A Peek into the Teenage Mind..#IfikieWazazi and #Project X

If you can’t go back to make a new start, start now to make a new end  ~ Parenting in Africa Network

So, I have been following the hashtag #ifikiewazazi that has been trending over the past couple of days. Reading through the comments, I was reminded of the Project X fiasco, about 2 years ago  – and the storm that brewed when word came out that some teens and young adults were planning to attend a Project X bash in town. Out of curiosity, I went ahead and watched Project X, the movie… and wrote my review – more than 2 years ago. In light of the #ifikiewazazi furore, I thought to update my review… and share my thoughts that will hopefully shed some light on the #MindOfATeenager.

PS..It is a long but worthy read. Get some popcorn (or groundnuts) if you must. Enjoy… and please do share your thoughts with me, o.k?


Last weekend, I attended Project X.

The movie.

And…..It really did feel like I had attended THE actual party. To put it very mildly, the sexual content, obscene language and graphic images imprinted in my mind are enough to last me a couple of months in detox. Let’s just say that for the next few weeks, am content to sit and watch ‘KungFu Panda 3’ with my son – for the umpteenth time. Maybe  – just maybe – I will receive some absolution.

Project X is the movie that has inspired the controversial Project X party that has been trending over the last couple of weeks. The movie is about 3 high school geeks – Thomas, Costa and JB, who plan to gain popularity by throwing a party at Thomas’ house while his parents are away during his birthday weekend.

There’s just something about being a teen and popularity.

The movie starts with the usual disclaimer, “the events portrayed in this film are fictional… performed in a controlled environment…. No one should attempt to recreate any of these scenes or general activities portrayed in this film”. I don’t know about you, but these disclaimers kind of remind me of the ‘forbidden fruit’ command in Genesis. What is it about a warning that makes something so irresistible? Since the movie was released in 2012, several of these parties have been replicated all over the world – with each party trying to outdo the previous one.

So. Thomas Kub’s parents are going away for the weekend, leaving him alone in the house, with very explicit instructions on what should and shouldn’t happen that weekend. Mr. & Mrs. Kub are your regular middle class family, living in a quiet Californian leafy suburb. Their 17 year old son, Thomas, is a quiet, intelligent, focused young lad who scores high grades in school; earning him the not-so-noble title of ‘geek’. His mum’s minivan spots a bumper sticker that reads, ‘My son is an honor student at Franklin Jr High’.

Thomas is every teenage parent’s dream come true.

And he is planning to have a small birthday party with his two best friends, Costa & JB. He promises his parents that the party will have a total of 5 friends –maximum. A promise that he truly intends to keep. His dad gives him 40 bucks for pizza and leaves very specific instructions: No-one should enter my office. Stay away from my Mercedes. Take good care of Milo the cat – the usual instructions that you casually throw at your very responsible teen who already knows the rules.

Let me just pause here and say this. When it comes to our teens, there is a BIG difference between what they intend to do and how things eventually turn out. (Actually, that’s true for some of us adults as well… but… let’s stick to the storyline). There are many reasons for that, but let me give you one that I have found very helpful in understanding teenage behavior. Unlike other organs, the teenage brain is still under very active development. According to Dr. Siegel, a renowned neurologist, the parts of the adolescent brain which develop first, are those which control physical coordination, emotion and motivation. However, the parts of the brain, which control reasoning and impulses, develop last. The reasoning part of the brain does not fully mature until the age of 25. The end result is an adolescent who is physically and emotionally motivated, yet with still developing reasoning capacities. That explains why many teens may engage in risky and impulsive behaviors without thinking much about the negative consequences. Their brains are still ‘under construction’.

To put it in layman’s language, “The accelerator is fully functional, but the brakes are still under construction”. Can you visualize that?

Please tuck that image somewhere at the back of your mind. It is going to be very useful as we keep going.

Enter Costa & JB – Thomas’ geek friends. Now, you and I know that most geeks are kind of boring. However, in any given ‘Geekdom’, you are very likely to stumble across some surprisingly fun geeks. Like Costa. And JB. Although they are not popular with the rest of the crowd outside Geekdom, they can be pretty fun in a geeky sort of way. But Costa & JB are tired of lurking in the Valley of the Shadow of Geekdom. They want out. Like typical teens, they want to assert their identity. And throwing the party of the decade at Thomas’ house, a party that would feature booze, drugs, sex, two DJs and all the popular kids, seems to be the ‘perfect game-changer’.

At first, we see good-boy Thomas Kub struggling with the decision of even allowing the party to happen. He tries to call it off a couple of times. You see, Thomas is a really good boy. In him, we see a profile of the typical teenager. We see the fundamental struggle of adolescence come alive—the desire to please his parents pitted against the overwhelming need to fit in with his peers. This need to belong is one of the most basic needs of humans, and right about the adolescence period, it surges with as much force as all the hormones raging in their bodies.

But Costa has a plan. He wants to be popular, and he will use this opportunity to gain fame. He wears down good-boy Thomas with his persistence. We need a game changer – no one even knows who we are! This party is gonna change everything for us!” he says.

Let’s face it. Our kids have friends like Costa. Friends who make them feel lousy for not being ‘fun enough’. Friends who will go to extreme lengths to convince them that ‘it really is not that big of a deal’. Friends who know everyone ‘who is anyone’. Costa the strategist, who will convince you to cut off your own hair and donate it to charity. Costa the dealer, who knows where to get the cheapest booze and weed. Friends who shoot down every argument because they have a really smart mouth.

Most of our kids are like Thomas Kub. But they have friends like Costa.

After much wheedling and cajoling, Thomas finally agrees to a ‘50-people-absolute-max, just-big-enough-to-make-us-cool’ kind of party. Costa plans everything down to a T. I tell ya… This guy is good! He sends out posters, flyers, video clips. He puts out an advert on the local radio station – the news about the party goes viral. The kind of images you have seen advertising Project X are nothing compared to Costa’s strategy. Suddenly everyone is talking about the party of the decade that’s ‘going down’ over at Thomas Kub’s house.

As the plot thickens, we begin to see Thomas warming up to the idea of instant fame and ‘scoring with the hot chics’. Just in case you’re not aware, that’s what the average teenage boy’s dreams are made of. Suddenly, Thomas Kub is gaining popularity. Everyone who is anyone is coming to HIS party.

But even as the plans escalate, we see the ‘good boy’ in Thomas struggle to keep up with Costa & JB. He protests at every point. But all the forces are against him. Outnumbered, he loses the battle and throws himself fully into the fun.

Heck. If you can’t beat them, join them.

And all hell breaks loose. I am still trying to recover from the images.

The party lasts all night. The Kub’s home is invaded by over 1,500 kids! The whole house is in shambles. Mr. Kub’s Mercedes Benz ends up being driven out of the garage – into the swimming pool. The whole neighborhood goes up in arms and calls the cops. The kids somehow manage to outwit the cops, who watch helplessly as havoc is wreaked throughout the once quiet neighborhood. The entire ‘shindig’ is picked up live on national TV and radio stations. And to cap it all, a drug dealer who had a score to settle with Costa, sets the Kubs house on fire. And everything burns down.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

So. How could Mr. and Mrs. Kub leave a 17 year old boy home alone for an entire weekend? You will ask. Or maybe the question for you is, ‘How did we get to this point where teens would post such images that have been trending on #ifikiewazazi?’.

The answer is simple. Mr. & Mrs. Kub join the almost 75% of the parents who I like to call, ‘well-meaning but uninformed’. (PS..the other word to use is, ‘innocently clueless’). In all fairness, let me say that at the beginning of the movie, Mrs. Kub does express her fears about leaving Thomas home alone. However, Mr. Kub quickly dismisses her by saying, “C’mon, honey, he’s not exactly Mr. popular. He’s not that type of kid…He’s a sweet kid, but… he’s a loser.”

In other words, ‘our son is not the type who can pull off anything worth…ummm…anything’.

Sadly, in my experience, those are the kind of kids that are likely to bring the whole town down, with a party like Project X. The ‘good’ kind of kids. The ones that have difficulty saying ‘no’. The kids who are craving for identity. Kids whose dads.. or moms… describe them as ‘losers’. And even when their parents do not say it with their words, they say it with their actions.

Reminds me of this phrase by Dr. Meg Meeker ~ Every time a boy interacts with his dad, that interaction leaves him feeling either better or worse about himself.

We place too much responsibility on our kids to do the right thing and make the right decisions based on the fact that, ‘they are just good kids’. Look. It’s actually the really nice kids that get pushed over and bullied into engaging in risky behaviors. Why? Because they are ‘too nice to say no’. Because they want to belong.

So.. what to do?

A good place to start is with you and I as parents. We’ve got to be clear about our values. You and I have to get to the point where we ask ourselves.. what do I ..really… believe in? Why is it important to me? What’s wrong, for instance, with having sex at 17? Or a couple puffs of weed? Here’s the thing – If you are not clear about your values, you will come off as inconsistent and ‘wishy washy’. Your child will latch onto the loopholes, convince you to cave in, and give you a run for your money.

If your teenage child knows they can wear you down, they will push you.

I invite you to take a moment and reflect on this question… what do I really believe in? This is a journey of clarifying your values, that will lead you to parenting from a place of confidence. And believe it or not, IT IS POSSIBLE to parent with confidence, authority and purpose.

Regardless of where you are on this parenting journey, it’s never too late to recalibrate your parenting GPS. The mind of a teenager, with all it’s turmoil and turbulence, is also a minefield of resourcefulness, and still very, very moldable.

You have not lost your window of opportunity. No. You still have plenty of chances to influence your impressionable teenage or young adult’s malleable mind.

You may not be able to go back and make a new start… BUT… you can start now to make a new end.


Check us out on www.beingparenting.com and walk this journey with us.


WHO’S IN CHARGE – Affluenza Edition

“Children are living messages we send to a time we will not see” – Anonymous

Have you ever heard of Affluenza? No… not the common flu. AFFLUENZA. It is basically a blend of two words: affluent and influenza. It is characterized by extreme materialism where someone has an insatiable appetite to amass wealth. Just like influenza, the flu virus, this social virus infects millions of people, and it consumes their lives with the shameless pursuit of material possessions. It has produced a new set of values where people regard material possessions and status as more valuable than character. In the process, it removes all sense of accountability, creating a society where short-cuts are the name of the game. Sounds familiar?

The major symptoms of Affluenza are lack of conscience and the sense of ‘not being in touch with the consequences of one’s actions’. Apparently, this term has been around for a while, dating back to the 70s.  However, it hit the headlines in 2013, when 16 year old Ethan Couch from Texas killed four people as he sped in his truck while under the influence of alcohol and drugs. Couch’s blood alcohol level was three times the adult legal limit and there were traces of Valium and other drugs in his system. The alcohol had been stolen from a local supermarket. Couch admitted to intoxication and manslaughter, and the case seemed very straightforward – 20 years in jail would be the expected sentence. But here’s where it got interesting. His lawyers argued that he suffered from “Affluenza” and because of his privileged upbringing; he was not able to fully understand the consequences of his actions. A psychologist testified in court that because of Affluenza, Ethan was unable to link his bad behavior with consequences because his parents never taught him about setting limits. Based on that testimony, the judge sentenced him to 10 years of probation with no jail term, instead of the 20 year jail term.

Incredible. Right?

Yeah. I thought so too.

As I read through the outrage that poured out from all over the world on the ruling of the case, I silently wondered about Ethan Couch. And naturally, as I always do in my line of work, I wondered about his upbringing. And it made me think of the new breed of clients coming through my office. The new breed of young adults being churned out of our schools and colleges, into the job market. And I wondered if there was any possibility that they could be having traces… yes… just teeny weeny traces of Affluenza. And, naturally, again, I wondered about their upbringing. And, even more naturally, I arrived at the same conclusion that I get to EVERY SINGLE TIME. That faulty parenting begets faulty children and teens, who turn into faulty adults and who make up a faulty society. A society with a severe case of Affluenza.

And I became afraid. Very very afraid. That without really being aware of it, we could be breeding a generation of “Affluenzic” citizens. In very small, very subtle ways.

Now, I am not big on parent-bashing. As a parent, I have made my fair share of goof-ups. In a transitioning and developing country like ours, with the current education system and all the economic pressures and social demands, 21st century parenting has got to be the most challenging job on this side of God’s earth. Add to that, the pressure to be a perfect, present, loving parent, and you have the perfect recipe for burnout. So, my intention is not to parent-bash. My intention is to point out, very specifically, the ways in which we could, unknowingly, be creating an Affluenzic society. Ways in which we could be breeding little Ethan Couches, who, 10 to 15 years from now, will claim that they were not able to fully understand the consequences of their actions. Tragic actions that will have cost lives. And a lot of pain.

It’s no secret that we’re raising a generation of children with a massive sense of entitlement. Let me tell you how it all started. Many of us were raised by parents who, when it came to discipline, they ‘did the deed’ before they said they’d do the deed. In fact, most of them just did it… the ‘saying’ part was optional – for just a few ‘un-enlightened’ parents. There was no discussion, no consultation, and no questions. They just did. They fully bought into the school of thought that ‘actions speak louder than words’. Other times, all they did was give you ‘the look’. Remember that classic stare that was especially famous with mums? It was enough to make you rearrange your face, your thoughts and all your body systems and align them accordingly… ‘or else’. Nobody ever waited for the ‘or else’ to happen, because our parents and all the adults in our ‘village’ meant exactly what they said…. Or ‘look’ed.

Fast forward. 20…30 years. You are holding your sweet little angel in your arms for the first time. And you cannot even begin to describe the surge of emotions that are going through you. Such love. Such tenderness. A sweet sense of awe and amazement. You’ve never felt anything close to this before. Not even your teenage heart-throb from way back in the day who ended up breaking your innocent heart into tiny little pieces and ‘ruined you forever’, came this close. And at that moment, as you hold the priceless bundle in your arms, something deep… very deep inside of you… that primitive animal instinct within you, makes a silent vow. A solemn vow that you’re not even aware you’ve made.

I’d do anything for this little angel. I’ll protect her with my whole life. I’ll move heaven and earth to give him the best the world can offer.

And so you set out to do exactly that.

Problem is, there’s no manual for ‘the best the world can offer’. Since the only standard of parenting you have is your own upbringing, a lot of your parenting decisions are determined by what your parents did, or didn’t do. If you were raised by a strict disciplinarian who communicated ‘the look’, it most likely left some bile in your mouth that has caused you to silently swear that you’ll never allow your children to go through what you did. It becomes a case of the pendulum swinging from one extreme end to the other – you become overly permissive. A no-spine, no-grit kind of parent. Still, for others, it may not necessarily be in defiance or rebellion against your upbringing. It simply stems from a genuine desire to give your children ‘the best the world can offer’.

Enter Affluenza. In all its trappings.

Ethan couch’s case might be an extreme, but whichever way you’re coming from, you have to agree with me that we’re faced with a generation in their teens and early 20s who have very little, if any idea, what ‘respect’, ‘authority’, ‘kindness’, ‘empathy’, ‘hard work’ and ‘delayed gratification’ really mean. To them, these are just catchy phrases that do the rounds on social media as famous quotes by a guy called ‘Anonymous’. Phrases that only require you to ‘like’ or ‘share’ as a public declaration that you endorse the quotes. But… what they truly mean? Absolutely no clue. And trust me, I am not being sensational. It’s simply an acceptance of facts as they are. I interact with them as I teach at the university. I encounter them in my therapy sessions. And I can tell you with all confidence that these kids truly, sincerely and genuinely believe that the world should be handed over to them on a big fat golden spoon, dripping with honey and garnished with all those delicious toppings from Planet Yogurt. Yum. And as they would put it… Like for real.

So….How did we get here? Better still, how are we getting there?

Over time, I have made a couple of observations, most of them from my own parenting goofs, others from the therapy sessions I have with children, and many more from the training sessions I do with parents. These observations have helped me realize just how easy it is to get there. Because these habits creep up on us in very small and subtle ways.

And here’s my candid conclusion. As parents, we have relinquished the reins of authority to our children. We have sent them a very clear message that we are not in charge. We are afraid that if we don’t give them what they demand, they will dislike or even hate us. And woe unto us if our children disliked us, right? We have allowed them to believe that parenting is a democracy in which their vote is required for EVERY decision of their waking, and sleeping moments. Our kids believe that they are the center of the world. That the world MUST revolve around them. That they have to be rewarded (or bribed) for simple house chores because ‘that is someone else’s job’. They believe that while rules can be made, they’re not necessarily made to be followed. After all, if the rules are broken, there are no real consequences. That life has shortcuts and when the going gets tough, all you need to do is find a way to cut through the system. That there is always an easy way out, it just needs to be discovered. And whoever invents it becomes the hero of the day. Mind you, the hero will only last a day, because the inventions are coming at us real fast and furious.

We’ve done this, not deliberately, but out of very good intentions – to give our children ‘the best the world can offer’.

I have dedicated the a few posts in this blog to sharing my thoughts, based on my experiences as a parent, trainer and therapist, just to shed light on some of the clues, some of the parenting behaviors that are likely to lead to traces …or to a full-blown serious case of Affluenza.

Check out the blog…and please stay away from the flu. BOTH flus..:) ….

Meanwhile, you can log onto www.beingparenting.com, to learn more about our work with parents.





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