By: Maher Budeir

We often hear the phrases, “When I was your age…”, or “The youth these days are different” or, “It is all because of access to video games and other bad stuff on Facebook,” when we hear our elders speaking of the younger generation. But, is it really so?

Is the current generation really worse off?

Are the media and technology advancements we are witnessing ruining the chances of this generation becoming responsible enough to carry the torch of the American Muslims?

Will they be able to advance the positive impact of Islam in our communities?

Or do we have a case of a lag in parenting and failing to keep up with the changes in media, technology and society?

Are parents being too lazy to manage the change and, instead, they blame the media for their inability to adapt and actively adjust their style of parenting.

The Impact of Media

There is no question that media impacts human thinking, feeling and even behavior.  However, this impact can be negative or positive. It is a double-edged sword – how we use this “tool” can greatly determine the outcome.

For example, one can say using Facebook is a huge waste of time.  One can spend hours and hours and accomplish so little, and risk being exposed to harmful information. At the same time, one who connects to the right people using the same tool and seeks information that can help and enhance oneself professionally, socially, and spiritually can argue that advancement in media has tremendous benefits.  In that case, this same tool becomes a positive window for self improvement and development, for better connectivity, for accessing knowledge that simply was not possible 15 years ago.

The Current Times

Is this a generational issue?

Is it just one element of the evolution of our social and technological development?

Is it a “sign of the times”?

Or is it just that change in technology is happening at a much faster pace than we, especially parents, are able to adjust to?

Simply Bad Parenting?

If we take this further, one can argue that while the tools are evolving and technology is changing, parenting has not caught up.

Traditional parenting is still highly regarded in most circles, and people are still impressed when a parent recounts how he or she kept things under control, with no Internet in the house till high school, or that he did not allow his middle-schooler to access a smart phone. In fact, one can say that what that parent is doing is taking the easy way out – pretending we are still in the 1980s, and that we only need to do what our parents did, without having to learn to manage the current conditions.

The fact is, new conditions require learning new skills and different approaches and that is hard work because it takes studying, research and consulting. It is much more difficult than simply doing what we watched our parents do.

So, how do I manage media with my kids?

There is no simple answer.

This depends on the ages of the kids, how many and how far apart they are in age, technological literacy of both parents, the home environment, and the level of interaction with their friends, neighbors, and other kids in the community.

With the absence of one set of rules that works for everyone, some general guidelines are in order:

Manage your life by design

Be deliberate when you use media.  Have a purpose and a goal and then find the best medium to learn or connect.  Teach your family to do the same thing. We should not watch television just because we have nothing else to do. When we decide to use media, there has to be a specific goal. It is not the default activity.

Set up your media hardware for success

Television should not be in the center of the family room, featured as the thing to do once you walk in. At the same time, designate one or two spaces in the house that are accessible and within view to place the main desktop and even little tables in the same room to use laptops.  Set up expectations that laptops stay in these spaces, to make sure parents can easily view what younger family members are watching, not to spy on them, but to take the opportunity to interact with them and teach them about the proper ways to use this technology. Make these spaces comfortable and fun, so kids are encouraged to use them in view of the parents. These spaces can be in the living room, “homework room”, family office space, den, or even the breakfast room.

Keep an eye on the clock

Before we engage in using media it is good to predetermine how much time we are going to allow ourselves to do this activity. Let's plan our time and make sure we do not indulge to the point that the content of the media overcomes our hearts and occupies a huge portion of our time, mind, heart or spirit.

Know your kids' media

Check out the content and the rating of what the kids are watching or playing. Take some time and play with them and share the activities. Use the media to become their friend. When you see something out of line, explain the consequences and the risk of engaging in media with negative content.

Teach kids conflict resolution 

At a very early age, when kids are watching cartoons, explain to them the right way to manage conflict, to deal with problems and disagreements. Talk to your 3-year-old about not using their hands when they disagree with someone. Teach them proper language and proper techniques to deal with emotions. It is much easier to teach these techniques at an earlier age.

We are living in a time when an incredible store of resources, information and tools is available at our fingertips to access, connect, create, and innovate.  Finding the right way to manage all that so it works in our favor is essential for our own progress and learning.

8 Responses

  1. Anon

    What this article glosses over, is the fact that there is nothing new under the sun, when it comes to human behaviour (aside – this is why Islam is an eternal religion which a South Asian expat in the USA in 2013 can apply it to their life just as well as a Bedouin in the Arabian Peninsula during the medieval period).

    While our technology and “global connectivity” may have become ubiquitous at rapid rate, this does not change the fact that the fundamentals of parenting remain the same. Your job as a parent, besides providing financial support, is to allow your children to grow up into adults who, when faced with any decision, have a backdrop of sound upbringing to rely on.

    For us, this means staying away from what Islam has prohibited, and encouraging that which Islam has praised as meritorious behavior and action. This is obviously a large array of things – the point I am trying to make is that if your Islamic bedrock is firm, there is no “new” technological wonder that can throw you into a tizz about how to rear your kids. Of course, you can’t ignore the problem and act as if it has no effect; as the author has pointed out, media has a big effect, especially on the young who may not have the ability to filter useless/harmful information from that which is beneficial.

    While I’m not actually disagreeing with any of the author’s guidelines per se, I’m trying to get across that there is the wider issue of rearing kids in general to think about. It’s more important to focus on rearing kids holistically, and how to do this, than being overly concerned about how technology and the availability of mass media will affect them. It’s also important to note that all of the above goes for adults too – if you can ensure that technology and its ubiquity does not overwhelm you, you’re on the right path to ensuring your children, family members and friends are on the same path.

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  2. saima

    very nice article…. but do post more articles on children upbringing to help new parents

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  3. Fatima Ariadne

    Have you guys ever heard about this, the Law of Five? It is said that the 5 people whom you spend the most time with, will shape your being the most. Media is simply that, a medium. It’s the people behind this medium and how they shape you that matters.

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  4. Amal Ibrahim (@amal_a_ibrahim)

    Personally, I don’t believe it’s any one thing but a combination of different things. First of all, the prophet (asws) said that the best generations were his, the one after that and the one after that. How far removed are we from the previous generations? Parents and children today are met with new challenges that previous generations did not have to deal with. I don’t mean to suggest that this is an excuse, but it does mean we have to work harder. One of the problems today is that parents don’t communicate with their children. It began with plopping kids in front of the TV and now we have all kinds of media to deal with. Social media, cell phones, etc., are there 24 hours a day. How much time do we spend with our kids, without these things? So, if we leave TV, social media and cell phones to teach our kids, what can we expect? We have to be more involved with our kids. Where do kids get their values from? In a world where everything is acceptable, the idea of right and wrong has become obscured. The values we once had are now called “old-fashioned” or “behind-the-times.” I believe this can be extremely confusing for young people especially if we are not more involved and making more effort to instill some values.

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  5. Digizen

    Assalamo alaykom,
    Thank you for sharing these words of wisdom.

    I like what you have advised on creating a space for desktop computer that help parents follow their children activity on internet and interact with them accordingly.

    My children are 3 and 8 and it seems that are more iPad/iPhone than a computer generation. I don’t see how to transpose the central-computer-desktop-space to this new context.

    What do you advice for supervising children activity and interacting with them in this case ?

    Jazakom Allah khayran.

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  6. Muslimommy

    ASA. Great article and a very balanced approach to discussing this topic, thank you brother Maher. I have found only two extremes when dealing with the media topic – the ones that overdo media with their kids, and the ones that abstain media from their kids. I dislike both approaches, because it is not logical and too extreme. Islam is balanced and life in a fast paced western country, makes it very difficult to keep to the ways of old. We cannot judge another, when we haven’t walked in their shoes.

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