, giving primacy to grades at the expense of life skills, to the detriment of children. So why the gender disparity?
“The systems that were in place to nurture boys are slowly disseminating while girls are continually being told what their responsibilities are from when they are young. Boys are pressed to excel in academics and in business such that they place importance on marks and money over values, character and self-care. The result of this is men who are seemingly doing well but there is an emotional disconnect,” she explains.
She is keen to point out that as a society, we have, to a certain extent, failed boys as well by propagating stereotypes of what a man should be and not letting boys outgrow the various stages of life naturally. She gives an example of telling young boys not to cry when hurt because it is deemed unmanly.
“We keep repressing men’s emotional side when this is something that is needed for balance in life. We can’t expect men to know how to treat women or other people in their lives when we curtail their emotional intelligence,” she notes.
This, she opines, is why there are more cases of men who seem to be doing well and then all of a sudden just ‘snap’.
She also weighs in on the disempowerment of boys by the feminist movement debate saying, “The one thing that I feel that feminists failed to do in elevating the girl child is forgetting that they would exist in a world with men who would not be as empowered, which really takes the society back. They should also have addressed the issues that caused men to act in a manner that prompted the feminist movement.”
The mother of four, three daughters and a son, says that she and her husband were very intentional in raising their children. This was to make sure that as their children excelled in their schoolwork, they also learnt other life skills such as responsibility, accountability among others.
“We raised them the same way, of course giving them freedom to express themselves. The only thing we did was give guidance,” she recounts.
“We were also very careful with how we socialised our children. We formed parenting groups where other parents could teach our children skills that they were well versed in such as financial matters. This is very important because as a parent, you realise that at times you need help – the narrative that ‘it takes a village to raise a child’, rings true,” she says.
This is something she extensively covers in her book Parenting with Purpose and African Wisdom. On the debate of whether single mothers can raise boys to men of substance, she takes the affirmative.
She further advises, “Of course, if you are a single mom, you have to make an extra effort of deliberately reaching out to people you would like your son to take after. Find a male figure like a relative or friend who your son can model after and who they can talk to about things they may not be able to share with you.”
In conclusion, she shares some tips on raising boys:
Parenting should be intentional, with an end in mind; with parents being emotionally and physically present.
Allow boys and men to be vulnerable; this is the only way they can seek help if struggling with something. This helps them develop emotional intelligence, as they are able to detect when others are also struggling. She recommends a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis for men.
We should own who we are and go back to systematic value teaching that the rites of passage presented for men in our different cultures.
As parents reward academic excellence, they should also reward character and make appropriate character investment for their children.
Parents should also encourage balance between academics and socio-cultural aspects of life.
Parents should also ensure that they socialise intentionally so that their children cultivate good practices.