Forcing elder siblings to baby-sit - They have lives too
The road is long
With many a winding turn
That leads us to who knows where
Who knows when
But I'm strong
Strong enough to carry him
He ain't heavy, he's my brother
- The Hollies – He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother
With many families living on a shoestring budget, trying to juggle the day-to-day expenses as well as keeping food on the table is quite a challenge. Throw in the cost of hiring someone to watch over your young children and the budget is thrown totally out of whack.
As a way of coping, many parents, especially those who are tasked with doing it alone, have resorted to assigning the older siblings as unofficial babysitters.
With this burden being shifted to the children, they end up paying the price for their parents’ inability to properly care for their young offspring.
While some elder siblings are able to ‘chip in’ while still participating in their school activities, the reality is that many end up missing school on occasions or being habitually late because of the extra duties they are called on to perform at home.
Chevelle Campbell, youth empowerment officer at the Clarendon Youth Information Centre, told Family and Religion that in her capacity at the centre, she has had to counsel many teenagers who feel that their parents are being unfair in wanting them to give up their time to babysit, or take charge of their younger siblings.
She said it is a scenario that has caused many frustrated teenagers to become rebellious.
Campbell shared that having this situation forced upon them can leave older children feeling as if they have no real power in the family.
Campbell in pointing out one of the far-reaching effects, shared that sibling will develop a feeling of resentment for both parent and the ones they are forced to oversee.
“At that stage of their lives, it is important for them to be part of social clubs, as it will help in their development. The forced parenting will definitely make them feel as if they are missing out."
Campbell hastened, however, to point out that she is not against older siblings helping out at home and making the burden lighter on their parents - but within reasons, she stressed.
“I believe that children should help out, but based on the age, the parents should be mindful of the number of responsibilities that are thrust upon them. Parents should ensure that the child has the opportunity to grow personally and professionally and that chores and responsibilities don't deprive them of opportunities,” she said.
Commenting on the legal aspect, Campbell said unfortunately, too many parents are unaware of the laws surrounding the care and upbringing of children.
Blaming it on enforcers being too lax or lenient, she said children too are unaware of their rights.
Older siblings can supervise while one or both parents are home, but if that sibling is in their early teens, leaving them alone to care for the younger ones is in breach of the Child Care and Protection Act. That she said, falls into the same category as leaving them unsupervised.
Citing the Human Rights Act - Article 24, Campbell said every child has the right to play, and enforced duties are definitely robbing them of that right.
Cognisant, however, of Jamaica’s reality and how hard it is on single parents trying to do the best they can, Campbell said this is where community parenting would be ideal.
“Reach out … a lot of communities have thriving groups. You have to be able, be part of a support group where both the older and the younger children will be under responsible eyes. In return, you can offer your services when other parents can’t be around for their children,” suggested Campbell.
She said parents should try in every way possible to ensure that each child, young or older, gets quality time in education, leisure and enjoying their own space.