Helping a child to smoke!

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NEARLY two weeks ago social media was afire with a video clip that left many smoldering at the foolishness of a man’s act. The clip showed a man with a child on his lap, and the man was making the child smoke a cigarette. The video sparked outrage and many vented their anger in social media. The video clip was short but the anger was great as many people called for authorities to quickly intervene and save the child from, what they thought at that time, the abusive father. They even went further by declaring the ‘father’ unfit to raise his child calling on the government to take control of raising him.

The clip was ten seconds long and showed the ‘father’ placing the cigarette in the mouth of this child. The child inhaled the smoke and started coughing, while the ‘father’ along with people sitting in the living room were tickled pink by the incident and were laughing out loud. The Ministry of Labor and Social Development managed to detain the ‘father’ for forcing a child to smoke. It was later revealed that the man was not the father, but the father’s cousin.

Here is the irony in this news. The real father has come out in defense of his cousin’s act, and said that his cousin, who gave the lit cigarette to the child, was innocent of any wrongdoing toward his three years old son. He claimed that his cousin was only trying to scare his son from smoking by exposing him to the hazard so he could see how bad smoking is. The father said that his three-year-old son had a very bad habit of taking cigarette butts from the ground and putting it in his mouth to imitate smokers.

The father said that he and his wife had repeatedly tried to prevent their son from picking up stubs from the ground and imitating smokers, but to no avail. The father finally resorted to his cousin to help scare his son from the dangers of smoking. The father claimed that the widely circulating clip had damaged the reputation of the family and also caused them lots of trouble and misunderstanding.

Even if we accepted the father’s explanation about this incident, the argument begs the question what is going on in the minds of these people. In addition, other simple questions that’ll come to anyone’s mind are why are there so many cigarette butts around the child and, from where did he pick up that habit?

Some people may find excuses for the family because, their supportive argument stems from their belief that at the end of the day they (the parents) were trying to prevent the child from smoking by exposing him to smoke issues and making him hate smoking. The overwhelming majority, however, find no excuse for the family’s act, and squarely place them responsible for allowing the child to be exposed at this young age to smoking.

Other questions arise from this seemingly senseless action. What would the child think, in the future on the dangers of smoking, if the uncle in front of the child’s father, gave a cigarette to the child and both the elders were laughing about it? The child might think that this is a laughing matter, and will be taking it easy on this issue. What would be worse is if in the process of teaching the child the ills of smoking, that the child develops a liking for it, then the whole process of the family trying to kill the smoking habit in the bud would boomerang?

There are many like this family who would be ready to expose a child to limited danger so the child will experience it and learn from it, thinking they would learn from experience, and they will not do it again. Like in the case of a child who wants to touch a hot cup and insists on doing it. Some family members will allow the child to touch it a little to see that is it hot and hope that it would scare the child from doing it the next time. In some cases it works, but it would be better for parents to take time out to explain the dos and don’ts to the child and teach them the right way.

I came across a disturbing clip and, for the record, I would like to state that I couldn’t verify when it took place and where. But it is about a father who took his daughter to the edge of a swimming pool and then pushed her in while he watched. He watched her for a while flailing in the water. When her brother tried to take her out of the pool, he shouted at him to leave her there. The clip went on for long seconds showing the child grasping for air before the father finally pulled her out of the pool.

Was the father, in this case, trying to teach his daughter to stay away from swimming pools? Was this the best way to educate her? Maybe in his mind, but in the minds of a child psychologist, this is worse than a crime. In addition, if he were trying to teach his daughter to swim, then this would be the worst way to teach the child swimming and overcoming her fear for water.

Many family members see, in hitting a child or shouting at a child, it as a way of disciplining them. Putting the life or the health of a child at risk is a way of disciplining too, in their opinion. No one doubts the love of parents for their children but the method of intentionally exposing them to harm is derived from ignorance and has nothing to do with love.

We do our best as parents to protect our children from harms’ way and guide them. Children are explorers by nature and will try everything and will imitate people, and that maybe frustrating to parents. Not all parents are expert in raising their children or experts in child psychology. But they can take time and effort to stay abreast of the latest developments in childcare and what not to do. They also need to keep a constant eye on their children’s behavior and answer all questions their children may raise. But one thing they definitely need to know is that exposing children to bad habits is a wrong idea.

— The writer can be reached at mahmad@saudigazette.com.sa Twitter: @anajeddawi_eng


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