Open letter to Basic Education Minister Angelina Motshekga

Mabila Mathebula

Mabila Mathebula

Published Feb 28, 2024


Mabila Mathebula

Aluta Nova! The new struggle has begun. It is not in my power to tell you how I have been affected by the tragic story of a 13-year-old delinquent who was arrested in connection with the shooting of a Germiston Primary school principal.

The word delinquent is not a derogatory word; a ‘delinquent’ is a person under 17, whose behaviour is punishable by law. Most South Africans were shocked by that incident and questioned our societal values.

At the tip of the iceberg, we saw belligerence and stubbornness. When we examined the invisible iceberg below the surface, we saw silent issues such as emotional challenges in the Grade 6 learner.

It was alleged that the teen also targeted the three educators because they were the ones he believed alerted his father to his performance at school.

According to MEC of Education in Gauteng, Matome Chiloane, the father would punish the child or wilfully inflicting physical or emotional harm on his son. This is the crux of the matter. More often, we get rid of a delinquent instead of getting rid of the problems such as a transitional-based relationship or performance-based relationship.

I have attempted to help parents and teachers to understand these dynamics in my recently published book, Helping Teens to find their Visions: How Parents and Teachers can assist the Teenager Transition to Adulthood.

Perhaps teachers and parents should take a leaf out of the former US president Harry S. Truman’s book: “I have found that the best way to give advice to your children is to find out what they want to do, and then and then advise them to do it.”

Parents and teachers tend to impose their adult values and social ideals on their children, while teens have different values, ideals and visions. Teenagers are naturally inclined to seek peer groups and are willing to follow peer pressure. PEER, writes Dr Ben Carson could stand for “People who Encourage Errors, Rudeness, and Stupidity.”

Parents often label their values in abstract terms such as integrity and honesty. On the other side of the coin, teens often label their values by concrete goals or desirable experiences such as music or travel. Abstract and concrete terms could lead to conflict between teens and their parents.

Dr John Demartini notes that true values are specific to an individual as a voice tone, a fingerprint, and an eye retina pattern. He recognises that values cannot be imposed on anyone: “No parent, teacher, political leader, or religious figure, could define your values. Only you can look into your mind, heart and soul, and discover what is most important to you.”

Failure to help teenagers contributes to what Demartini calls the ABCD’s negativity: A= Anger and Aggression, B=Blame and Betrayal, C=Criticism and Challenge, D=Despair and Depression. Parents and teachers must identify and overcome the barriers between themselves and their teens. Observe without intruding, comment without hurting, negotiate without blackmailing, enable access to accurate, irrefutable facts, expose the teen to many of the best, and a glimpse of the worst.

Boys crave attention, but society and the social media do not pay enough attention to them. When the “Take Girl Child to Work” campaign took off in South Africa, boys remained in the background. Teens who are ignored, will misbehave to get attention, even if it is negative attention.

Boys need constant affection from parents and teachers. Failure to affirm a boy could compel him to misbehave as a way of returning the lack of affection. Boys also appreciate positive feedback or negative feedback with guidance.

Boys naturally want to beat opponents. The extreme, childish version of male competition is to gang up, to spread accountability and punishment for violence. Without vision, this childish impulse could continue in gangsterism. Submitting to mob rule is also a sign of self-hate.

Learners who kill one another in classrooms, and mass murder at schools in the US, is one of the signs of self-hate, lack of hope, and lack of vision. Teen violence could quickly escalate out of proportion. For example, in the US in North Baltimore, 1998, while walking home from school, several teens beat Wayne Martin Rabb jr with a basketball bat, chased him along a busy city street, and shot him twice from behind.

In this case, the mere fact that the father used to punish the teenager when he received negative feedback from school, it is apparent that teen was depressed. Depression is probably one of the most common and pervasive struggles teenagers deal with over the course of their adolescence.

Common symptoms and warning signs of teenage depression are feelings such as sadness, despair, hopelessness, worthlessness, anger, fear, hurt, guilt and shame. The 13-year-old teenager was suffering from guilt and shame. Shame and guilt are interwoven. Shame comes from old guilt. Guilt is what you did and shame is about who you think you are.

Most teens suffer from Anhedonia – the inability to gain pleasure from anything. Repressed anger turns into depression and untreated fear turns into anger. FEAR, according to David Kessler, which stands for “False Evidence Appearing Real.” According to Elizabeth Kubler-Ross and David Kessler: “Anger tells us that we haven’t dealt with our hurt. Hurt is present pain, while anger is often lingering pain.”

Parents and teachers should be equipped to deal with teen depression. On the surface, this incident looks like a safety and security issue but if we drill down, we find that we are dealing with a plethora of issues below the iceberg.

A Sesotho idiom says: “Lefu ke ngwetsi ya malapa ohle,” or “No family is immune from the death of their loved ones.” Likewise, “Bothatha ba bana ke ngwetsi ya malapa ohle.” – “Teenage challenges exist in every household.”

Any adult living with a teenager could list their daily challenges. Their behaviour seems foreign. Teens are like chameleons that change colour in response to background, light, temperature, or emotion. They reflect their environment.

Author and life coach Mathebula has a PhD in Construction Management.

The Star