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Why December holiday is urban parent’s nightmare

In the wee hours one Monday morning in August, nine teenagers were walking the streets of Nairobi. They were drunk. You could tell from their staggering gait, loud shouts, slurred speech and dare-devil attitude. They caused such a loud racket that they attracted police attention.

The police do not take too kindly to jaywalkers or loiterers, especially those who are making a spectacle of themselves. Within minutes, this merry band of nine was behind bars, sleeping off their stupor. It was 4 a.m.

They would be woken up at a more acceptable time of day, where a brusque policeman recorded their ages as between 14 and 16, as well as other relevant information.

After being contacted, their parents made frantic dashes to the police station and they were informed their wayward children would be hauled to court. The teenagers were classified as “children in need of care”.

The parents had to cough up the fines and then drag their offspring home by the ears to answer for their indiscipline.

This is not an isolated case.

Nairobi Central OCPD Paul Wanjama confirmed that cases of teenage misdemeanor are common, and that several arrests are made every day.

“Most are brought in for drunkenness, driving without a licence, public disturbance and muggings,” he said.

He added that the teenagers, most of whom are high school students at home for holidays, are never charged in isolation. Their parents, too, must bear the consequences for not keeping a tighter grip on their children.

Oftentimes, the parent will be charged with child neglect and fined. In more extreme cases, the parents might lose custody of the child if the court rules them unfit to provide parental care.

And this is why Nairobi parents are a worried lot. The unsually lengthy December holidays are here and children are home. If asked to make a choice, many parents would prefer that the children were back in school sooner than later. It is normally cheaper and less stressful.

FINANCIAL BURDEN

Not only do they worry about whether their children are safe in their absence but also the increased financial burden that comes with long holidays.

Having children at home places a bigger financial burden on parents because their household budget shoots up astronomically.

Take Karen Njathi, for example. She is a working mother with two children in high school. Her daughter just completed Form Four and her son is in Form Two.

Every two weeks, when her children are at home, Ms Njathi spends three times more than what she’d normally spend when schools are in session.

And because she wants her children to do well in school, Ms Njathi has privately hired two tutors for her son; one for English and one for mathematics and sciences.

“The tutors come in thrice a week and teach for a combined 12 hours,” she says, “and since they charge me Sh1,000 an hour, that translates to Sh12,000 a week for tuition.”

Ms Njathi says the figure is much higher than what she used to pay before the government banned holiday tuition in schools.

Alice Muchogo faces the same predicament now that her two children are home for the December holidays. She has a daughter who will be in Form Three next year and a son who just completed primary school.

“When the children are in school, Sh3,000 is enough to take us through the week,” she says. “Now that they are home, we spend upwards of Sh6,000 a week on shopping for food.”

CHILDREN’S DISCIPLINE

Ms Muchogo had to hire a tutor for her son during the August holiday which set her back some Sh9,000.

Being a stay-at-home mom, Ms Muchogo is  hands-on about her children’s discipline. She is yet to encounter any serious cases involving them.

For Ms Njathi, however, it is a different matter because she goes to work every morning, leaving her children largely unsupervised.

“I pray a lot that they do not get into trouble,” she says.

She also tries to be friendly with her children so that they are free to share any problems they may have.

What does she plan for her daughter now that she’s done with secondary school?

“I plan on having her attend a career seminar organised by one of the airlines for two weeks, to give her better direction about what she wants to do with her life,” says Ms Njathi.

Ultimately, both mothers admit that there is only so much parenting one can do and that they cannot micro-manage their children everyday.

HOLIDAY CAMPS

But enterprises are sprouting up in many parts of Nairobi whose main business is taking children off their parents’ watch for part of the holiday.

One such company is Teentouch Esm which specialises in organising holiday camps for children from the ages of three to 14.

For Sh5,500 a child a week, parents can enjoy having the children out of the house for five hours every week day.

“We teach them life skills, sports, music, arts and arrange excursions to interesting places,” says Ms Ruth Nyabwa, the events and marketing manager at TeenTouch.

A similar enterprise is Kids Fun Factory run by Ms Nyambura Mahia, a mother of two.

“Kids Fun Factory focuses on children between the ages of three and 12. We organise  special camps and other activities like dance, music and lessons on how to use the internet responsibly,” she says.

But developmental psychologist Mbutu Kariuki is skeptical about some of the holiday camps, saying that some parents use them as a way to avoid spending quality time with their children.

“Some parents are very uncomfortable about having to spend any real time with their children so they prefer to send them away as soon as they go home for the holidays,” says Mr Kariuki.

He, however, says that this kind of delegated parenting can be useful if carefully vetted.

“If parents first assess these holiday programmes to see what value they add to the child, then it is not an entirely bad thing to make use of them.”

He advises parents to take a keen interest in their children’s lives and spend time with them.