Rejoinder: Back from Monrovia

By Alex Redd


The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
March 15, 2005

I was taken aback when I read about a pending decision of a parent, who had wanted to become one of Liberian presidential aspirants but later changed his mind to run for a seat in the Liberian legislature during the Liberian national elections this October. This parent has decided to “cut a deal with an American court to take his son back to Liberia particularly in a village”. This decision, according to the father, would create a sense of awareness for his son to experience the hardship like many other Liberians in the rural part of the country. This pending decision is in light of the fact that the father is frustrated with the embarrassment, pain and agony his son recently brought upon him in the US.

The son got drunk along with his homies, wrecked his mother’s vehicle apparently in a motor accident that nearly cost the lives of others in traffic. What is captivating in this story, as told by the author, is the continued pattern of the boy’s uncontrollable behavior particularly at home. The wearing of saggy jean pants, seen halfway below his buttock, twisted baseball face cap and large appetite for American television hip-hop videos may have contributed to the latest problem. It is amazing to note that there are many Liberian adolescents, who are currently stigmatized by the American criminal justice system as “delinquent juveniles” due to their involvement in criminal activity. Liberian adults are also part of this sad episode. Two months ago, two Liberian adults were deported on grounds for breaking certain facet of the American criminal law. What does this story tell us as parents with children living in the US?

This rejoinder is intended to provide some shedding light with focus on parenting styles and the desperate need for Liberian groups operating in America to take the necessary recourse to avert the declining moral values that tend to plaque the stability of Liberian families across the US.

This latest case warrants our attention to re-evaluate the moral values and beliefs of our own ethnic identity as well as the dominant American culture. With respect to the father’s decision to relocate his son may bring to fore some adverse consequences. For instance, the boy’s presence among the native population in a Liberian village would certainly become an attractive object for young women there. He’s from America. This boy may end up getting dozens of babies from many young women at his will and pleasure. Walking back and forth through thorny bushes with hard labor of farm work coupled with effort to cope with mosquito bites will certainly be a challenging adventure for him. He may get sick from malaria and other infectious diseases since he has never undergone those experiences. With depleted health care system and other sanitary resources in the interior part of Liberia, this boy may be heading for a meltdown. Will the boy make it out of high school in rural Liberia, as the father seems to contemplate? I doubt it. The father’s decision to reduce his son’s life to that of a rural peasant, in my view, is disheartening. This measure is extreme and heartbreaking in a sense that there are many ways or resources that are provided in the American education and social system to redeem his son. There are two demanding approaches in dealing with many issues and problems that children and adolescents faced during exploration of their identity: Preventive approach and Intervention approach.

The preventive approach is a method used as a way to prevent forth-coming problems or issues. For instance, a parent may routinely teach his children how to say an emphatic NO to drugs, alcohol and unprotected sex as well relating to others when it comes to social pressure. By making them aware of the negative effect they will take caution while socializing with their peers. The intervention approach comes into play when the problem already exists. That is, devising ways and means to help solve the existing problem. In short, the latter approach may help resolve this Liberian kid behavioral problem since there are prevalent issues of alcohol abuse, peer pressure, American media influence as well as permissive parental influence.

Many scientific literatures have concluded that parents are influential figures in an adolescent’s search for identity. In studies that relate to identity development to parenting style, democratic parents who encourage adolescents to participate in family decision making have been found to foster identity achievement. In contrast, permissive parents who provide little guidance and allow adolescents to make their own decisions promote identity diffusion. An example of identity diffusion would be for a 16-year old adolescent who has neither begun to explore his identity in a meaningful way nor made an identity commitment. This may be the case of this Liberian boy who might see himself sooner or later landed in a Liberian village to endure hardship. Did parents of the boy prove to show some enabling behaviors such as explaining, accepting, and giving empathy in order to facilitate the boy’s identity development? Not certainly so as I inferred from the story.

The fact of the matter is that the father has two jobs while the mother does a sleep-in at work job. What did the parents expect to happen if they are not spending enough time at home with this boy? It is my assumption that the age of the boy may range from 15 to 18 since he is in high school and has a driver license. That age range tends to experience storm and stress associated with formation of self-identity in line with social identity. In this context, the parents may take lion share of responsibility and consequences that follow in finding an amicable solution to help set in motion a renewed strategy. This is a vital must! The parents can commence this process by connecting with basic network of the school and profit free organizations.

Virtually every school in America has a guidance counselor. The primary job of the school counselor is to help students in three areas of development: academic development, career development and personal/social development. The school counselor, in alliance with parents, utilizes a variety of strategies, activities, delivery methods, and resources to promote the desired student development. Therefore, the need and effort of the father to constantly connect with the school counselor concerning the unstable behavior of his son is critically important.

In addition, there are many non-profit organizations in America that provide free basic parental resources to aid parents in containing odd behaviors of their children, for example, Big Brothers and Big Sisters. Most of these non-profit organizations provide group therapy as way for kids to re-think their bad decisions due to peer pressure. This latest behavioral issue of Liberian adolescents’ frequent drive to imitate some of the values of American culture, which later lend them into trouble with the American criminal justice system must certainly warrant the attention of segmented Liberian organizations in the US. There is a strong need for Liberian organizations operating in each state of the US to engage in community-oriented programs aimed at providing basic information and education workshops for Liberian youths. This is crucial to the aspect of blending two cultures, the Liberian culture and American culture. The content of education and information during the formation of workshops for Liberian youths living in America should focus on cultural and ethnic identity.

Ethnic identity is an enduring, basic aspect of the self that includes a sense of membership in an ethnic group, along with attitudes and feelings related to that membership. In essence, Liberian youths residing in America experience the process of identity formation that has an added dimension: the choice between two or more sources of identification---their own ethnic group and the mainstream, or dominant culture. Many youths resolve this choice by developing a bicultural identity. With Liberian youths, most of them find it difficult to blend two cultures simultaneously. As a quick measure to assimilate into the mainstream culture, some of these Liberian youths tend to mingle and follow the wrong crowd, which result in breaking the law. Commitment of adults to educate Liberian youths in a structural fashion about corrective ways and means to cautiously adapt to American entrenched culture will enable Liberian youths to have the autonomy to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of both their subculture and the mainstream culture. As the old adage would put it, “ charity begins at home”. In essence, if the culture or norm at home is quite different from the culture or norm outside the home, then it becomes harder for our children to adjust in accordance to the demands of daily American life. Therefore, we must strive to nurture an environment that will make their bicultural experience adaptable and rewarding.

The author, Alex L. Redd, is a Fellow studying Counseling Psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He can be reached at