Are you a member of the Pepper dem gang?

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By Tara Aisida

I once accompanied a friend to our children’s school accounts office to help plead for more time to pay her children’s school fees.

My friend was a single parent. Her ex-husband would not pay school fees but would buy the children expensive stuff like phones and gadgets so that he could be seen as a good daddy whilst shirking his responsibilities.

Anyways, back to my story, the accountant was apologetic and told us that he couldn’t do much as the school was servicing a huge loan and many parents were owing.

In confidence, he told us that the graduating set of that year owed over N20 Million in fees. I was shocked because I knew most of the parents of the children in that class and they were high fliers who rode expensive cars, went on exotic holidays, had the best phones and gadgets. They also ensured that their children got the latest games and phones.

I was upset because here I was striving to pay fees on time, at the same time envious of these same set of parents not knowing that they were more interested in making social statements than ensuring that their children’s education was priority.

There is a lot of pepper dem going on in our society and I am afraid it is reaching ludicrous heights. We have 8 year olds asking their friends- when you go into a plane do you turn left or right? Left being first class or business class and right being economy.

We have young children telling their peers about houses bought in their names and how much their fathers or mothers earn.

We have children bringing huge sums of money to school, all decked up in designer wears and carrying designer bags.

Children being introduced to skin whitening products from primary school, telling teachers they don’t need to read much because they will marry rich or already have monies in Trust Funds set up in their names.

Children are insisting on being ferried to and fro school by particular models of cars.

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I read an article recently written by a young man who went to an elitist school and unknown to him, everyone thought he was the poorest child in school (by the school’s standards) because his school uniform and stationary were purchased in a shop in Lagos, not at Marks and Spencer or WHS ‘in the abroad’. His father picked him up with an old car- a 1989 Peugeot 504 whilst other children were picked in Prado jeeps and SUVs.

It wasn’t until a close friend of his visited him at home that the news that he wasn’t poor made the rounds.

A lot of schools, especially the elitist ones, have had to cancel party packs from being shared in school because they contained everything including the proverbial kitchen sink and parents were going to ridiculous lengths just to better the other.

It’s the same scenario we are seeing at weddings. The proposals are becoming silly, the comical photo shoots, the astronomically expensive asoebi. Everything is done extravagantly mostly with the motive to out-do the last social gathering and trend on social media.

We have people who grew up in Yaba, Surulere, Ebute Metta telling you with glee that they don’t “do bridges” forgetting that the international airport is on the mainland.

Some years back, I was in a shop on the island looking at curtains for my home and was approached by another lady in the shop, a friend of the owner who enquired as to who was making my furniture for me. When I told her I lived in Ikeja, she told me that she wouldn’t be able to do me the favour of making my furniture as she lived on the island and only worked in VGC/Lekki. I smiled and told her that I already had someone making my furniture.

At that time, I lived in GRA Ikeja where one plot of land was the price of 3 plots in VGC and 2 plots in Lekki.

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This peer pressure cuts across so many sectors. We are sending children to secondary school at age 8, university at age 14, mostly because our friends are doing the same, forgetting that every child is different.

Some can handle it but most can’t. Also, that there is a reason why educators advocate that children be enrolled into classes at certain ages.

My children spent a gap year at home when they finished secondary school because we wanted them to be 18 years before they went into university.

I had just turned 15 when I went to the university and as far as I am concerned, it didn’t help me at all. I may have been book smart but not emotionally ready for adult life so it was no huge surprise to me that I had an extra year in school.

Of course, our children grumbled and complained about having to stay at home whilst their friends were already at university and how they would be in lower classes than their mates. But we kept our resolve and kept them occupied by learning different skills, ensuring they became street smart as they learnt how to go out by themselves in public transport (danfo not Uber) and gave them time to bond well and relax from academics before they began the journey to proper adulthood.

We, parents, are sending the wrong signals to our children that appearances matter a lot and the end justifies the means. But are we thinking circumspectly?

Do we know the consequences of the seeds we are sowing?

We are seeing children that think their life is over because at age 25 or even 30 they don’t have the kind of cars or material things that their mates have. Such children are not satisfied or content with their lives and want to be and look like others.

Children that are committing suicide because they don’t fit into their supposed social groups. The most devastating effect of peer pressure is that it breeds discontent and our children are beginning to look at their lives as being inferior when compared with their mates.

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This results in them always wanting more without enjoying what they have as nothing, to them, will ever be good.

I know some people will be quick to defend parents especially those who have the money to meet their children’s needs and I agree. If you can afford it, please indulge.

My problem, however, is with those who cannot afford it and those who can afford it but do it for the wrong motives.

The Yorubas call them “Kari mi” – they must see me. It’s the motive that breeds the peer pressure, the feeling that they must know that I have arrived – “I will show them”. “My money has come”.

It is true that children suffer and will be subject to pressure from their peers. That is the way of the world and it is a rite of passage.

I have, however, come to the conclusion that we parents also suffer in no small measure from peer pressure and we tend to pass our insecurities to our children.

The tendency to always compare our children with others, to over compensate, to always run things by our friends, to go against our values and beliefs because our friends or religious heads are doing the same are subtle ways that show how affected we are by the opinions of others.

Peer pressure has both good and bad effects and some of our decisions will be affected by our peers. I however hope that the motives for our actions as parents will be based on our beliefs and values and no one else’s.

Finally, I ask the question, are you consciously or unconsciously a member of the pepper dem gang?

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