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May 21, 2015

The other day I saw in my office a new patient for a physical exam. She was a nine year old girl from Sierra Leone who arrived here with her parents just three months ago. She came with her father and mother. Now, one would anticipate some shyness and reluctance from a nine year old girl from another country to visit the doctor and that he was a man. Remember in Sierra Leone, war has been a constant, Ebola virus has been rampant and nine year old girls are not always treated as nine year old girls; rape is common.

I was greatly impressed that she held her head high with direct eye contact. I was impressed that she extended her hand for handshaking even before I could do likewise. I was impressed that her command of English was perfect. I was impressed that she began giving me her medical history without my prompting.

After learning from her that the people of Sierra Leone speak in Creole, I became confused because I only associated Creole dialect with Louisiana and its French infiltration. She corrected my miseducation by saying that Creole was an African dialect and that the reason it hit New Orleans was because most of the slaves that came to that port were from Sierra Leone.  WOW!  Was I ever so impressed!

Well, I began to bring up an issue in my own head that I have discussed numerous times before. Why aren’t American children of that caliber? When attending graduations, I notice the valedictorians many times are kids from other countries like Viet Nam, Jamaica, India, Nigeria, Cameroon or China.

This nine year old told me with her father that “back home” in Sierra Leone, many of the children had fairly hard working chores such as collecting fire wood and hauling water sometimes miles away before the breakfast tea could be served and before the children started their long walks to school- all before 8AM!

So we buy our kids $180.00 sneakers and find they traded them with other students because after a month the shoes became boring. Our kids have to walk no more than half a block to catch the bus; that is if they don’t ride in air conditioned and heated cars and dropped off at the front door. I find that many children don’t have household chores anymore other than when the bedroom gets way out of control. In essence, in comparison with other cultures we spoil our kids. I am not exempt. I think it becomes a way of thinking that, assuming that we dearly love our children, we want them to have a “better life” than what we had as kids. I never had my parents buy outrageously expensive items for me; they bought me what was needed. Anything else we had to buy on our own accord. I will never forget a stereo system I bought in high school that I put on lay away for the entire summer until I was able to pay the balance. That stereo would last me all the way through med school. Christmas was the only exception; I got a real drum set that I still own today after 50 years!

I, like many of you, hate to see my kids suffer or go without. But are we doing the right thing by not balancing the value of working hard for the luxuries we have in life?

Here is the point; at some time in our children’s life, they MUST experience some level of struggle, of difficulty, of hard work. It may be painful for us as parents to watch but we must understand it is for their betterment in their adult lives.

Get your teenager to cut the grass and tell the lawn service you won’t need their services anymore. After thorough teaching, have them prepare Sundays’ meal and/or take care of the household’s laundry (not just their own). For those kids who are driving, get them to go on their own to the grocery store with your list for the family. Teach them how to use a sewing machine. Teach them how to change a flat tire. Teach them the basic tools of plumbing and carpentry. Don’t worry I am just as guilty as you for not pushing these things. But when I see such a mature and “ready for the world” nine year old from Sierra Leone, I get inspired to start changing my ways.


See ya in the summer!

Dr. “D”

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