Johannesburg - The tragedy in East London where 21 adolescents died in a tavern last weekend reveals a number of things about our society at large.
One of them is that we have seen on social media how pupils fight with teachers in classrooms.
Pupils have used broomsticks, their fists and chairs to inflict pain on teachers. This is despicable – and something unheard of 30 years ago.
Many of these young people are sometimes found with drugs on school grounds. The drugs make them lethargic, often violent and – at times – suicidal.
We have to agree that some youths are troubled and do not know what to do with their lives. School and education generally seem to be the last thing these young people think about seriously.
It is a real disaster when any number of children die in a tavern and you find that no one is prepared to take responsibility.
I listened to various radio talk shows on Monday; many parents and community members blamed the police, the governing party and the tavern owner.
None of the parents held themselves responsible for the deaths of their children. Yet, looking closely into the events of the day, we find that one of the absent elements here is conscious parenting.
Interviewed on radio, there were parents who, sadly, did not know that their children had left home and gone out to the tavern that evening.
All these children were young and needed full parental guidance. While the children are to blame for truancy, the parents and significant others are equally to blame.
A colleague conducted a study at four schools; in two of them, he realised teachers were literally scared to go and teach their class.
These were rowdy classes where the pupils did as they pleased.
In one instance, a female teacher told how she was attacked by a 15-year-old boy as other pupils cheered and guffawed.
Some pupils recorded the attack on their cellphones as the teacher yelled and was being choked by the boy.
Many teachers feel they are under siege and maintain that they are helpless when facing violent children who beat and belittle them.
This violence against teachers – and pupils – leads to underachievement and causes some pupils to drop out of school.
In many instances the school governing bodies do not know what to do because they also feel snookered into having to protect the rights of all children.
In the process, teacher burn-out seeps through.
Yet, apart from the pupils, both teachers and parents are to be blamed for the loss of morals among children. Like society, adults have given up in the war against drugs and alcohol. There are countless children who go to school under the influence of drugs and alcohol.
Of course, these are easily available in communities – and in communities where morals are dwindling, many children are usually under the influence of something.
In addition to dropping out of school, many children lose a proper vision of life and in many instances end up having children at a young age.
This is accompanied by emotional and behavioural problems.
Yet we also need to look closely at environmental factors that inhibit the positive well-being of teenagers.
Schools are now realising how Life Orientation is not merely a subject, but has become as critical as maths and science. For what is the point of having pupils passing with flying colours, yet battling against substance abuse and alcoholism?
It will always be difficult for parents and teachers to take children away from an environment, for it is the same environment in which they need to grow.
But children need social resistance skills; the ability to turn down negative temptations that will derail them.
Teenagers today are exposed to so much peer pressure that they sometimes find solace in liquor and drugs. They soon experience extreme depression, which may be increased by low socio-economic status.
Our communities have lost direction and we have alienated ourselves from our cultures. There is a great need for us to reconnect with ourselves. We are a society that has lost its head. The culture of learning and teaching has lost its meaning.
We have thrown away our responsibilities in communities. We blind ourselves all the time by stating that teachers are trained to work with children, and that we are not. But it is true that teaching is too important to be left in the hands of teachers only.
If our communities entrench the culture of teaching, our children will learn. However, we live in communities where no teaching happens because we hope that teachers in schools will do all. We do not guide our children, hoping that miraculously they will come right.
It is true that families may experience various forms of anguish and disorder. Socio-cultural influences are a huge factor in ills such as teenage alcoholism and drug abuse. Our current ways of life have become accepting and understanding of drug abuse and drinking.
These emerging cultures are responsible for the killing of our future and the early destruction of young people. Schools and communities should work hard in bringing about solutions; prevention education, using community-based institutions and empowering teens to be leaders in combating addiction should be among the solutions.
It is time that the early experiences of many children can make them know no other behaviours. Yet, we can continue looking towards cultural norms and the positive influence of significant others.
Communities are competing with potent social networking sites, as well as peer pressure. Sites such as Facebook and Instagram display people who use alcohol and drugs, and these influence young people.
The so-called celebs may be seen to glamorise negative behaviours in the eyes of the teens. Furthermore, parents have found television and games as a replacement for effective parenting. Often it is trash TV programmes that mislead teens, and violent games instil wicked behaviours.
What happened in Scenery Park should make us all scared and ashamed.
It is an indictment of us if a 13 year old dies in a tavern.
There is something missing in our communities if teens find solace in binge drinking rather than in playing soccer and netball.
With these realities surfacing, schools need teachers who have been through teacher education that has prepared them well.
Our teachers should know how to deal with a number of scenarios today and these include working with abused children, teaching children with drug abuse problems, guiding bullies to co-exist with others, and constantly motivating pupils who want to quit school at a young age.
It is so sad and even misdirected to think that the teens who died at the tavern had no dreams. All had dreams, but were in an environment that ambushed their futures. Every parent hoped for a future provider of their families who would break the vicious cycle of poverty. Every teacher hoped for leaders who would transform our world.
As a society we will continue failing as long as we abdicate responsibility for nurturing our children. We need to be honest with ourselves, otherwise we will not have a dependable, conscientious future generation.
Parents cannot continue blaming the government and other role-players for children’s malingering.
Parents also need to empower themselves. Schools have changed from those of yesteryear; hence, parents need to understand their role in supporting young people.
Our parents should realise that schools cannot alone raise children and instil discipline.
The society desperately needs assiduous parents who constantly fight for the future of their children.
Furthermore, adults need to be exemplary because as their children grow, they mimic the role models they see; if they have destructive role models, they will grow to be destructive.
Society as a whole should sympathise with the families that lost children in Scenery Park, but we all need to ask the difficult questions.
When such calamities happen, let's locate the parents, community-based institutions, government and schools.
Furthermore, we need to search deep within ourselves as we hunt for the truth of raising morally upright children.
Msila works at Unisa. He writes in his personal capacity.