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About children and adolescence

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I have never been present at the moment a baby emerges from its mother’s womb but I understand it immediately cries. Perhaps it does so to assure its mother that it is born alive but probably also because it trembles at the new world. For a baby is born to a world of hopes and problems.

Some babies are lucky in that they arrive in a home where they are welcomed, coddled, given all the protection to survive, there is a baby cot, warm clothing, and they are washed hygienically. Other babies are not so luck these days. How often have we heard of babies being abandoned in the bus or into a pit latrine?

Life has four cycles — childhood, adolescence, middle and old age. Each has its own prospects and problems. Childhood is the most difficult period because survival is entirely dependent on what other people do for you. Sometimes as soon as the baby is born its mother dies. The lucky ones are immediately adopted, but the unlucky ones, also die immediately lacking the breast milk of their mother.

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Yet many grownups look back to their childhood with nostalgia idealistically comparing it with their current life. During childhood other people care for you, they feed you, they clothe you whereas in adulthood you have to fend for yourself.

The facts of childhood differ from one childhood to another. Have we not all heard of the term ‘child abuse’? This is a broad term applying to a variety of situations, some babies are born to drunken mothers or fathers and face helplessness, while some are coddled, and others are neglected — even ill-treated especially in homes where one of the parents is not biological; a step mother or father. Children are as inquisitive about things around as scientists. If something is near to the baby it picks it up, puts it to its mouth to find out if it is edible.

A baby stares at strangers fixedly wondering if they are as human as its mother.

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Physical features change fastest during childhood between the date of birth and the fifth year. Certain languages are said to be more difficult to learn than others. But most children by the age of three or four are conversing with their parents accurately. Some linguistics are trying to find out why in childhood it is much easier to learn a language than in later age grades.

Children below the age of five are not very conscious of their sex differences. Male and female children play together handling the same toys. But later on boys start imitating what their fathers do, and girls start imitating their mothers. Boys then associate more with fellow boys, girls with fellow girls exclusively.

As they approach puberty the age of adolescence begins. Boys and girls once more begin to take interest in each other. Their difference in sex is the magnet.

In modern times things that were once considered taboo for the eyes and ears of children, are imposed on them through pornography, television and radio programmes.

In many societies, adolescence is the onset of peculiar personal and social problems. During the age between childhood and adulthood society treats adolescents in contradictory ways. On the one hand they are treated as children who must not talk or engage in sex, must not drink or drive and must continue to receive orders from parents without question, must not vote.

On the other hand, adolescents are expected to behave like adults. Invariably, some adolescent start defying the wisdom and experience of their parents, with unfortunate results. A sober family wakes up one day to find its son is among hooligans, is drunk and stupefied by drugs.

Adolescence is a very critical period in life. A youth must decide what sort of future he wants and then his decision — right wrong — might colour the rest of his life. Some adolescents take school life seriously; pa s s e s exams , wi n scholarships, and go to university. Others neglect their studies and drop out of primary school, later to be either unemployed or to pick up low paying jobs.

The problem of the youth is about getting anchored into self reliant or independent life. This has to be done through a job. But jobs are fewer than those who need them, while older people hang on to their jobs because in old age there is no assurance of assistance in these days when too many young people die before their parents.

While the government and non governmental organisations have the duty to provide higher education such as university degrees they must simultaneously, if not earlier, invest in job creation and sustaining sectors. There is potential danger that Malawi is about to produce a surplus of graduates who will either be unemployed or be doing jobs below their qualifications.

Though it is advisable for some graduates to go into self employment this is not an easy option for everyone. Business life makes demands on an individual that employment does not. There are no 7:30am to 5pm schedules. You have to work at least 12 hours or a day just to remain in business, longer to approach prosperity and that includes good luck. Though rich people work hard, not all hard working people become rich.

Finding jobs for the youth is therefore a responsibility number one. Otherwise some of the young ones will be attracted to crime. It is the duty of departments of sociology to constantly study and monitor problems of the youth and give advice to politicians and administrators on policy.

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