Reverend Jan A. Scholtz
The family is a fundamental social unit. It plays a role in the determination of the character, values and structure of society, which is fully acceptable by all men and women of insight and vision.
It is the primary source of nurture as well as conduct, values and cultural indoctrination. It strengthens individuals and acts as a vital resource for development. It is upon recognition of this pivotal role influence that the United Nations General Assembly declared 1994 as the international year of the family.
The purpose if this article is to expound on the influence of the family in the Namibian context and how it is necessary for ensuring the continued progress and development of our nation.
Family in the African Context
The term family, in the African context as of the 18th century, meant either aristocratic lineage or a household including servants and dependents who lived in it. The primary Western concept of family as a nuclear unit comprising mother, father and children only is a relatively recent one.
In fact, many African countries do not distinguish the “nuclear” grouping from the community around it. Yet, traditional anthropologists claim to see such units in all societies.
Although it is difficult to define a unit so flexible and variable that it assumes many forms, a family can be perceived as a group defined by a sexual relationship sufficiently precise and enduring to provide for procreation and the raising of children. Thus, the term family in the African context denotes both individuals and relationships. It constitutes all the people related through marriage, blood and broadened to include the living, unborn and very importantly the dead. It may even include those who are economically dependent but not geographically, on the nuclear unit. Hence, the phrase extended family.
Family values and child/youth development
The development of a person, the shaping of the said person’s life, the values that are adhered to and the respect, all stem from how much was derived from the familial socialisation process. Whether negative or positive, the fact remains that the contact with a particular set of standards and expectations moulds a person’s life.
Children and youth are always seeking new ways of assimilating values their families have imposed on them, in relation to the demands of the environment, especially their peer group. A disturbing factor in this process is the rapidly changing state of the socio-economic environment. For many of the young, this uncontrollable unpredictability creates an identity crisis, which might lead to problems in education, employment and social integration.
For these reasons, it is of essence that family ensures the appropriate interventions are used to impart values and understanding, factoring into account the psychological and emotional upheavals youth and children go through. Comprehension of these facets of the growing process, which all adults underwent, will equip for the appropriate dissemination of information to the Namibian child. Otherwise, advice and counsel can receive a knee-jerk reaction, resulting in rebellion and even expulsion from home. This leads to social misconduct in the form of substance abuse and teenage pregnancies, as these vices become appealing as a way of showing rebellion to parents and society. Therefore, parents and caregivers should endeavour to keep an open, warm and friendly atmosphere so that both parties have a platform to motivate each other towards self-actualisation.
The family has a lot to go against in moulding today’s child. Harsh economic environment, the proliferation of modern media channels and other factors expose young people to environments that deviate and alienate them from the family. This puts the children and youth in environments not all families are equipped to deal with, driving them into crime and substance abuse which jeopardises them further as there is an increased risk of alcoholism and HIV/AIDS, among others. This further depreciates the value that could have potentially been added to the national economy.
Family and Career Education
The education and economic functions were interwoven in the traditional African setting. Education was tailored to meet the daily requirements of the community. Young people were taught various skills, usually along gender roles.
Girls were taught to be homemakers and look after young. Boys were primed to build and repair houses and become responsible as heads of the home. Thus, the education of the young was comprehensive, compulsory and free, with practical responsibilities created to educate them. The responsibility of this training lay with the entire community – the family. Today, the contrast is true. Enterprise and skills are no longer passed down from generation to generation. Rather education has become a stereotype of formal information disseminated in schools that is only accessible to a fortunate few. Worse still, this means of education is geared towards the production of “white collar” jobs, which are difficult to presently access due to saturation in the marketplace as well as economic conditions causing the sector to contract year by year.
Therefore, it is important that families renew their stand and place focus and interest in the education and career of their offspring. Families should ensure that the educational needs of students are met. The community must identify and generate mentors who are willing to advise and guide the young in the means to success.
The composition and functions of the family have changed dramatically over the past few decades. The challenges facing the Namibian child are numerous. The family’s direction has become more material, negating the raising and training of the youth to maids, media and social peers. The decay of the old traditional means of parenting and familial transfer of values calls for the creation and adoption of dynamic means to ensure that our society brings and develops worthy and capable youth who will become able future leaders leading our nation to greater heights.
• Reverend Jan A Scholtz is the //Kharas Regional Chairperson and !Nami#Nus Constituency Regional Councillor. He writes in his personal capacity.