By: Seher Haque
I remember when I was around 7-8 years old, my friends and I would sometimes go up to a young adult and ask them their age, just out of curiosity. Upon hearing their response, which was usually somewhere between 18-25, our eyes would pop out as we looked at each other in disbelief and awe, and we would always say the same thing in unison every single time, “woooah!” The higher the number, the longer and louder our “woooah”s. I find it funny that the situation has turned around now, and when kids ask me my age and hear my response, I get a “woooah” as well, and then they run away to play whatever games kids play these days.
However, having somewhat recently passed through the teenage years, I feel like I'm in a position where I can still relate to kids and teenagers, even though I'm considered an adult. The in-between stage – where I talk to the aunties in gatherings, but I also know what their kids are up to. Kids these days have complicated lives. Fitnah is increasing not only in the West, but on a more global level, and sometimes this leads to kids, specifically teenagers, leading double-lives. Parents do realize that times are getting worse, and they fear for their children's future. Generally speaking, they become more strict with their kids, restricting them completely from certain things. And it's only natural; why would parents want even a speck of harm to come on their children? Unfortunately, the approach being taken is ineffective.
What some parents may fail to realize is that times have changed since they were kids. Gone are the days when parents could easily dictate their children, and the children would respectfully obey each command without question. I am sure most of us have heard our elders tell us, “When I was your age, we would never object to what our parents had to say! We would obey them because we realized that they are more experienced than us, so they must be right!” Sure, life would be all fine and dandy if kids were so easy. But I would say that they are more inquisitive than ever before, having been exposed to knowledge from not only social interaction and books, but also the internet, television, and the media in general. We all know that the media can, in some ways, be more harmful than beneficial. That's why parental influence is an essential part of raising children. They need someone to guide them.
There is a distinct difference between guiding someone and forcing them to do something. It is a grave responsibility for parents in particular to mold their children into something they can be proud of, in both worldly and religious aspects. And this guidance doesn't start around age 10 or in the teenage years, it starts from the toddler years itself. You can't exactly start to develop a child's personality in one way, and then later on try to change it. This will eventually make him or her rebellious. If in the beginning the child is left alone with the TV on, being raised up by it, and later when you realize that his or her personality is becoming contrary to Islam, do you think you can easily just tell the older version of the child to stop watching it?
There is no point in being exceedingly strict. From what I've seen from kids these days, things will always backfire. You tell them not to watch TV or spend a lot of time on the internet, they will be doing it behind your back. Kids are smart these days. Smarter than one may think. They can do whatever they want on the internet and simply click “delete history” once and everything is erased. You force a girl to wear hijab in school and she will be taking it off as soon as your car is out of sight when you drop her off. You tell your son not to hang out with his female classmates and next thing you know he is out with a bunch of friends at the mall – girls included. These things are common in this day and age. So how can we try to stop it?
i) Start young.
If you want to see certain traits in your child then you'll need to start training them from a young age. Very young. I understand that this is the time parents are the busiest with their kids, and busy with so many responsibilities, but it doesn't hurt to maybe relate some stories of the Prophets and Sahabas from time to time. Make it interesting for them. Tell them that these are their role models. It could be during bedtime, when you read stories to your child. Apart from Cinderella and Jack and the Bean Stalk, you can have special nights where you tell *real live stories* of Prophets and Sahabas. The key here is to make it sound exciting, so this is what they will lean towards more. The main thing kids ever want is to have fun.
Also, it is utterly important that the right environment is given to the child right from the start. Letting them hang out with a decent, religiously-inclined family will help them mold their personality as well. After all, it is narrated that “The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: A man follows the religion of his friend; so each one should consider whom he makes his friend” [Sunan Abu Dawud].
ii) Give them fun alternatives
You go up to your child and see him or her wasting time on the internet or Wii. You tell them “get off that right now!” and walk away. So what is the child supposed to do now? He/she has nothing to do. An empty mind is a devil's workshop, as they say. They need to be occupied! Include lots of activities in your daily life – going out, doing various projects at home that you know your kids will enjoy and basically just bonding with them. They need activities so that they are not tempted to do wrong things. A personal favorite of mine when I was a child was going to the kids section in the library or to a children's museum. I love to see parents go through each and every thing in museums with their children, explaining to them patiently and in detail what the specific exhibition is about. There's so much to learn in these places, which helps to expand a child's mind. Other kids might like other things, perhaps something more sporty. Enroll them in whatever they are interested in!
As kids get older into their teenage years, their interests may change. It's important to keep up-to-date with their interests especially at this age, and keep them busy in those.
iii) Be their friend when communicating
The first thing that has to be done is trying to develop an understanding – trying to be in your kids' shoes. What were you like at that age, what was of importance to you? Sometimes when we grow older we tend to forget that a few years ago something else was a big deal to us, and now, it's something else. If you expect your child to behave like how you do in your midlife, then a rebel is to be expected.
If a friendly attitude is used with children, they will feel more comfortable in talking to you as they grow older. As kids mature, they need a lot of advice on certain issues and they usually have no one to turn to except other friends, who may be giving the wrong advice.
Also, when communicating with your child of what to do or not to do, always give them reasons. If the reason is elaborated then it makes much more sense to the child.
Treat others how you would like to be treated. Yes, these children may be the same people who you fed and cleaned a few years ago, but they still deserve respect. There's one thing I had experienced in my university back in the UAE. This was a university in which 90% of the students were local Emiratis, and their first language was obviously Arabic, not English. Almost all of our professors were either from North America or Europe. Most of them treated the Arabs like they didn't know much English (even though our major was English Literature!) and therefore they didn't have high expectations from the students. Sometimes these university students, half of them who were already married and had kids of their own, were treated like kids, just because of this generalization that Arabs probably don't know much English. Because of this, not much effort was put into their classes by the students.
However, there were a few of professors who treated the students like adults. They gave them a lot of responsibility, treated them as equals, and helped them reach their highest potential. And this was all because of the respect shown to the students, rather than looking down on them. I was surprised to see the talent that was shown in these specific classes by the same exact students. They had so much potential, but the teachers' behavior in the other classes diminished their creativity. Similarly, if kids are treated with respect, they will learn to be respectable beings, through their behavior and responsibilities.
Another thing to remember is that children should not be degraded in any way in front of others. Too many times I see ladies in gatherings having a competition of some sort on whose kid is the biggest problem-maker. They complain about their kids messiness, how they don't help out with the chores, how they basically do “nothing”. This will not help the child to increase his or her chores in the house, if that's what you're expecting. It will only draw them further away from you, and they will end up communicating less with you as well, thinking of you as a “tattletale”. Positive reinforcement is a longer lasting solution than punishment. Disciplining children is an important part of raising them as well, but should be avoided in public.
Finally, it is important that the respect is mutual. In Islam, respect towards parents is emphasized to a great extent. However, on TV shows and movies children are learning that parents are weird, backward, silly, and don't know anything. This is what a large number of kids are getting brainwashed by. If your child disrespects either one of the parents, then either the other parent should stand up for the one being disrespected, or the parent himself or herself should be stern with the child about this issue. In Islam there is no space for disrespect towards parents.
v) Monitor the monitor
Literally. The internet is getting worse and worse, and there's no sign of turning back. The computer or laptop at home should be placed in an area where it can plainly be seen by all walking past. I know laptops have become so common now that one laptop is given to each kid in a lot of households, and it is then taken to their own rooms, but this is not exactly a safe thing to do. Curiosity is at its peak during teenage years, and kids may end up in chatrooms and talk to strangers for fun, or they may learn a lot of inappropriate things.
However, it's not ideal to be exceedingly strict. Again, this backfires. Let's take the famous Facebook for example. There are numerous parents out there who completely forbid their child from opening a Facebook account. Are the kids going to listen? Let's be realistic, Facebook is the in-thing on the internet at the moment. Everyone is on it. 7 year olds and 77 year olds. People find their friends from their kindergarten, schools, colleges, work, everywhere. They learn about school events. It's the new-age style of socialization. Of course the kids are going to open an account. We, as the youth, all know of dozens of kids who have an account opened without their parents' consent.
Now, I know a lot of kids are going to come running after me with sticks for saying this, but there's a better option, in my opinion. Please, let them open accounts. At least they won't learn to lie to you and hide secrets from you. But open an account yourself and add them on your list. That way, they can still socialize with friends, and they will be careful about not adding members of the opposite gender, about what groups they join, and the style they talk in, even if it's only because you added them. Also, it's important for parents to be tech-savvy in this day and age to keep up with the kids and guide them, so that they don't go astray.
By the way, monitoring the monitor is not equivalent to spying on the kids. If you see them chatting with friends then don't come super-close to the screen to read what they're writing – a little privacy is needed by everybody!
I have heard many parents say that raising children is the biggest burden in their life. Don't take it as a burden, take is as the biggest blessing, and be grateful for every moment with your precious child. May Allāh (SWT) bless all parents immensely for their endless efforts in raising their children, and may all children learn to appreciate their parents' efforts. Āmīn.