Parental Discretion advised. Explicit content in article, not suitable for all ages.
Recall Jane Austen's book Pride and Prejudice: the picture-perfect scenery of Longbourn, and the inculpable longings of young girls wanting to be spotted by a suitable betroth, not to start premarital relations, but to be proposed to for marriage. Whether one was born in the '70s or the '90s, almost everyone remembers Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy in a love story set in 1800s, but still popular even today. And even if one has any “religious” objections to the book, one can't deny that the novel remains a morally refined piece of writing.
I must confess that I was one of those young girls who fantasized about the intelligent and confident Elizabeth, and the gentleman Mr. Darcy, whose confidence was often misunderstood for haughtiness. I had my fair share of “Awww moments”, especially whenever Mr. Darcy made an effort to engage in a conversation with Elizabeth. However, throughout the book, the author never mentions any sensual immorality, nor does she make even a remote effort to insert physical contact between the characters who fall in love with each other. In fact, in many instances, even the details of Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy's communications are not mentioned, ostensibly so as not to corrupt a young reader's mind.
Now let's fast forward to the present time and take a look at one of the most popular love stories of our era, the Twilight Saga. Not long ago, I remember not giving my daughter permission to read the book. But as we all know, when you stop a kid from doing something, it only makes them want to do it more! So, she started reading it secretly, but soon felt the urge to confess after reading a few pages. alḥamdulillāh, for the fact that she cannot keep secrets from me. As a reward for her owning up to it, I rewarded her by giving her permission to read the book online, based on my awareness of the book as just a vampire story. Normally, I would read the book myself first or ask trustworthy sources about it, however, due to some other pressing matters, I didn't do my homework in this case.
When the next book in the Twilight Saga called Full Moon hit the bookstores, I skimmed through it first. And I didn't have to go beyond the second chapter, before I realized my mistake of allowing my daughter to read the first book. And alḥamdulillāh that she stopped at that.
Allow me to explain what I mean in the words of a young Muslim girl (college freshman), who described the series in the following sentence,
Twilight series is nothing more than sex and sexual interaction between a human and a vampire!
Before I proceed, let me bring the readers' attention to the fact that once most girls reach around 10 years of age, their feelings towards the opposite gender start changing noticeably. Boys start becoming less gross, and so does their “ickiness” factor. Suddenly boys appear cuter and nicer. Similar feelings emerge in boys as well about girls, but at a later age than girls.
These emotions are inevitable and quite natural. It would be almost abnormal to not develop any liking for the opposite gender; if not in preteen years, then definitely in teenage years. I've been through it, my friends have been through it, many young teens that confide in me have been through it (or are going through it now). Parents who think that their children don't go through such a phase need to pull their heads out of the sand.
So, as a tangent, some points of benefit:
- Know that your child will go through this stage.
- Build a very friendly and trusting relationship with your child BEFORE they get to this stage (I discussed this in more details in parenting articles that will be published soon inshā'Allāh).
- Minimize and control the factors that will lead innocent crushes to the next step
- Let them breathe: allow room for mistakes. After all, remember, your kids are still humans.
Let's get acquainted with the fact that occasional adoring of the opposite gender, also known as a “crush/puppy love”, is not wrong in itself, but to let the liking loose and to dwell in those thoughts may lead to questionable feelings or even actions. It is given that forbidding our youngsters from having crushes will only lead them to hide their true feelings from their parents; it is far wiser that parents focus on minimizing a simple innocent crush from progressing to the next step, rather than trying to suppress a natural feeling.
There are a number of factors that contribute toward developing, encouraging, and even accommodating a crush to the next step. Let's not overlook that other than the weakness of our own nafs and giving into the waswas (whispers) from shaytan, our environment and society equally, if not more, contribute towards our culpable actions.
Within this environment, are the books and the literature that revolve around gender interaction, those that explicitly describe the development of a crush, provocation to take it to the next step, seed in ideas of how it can be done, and finally instigate the young minds to indulge more physically with the opposite gender, describing the details of physical relations between couples!
It is quite distressing to know that many parents do not filter the books that their children read, and undermine the potentially dangerous impact of literature on young growing minds. We are no longer living in the times of literature like Pride & Prejudice or Sense & Sensibility. Unfortunately, in our times, teenage-targeted books are becoming an outlet for “soft-porn” literature. A prime example is the following passage from the New Moon:
Edward seemed perfectly content to hold me in his arms, his fingers tracing my face again and again. I touched his face, too. I couldn't stop myself; though I was afraid it would hurt me later, when I was alone again. He continued to kiss my hair, my forehead, my wrists…but never my lips, and that was good.
He caught my hand securely between his iron hands, ignoring my struggles when I tried to turn my head away. “Please don't,” I whispered. He stopped, his lips just half an inch from mine. “Why not?” He demanded. His breath blew into my face, making my head whirl. [After a confession of loving her forever and ever]…
His mouth was on mine then, and I couldn't fight him. Not because he was so many thousand times stronger than me, but because my will crumbled into dust the second our lips met. This kiss was not quite as careful as others I remembered, which suited me just fine. If I was going to rip myself up further, I might as well get as much in trade as possible. So I kissed him back, my heart pounding out a jagged, disjointed rhythm while my breathing turned to panting and my fingers moved greedily to his face. I could feel his marble body against every line of mine, and I was so glad he hadn't listened to me—there was no pain in this world that would have justified missing this. His hands memorized my face, the same way mine were tracing his, and, in the brief seconds when his lips were free, he whispered my name.
When I was starting to get dizzy, he pulled away, only to lay his ear against my heart. I lay there, dazed, waiting for my gasping to slow and quiet. (New Moon, p. 511-12)
I cannot quote all the similar passages from the twilight book series, because there are many. Suffice to say, this series is full of erotic interaction between Bella and Edward with the side theme of the war of vampires. What will happen when a young girl is exposed to such sensual text? Will it not entice her sexual emotions, arouse her carnal desires challenging her with the fitan of the opposite gender? If a married woman reads such content, at least she has an outlet to satisfy her desires; but what will happen to a young girl who is already challenged with hormonal changes, who has no husband but unfortunately, has many outlets in the lewd society of our times to give in and experience what she reads?
I had once discouraged one of the mothers from allowing her daughter, 13, to read this series. Although, the mother had provided a strong Islamic upbringing for her daughter, unfortunately, she didn't see eye to eye with me on this issue. Later, her daughter developed an internet relationship with a non-Muslim boy (who I believe was really a much older pedophile). She communicated in a way that no Muslim parent would want for their daughter or son. To make the long story short, when I spoke to the girl, she especially emphasized the dangers of reading books like the Twilight series and how it is different from watching a movie with indecent scenes. In her own words,
When you see such things, you only see what is playing on the screen, but when you read about such sensual engaging, you are free to imagine however you want to imagine it. When you watch a kissing scene or something like that, you don't know the feelings, but the books go into describing the change of emotions and the feelings of the girl when a boy looks at her, tries to touch her, or holds her hand, or when he grabs her to kiss her; you can read how she feels and what goes through her mind, and then you want to experience those feelings!
Yet another college student wasn't very pleased when her mother allowed her younger sister, 11, to read the series. She read her sister's diary, and was telling me the changes it caused in her sister's way of perceiving the boys. She said,
Once she started reading Twilight, all of a sudden her baby crushes changed from, “I think he is cute” to “I wonder how his lips would feel!”
I cannot describe the sadness I feel when I find our young tweens and preteens facing such situations while their parents are totally negligent of the dangers of such literature. My article maybe too late for many parents, but I'm sure there are many who may still benefit from this warning, inshā'Allāh.
At the same time, I do realize that it is not so easy to stop teenagers from doing what they want to, especially when there is a lot of peer pressure. This book is perhaps one of the most popular reads in our time, and anyone who hasn't read it, remains “so out of it”. So how can parents convince their daughters not to read such novels? How can parents highlight to their kids the dangers of such literature that they can foresee? Many parents may forbid their children from reading the series, but how can they ensure that their children will not read it secretly?
My advice to the parents is to:
- Know and embrace your role as a parent.
- Develop a VERY friendly relationship with your children from an early age.
- Monitor their activities.
- Communicate. I am very liberal when it comes to the topics of communication between a mother and her children. And I firmly believe that a mother's relationship with her child should be of the nature that even if a child has a crush, he/she should be able to share it with his/her mother.
- Be wise. The mother's role is to know her child inside out and to provide guidance and help to steer their thoughts in a positive direction without getting on their nerves or sounding like a dictator (which is the harder part and I am still learning!).
- Be firm. As much as I encourage giving space to the children, I equally advise holding firmly to the reigns.
- Be a step ahead of your child.
- Be patient and make du‘ā’.
Lastly, when banning certain books or movies, make sure:
- Talk to your children and layout the reasons why you want to ban the book.
- Give them space to refute, listen to them and re-emphasize your points of objection.
- Acknowledging to them that staying away from books/movies that are popular amongst their friends is not an easy task and requires a lot of courage, and you believe in their courage and strength.
- Appreciate them for obeying you.
- Be proud of them and show it both in words and actions.
- Reward them.
- Replace it with other books or activities. Consider the “classics” section of the library.
- Make du‘ā’ for them in front of them and especially behind them.
- Be prepared for slips. Even after taking all your precautions and adopting the best parenting techniques, know that you are not raising angels and they will, once in a while, give in to their temptations. As long as they are remorseful, do not be heartbroken and do not give up on your children.
Nevertheless, the struggles of the parenting continue. As much as I feel for our children, I do not have many alternatives to Twilight to offer them. How I wish we had more literature available with high morals yet in correspondence to our natural feelings, like we once had in the past.
Let me end this, with a beautiful quote from Pride and Prejudice, when Mary, merely a teenager, learns a lesson from the mistake of her younger sister's elopement and reminds her other sisters:
“…that loss of virtue in a female is irretrievable — that one false step involves her in endless ruin — that her reputation is no less brittle than it is beautiful, — and that she cannot be too much guarded in her behaviour towards the undeserving of the other sex.”
May Allāh azza wa jal help us all raise salih, strong, and pious children. Āmīn.