THE LABOUR SPOKESMAN WEDNESDAY 11th JUNE 1997 PAGE 3
OUR DAUGHTERS ARE LEAVING-A SOCIAL COMMENTARY
Michele de La Coudray-Blake, Department of Youth & Community Affairs
An interesting new phenomenon is surfacing in St. Kitts with respect to our teenage girls between the ages of 12-16 years old. Many of them are simply abandoning the family home in search of a better life, and eventually ending up with no stable place to live, and abandoned by their immediate families. If we were to examine this development in earnest, we would find that many similarities exist between these young girls that are deciding to leave their mothers’ homes.
In the first place, these homes tend to be single headed households, in which the mother is the sole provider and in which the father plays little or no role in the upbringing and upkeep of the child.
Secondly, the homes tend to be cramped (often housing other extended family members), and privacy issues which adolescents, especially females, deem as important, have to be neglected.
Thirdly, the mothers in charge of these households often earn minimum wages, and are barely able to afford to keep basic foods in the home. As result of this (and not neglecting the fact that humans tend to need relationships), mothers often have a variety of mates who spend considerable time in the company of them and their children.
One could reasonably argue that these factors have been very much a part of our households for years, and that our culture has always accepted the concept of people ‘taking in’ other people’s children to live with them – to help a mother who has been experiencing hardships. What is different today then, are the conditions under which teenagers leave. What is happening, is that conflict between parent and child is mounting, and the parent is unable to deal with these conflicts.
What are these conflicts? Conflicts stemming from young mothers whose parenting skills amount to their ability to provide their children with food and clothing; conflict stemming from a parent’s ignorance of the developmental stages of their teen daughters, therefore not knowing what is important to them; conflict stemming from an inability to give their children boundaries, and freedom within these boundaries; conflict stemming from mothers not knowing how to express their love for their children, and the fears they may have for their futures ; conflict which means mothers and daughters have lost their ability to communicate. Teens who experience these conflicts and also have to deal with the additional stressors mentioned above (with respect to their similarities), simply leave.
They find alternative, albeit temporary shelter with a friend, a relative, a suitor… and begin a cycle of moving, fitting in, and generally doing whatever it is that is necessary further to survive. These options in which they engage, are not healthy ones, physically or psychologically. These young women are extremely vulnerable, not only because their teen years are marked by a lot of uncertainty and searching for self but also because they are often unsuspecting targets as sexual partners for men, and consequently are forced into motherhood roles and other self-destructing activities without benefit of psychological and emotional wellbeing.
The fragile mother/daughter relationship which may have existed is further erased when a mother, unable to mould for a child a better life than she had, simply withdraws from the child or resorts to hurtful accusations as a way of keeping the child in line, but which eventually causes the child to leave, often severing all familial ties. The broader implications behind this emerging trend are far reaching in our society. Teenage girls, unable to get guidance thorough the roughest development in life, are unable to learn about themselves in a secure environment, and consequently, eventually become teenagers who lack critical self-esteem. These are teenagers who never reach their full potential and cannot contribute to the development of a society.
Finally, these are teenagers who too soon are thrust with the responsibility of motherhood and so the destructive cycle is passed on to another generation.
Parents today have got to learn new ways of dealing with their teenage daughters, and learn how to address the inevitable mother/daughter conflicts that usually appear from early adolescence. If that fails to happen, then we will continue to see young women, full of potential and promise, unable to be, or to create in their own children, responsible citizens of our nation.