Third Eye

Do your teenage children know their  way home?

Wednesday, May 18th, 2022 00:01 | By
Father's Day
Father's Day. PHOTO/Courtesy

As a parent, there is nothing as heart wrenching as those ‘missing child’ pages that have been filling the dailies nowadays. Primary school children who could not find their way home from school, children who were sent to get groceries and they just kept going and finally found themselves in the next town. It is God’s grace that they even end up in safe hands that will help them locate their parent while others are unfortunate to be found dead.

So, the immediate emergency for parents would seem to teach your child what to do when they realise that they are lost. Right? Stop everything you are doing freeze and find a helper. Have critical names and numbers memorised. All these come in handy for the children who are much younger, but for teenagers, it is important that they become more careful with their bearings.

Irine Zae, a 22-year-old university student, recalls how hard it was for her mother to let her make trips to her aunts unaccompanied as she was afraid she would get lost.

Afraid to let go

“I never travelled away from my village in Wundanyi, Taita Taveta county except for the few trips to Voi town where my aunt lived. If I had to visit her though, she would have to pick me up. I wouldn’t have gotten lost I think, but she was afraid I did not know my way. When I completed Kenya Certificate of Primary Education exams in 2013, I came to Mombasa to visit — of course I was to be picked from home and returned back home. This also happened after Form Four. The confidence to just let me travel wasn’t there. But when I marked my directions well from Mombasa to Wundanyi, she was more relaxed” shares Irine.

While her mother had been afraid of letting her go for long distances unaccompanied, like most mothers, she would bring her along to the market or shopping centre around the village to ensure she knew and familiarised with her directions around.

Not interested 

On the other hand, for Elida Langi, a business woman and mother of two teenagers, this is her current struggle.

“Aside from the places they play, or the mall and church, it doesn’t seem like they are even interested in learning their directions home. We all sleep on the bus when doing for long trips. It’s normally tiring. I had some beaded bracelets for them both with my mobile numbers just in case anything happens. But they know our local environment rather well. They go for walks and play with neighbour’s children, all those boys’ games. I feel boys learn a lot this way from the other boys. I just keep a close eye on who they are around,” she shares.

Child Psychologist, Faith Mutegi, shares that learning of bearings is a fundamental lesson that teenagers should not be missing out on today. In her observation, the technology world has played a great role in stealing young people’s attention while on the roads.

“If your child is always on the phone when you are on the road, they are missing landmarks. It is upon you as the parents to teach those routes and roads. For instance, when a child hears about Mombasa Road, in Nairobi, do they know that this road is not actually in Mombasa or around the corner to Mombasa city? When you are going to church, school or the mall, are they familiar with certain  landmarks, roads and basically what is around them in that particular location? When going to cities, there are certain landmarks that are easy to give bearing. So, how are we equipping our children to have these landmarks?” asks Faith.

As a tip, the psychologist advises parents to practice a strict “gadgets off” rule while going out with their children, whether on long trips to upcountry or to their favourite spots of fun.“Point out an interesting thing and let them look out of the window intentionally. 

Make them take notes of the landmarks on the road, the features, so they mark them, it has to be intentional learning. 

Let them know the names of the highways, names of the places they frequent so that they know their bearings even as they grow older and become more independent.

The benefits

They have to know the names of the routes. Let them know and if they have questions about the names  and places, then it becomes an adventurous learning opportunity for you to also research and give response,” advises the child expert. 

As your child goes through the teenage years, there’ll be many times when he/she would want more independence. The expert says, It’s good for teenagers to go out without an adult when they are ready because it: helps them build life skills – for example, teenagers can practise navigating when they need to get from the bus station to school, especially secondary school students, solving problems when they work out what to do when the bus doesn’t come, or making decisions when they plan how to spend a day in town.

 It also promotes good mental health – for example, independence can be good for teenage confidence, self-esteem and sense of belonging. 

Letting them go encourages physical activity – for example, teenagers who walk, bike or take public transport to school tend to be more physically active than teenagers who are driven. 

They further learn to build community connections – for example, teenagers might say hello to people they know at the local shops.

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