When I was single and teaching in an all-boys school, I had my eyes opened really wide to the challenges of growing up nowadays. I saw boys who stayed back in school because school (even if it was empty) was much better than home. I found out about boys who came to school in a Toyota Prado and waited till the 4WD was down the street before they hopped onto another vehicle (bus or car) headed God-Knows-Where. But after a while, everyone found out where. I had one boy (clean-cut and such a well-behaved angel!) in my class who disappeared after a few months. I found out later that he was helping coordinate the activities of a car theft syndicate.
The thing was.. I knew most of these boys' families or backgrounds and the majority were from normal middle-class families. What happened to lead them down such thorny paths?
The boy with the Prado had permissive parents... nothing was too good for their angel. So he grew up with a self-centered mindset.
As for the ones who preferred to stay back in school, one had an abusive parent and the other had a parent who wasn't around much. I suppose the teachers became substitute parent figures.
I never found out the whys of the car thief but I can still picture his angelic face. Just think of a 14-year-old Leonardo di Caprio.
And of course, in the course of teaching, I came across instances of well-dressed clean-cut characters who offered the youngsters free colourful pills just to try and if you like 'em, you can buy. They hung around the streets leading to the school and escaped notice because they looked so respectable.
Which was why at the relatively-youthful age of 25, I had a discussion with a Kelantanese contemporary about how to protect our future children from such dangers. After months of arguing, we realised that there was NO way to protect the kids. Unless you put them in gilded cages.
The best thing we as parents could do would be to bring them up with love and equip them with a strong foundation of self-worth and integrity. Then whatever decisions they made would be guided by these principles. Of course my Muslim friend and I also decided that we had to give our children a strong grounding in our respective religions.
However, that will still not be enough. For disappointments and disasters abound in today's world. Before, it would have been enough for one to be able to feed a family. But now, there is so much competition for everything (from food and jobs to homes and loves) that sometimes I think that the youths are set up for failure. Even the kids who get straight A's aren't sure of a place in matriculation or university. Even a first class degree nowadays doesn't guarantee a job in a top company.
So what would be the best thing I could teach my child?
That would be RESILIENCE, the ability to recover quickly from adversity.
I cannot cage him, nor can I capture all the 'lions' that may want to devour him. The best thing I can do is teach him that life is for living... and if he falls, all he has to do is get up again.
In the meantime, I will simply bite all my fingernails and grow more white hair as he happily leaps over drains and launches himself at trees. I should be grateful because he hasn't begun launching himself at girls yet. I'll worry when the time for it comes.