What you need to know:
- For now, maybe what we parents need is to try to get home early this evening, take up the teenage daughter on our laps, and introduce to them an old truth about who you are supposed to learn reality from.
Raising children can be interesting; all their bad behaviour seems to explode when visitors come around. At my house, we have recently noticed some odd speaking habits in our seven-year-old daughter, who (like her parents) probably needs to learn to control her tongue. This may end up a lifetime struggle, but we are committed to doing our part as parents. With God’s help!
Yet, as her journalist dad, I live in a world that preaches freedom—freedom of speech, freedom of this, and freedom of that. Mostly freedoms without responsibility, this is the water I swim in. Even children have the right and freedom to do whatever they want, as the Ugandan contraception proposal for 15-year-olds recently demonstrated.
In that kind of world, who should promote and guide the morality of the home? I still have to keep instructing children, mostly because I am an adult and they are not. Inspired by the scriptures, I remind them that an untamed tongue can ruin a good date night or a family retreat, a loose tongue can set an entire forest on fire, ruin friendships, hurt neighbours, and sometimes render you unemployable. I have to tell this to my girl every day before free speech advocates do.
Character formation is my family’s responsibility, not the government’s or any NGO’s. Children are first and foremost given to parents. They are sons and daughters of family and society before they are citizens and statistics.
So, when I recently learnt that legislators rejected a proposal to provide contraception to 15-year-olds, my thoughts turned to vulnerable girls without parents, but also to many of the formative families and societies from which they come. My thoughts turned to the parents of several 17-year-olds that will be gracing rooftop birthday parties this December.
These parents, like me, have a responsibility that cannot wait for government mandates to be carried out; they have a duty to teach about good character before government prosecutors indict it in court.
They have a responsibility to begin teaching about the tongue before the government grants freedom of speech, likewise, they have a responsibility to begin instructing about the dignity of soul and body before NGOs and elites issue public statements for sexual rights.
The government may police morality, and policy may dismiss it but only family can cultivate it. A huge percentage of who you are is the result of your family and cultural values, not government policy.
Some Ugandans have even argued that morality, faith, and hope are not good public health strategies, but faith is what allows you to sit in a chair and write that, trusting that its legs will not break. Hope and morality too are why everyone is talking about this in the first place.
So let’s applaud those that go out of their way to promote the safety of vulnerable teenage girls, but let’s also have more political will to support social institutions like healthy churches and cultural institutions that uphold character above individual choices. Let’s notice the family breakdown that births teenage pregnancies.
These institutions have a greater potential to influence character; the last time I checked, the Ministry of Gender also had the words “and social development” added to its name, well.
Of course, as a Christian, I am also convinced of the divine power available to reinforce moral conviction in everyday choices. As Christmas reminds us, moral change is also possible because God became one of us.
For now, maybe what we parents need is to try to get home early this evening, take up the teenage daughter on our laps, and introduce to them an old truth about who you are supposed to learn reality from. Dad and mummy, I hope the possibility of contraception for 15-year-olds inspired such action.
Eddie Ssemakula is a concerned parent and Christian minister.