Parenting Can’t be Outsourced

The biggest challenge of parenting is to accept that we are facing a world very different from the one in which we grew up. This is true irrespective of which country you live in, with the additional complexity of a rapid destruction of walls between cultures. The truth is that your solutions don’t work today and your children know this better than anyone else. Yet you still have the challenge to inspire, support and teach them. Your challenge is to prepare them for a world that you know nothing about. This can be seen as positive or negative depending on your point of view but one thing is certain, it will not leave you untouched.

The major Global Changes that we face are:

Information Exchange

Thanks mainly to the internet and to global TV channels we are in an information overload age. We don’t suffer from lack of information but from a surfeit of it – easily available at the click of a mouse. What is missing is the ability to discern, to sift, to pick the nuggets. What is missing is the ability to know what to do with what we read or see. What is missing is the ability to connect the dots to complete the picture. What is missing is the ability to recognize the reality and to put things in perspective so that we can differentiate between real information and propaganda. What is missing is the ability to respond positively and powerfully to ensure that the dissenting voice is also heard in the cacophony of the dominant discourse.shutterstock_14799520

Easy information exchange has also lowered and, in many cases, wiped out the entry barriers into technologies and business areas. This opens new opportunities for entrepreneurs provided they know how to use them. It is a challenge for parents to guide their children in ways that enable them not only to make sense of what they see and read, but to actually leverage it for themselves and others.

The information exchange also has a darker side with every evil that happens in the world getting instant limelight. The conscious self is bombarded daily with images which at one time would have sent us into depression, but leave us untouched and unmoved today. This desensitization of the heart, the deadening of compassion, making the horrific mundane is the result of constant exposure to cruelty, oppression and bloodshed. Like the nurse in the operating theatre or the butcher in the abattoir, the sight of another’s suffering leaves us untouched.

The Salaf used to be very concerned with exposing oneself to things that harden the heart. Imam Al-Ghazali used to say that one should not mention death while eating because if the heart is not deadened then you will not be able to eat. And if you are able to eat then it will become evident to everyone that your heart is dead. I don’t think we bother with such niceties anymore because the condition of our hearts is apparently not of any consequence to us.

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The challenge that parents have is to guide children such that their hearts don’t harden and show them how they can help those in need. Hidden in this is also the real danger of radicalization of youth and their falling into the trap of those who seek to recruit them for cannon fodder. It is our challenge to help them retain perspective, show them how they can positively contribute and stay away from all extremist positions. But to do all that we need to check what state our own hearts are in, for only the seeing can guide the blind.

Technology Empowers and Threatens

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The second challenge we face is that of technology. Like rain, it is a part of our lives. You either get wet or you learn to use an umbrella. The smart phone, the computer, social networking and the ever present Google. Google maps automatically gives me driving directions to the masjid on Fridays whether or not I ask for them. It tells me if a flight that I am booked on is late or not. It even tells me when I need to leave for the airport, even when I have not asked for this information or informed it about my present location. It knows without being told. So how difficult is it to believe that Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), who created the creator of Google and his brain, also knows?

Technology takes away the drudgery and monotony. It adds value and makes life easy. But at the same time it increases distraction, creates a false sense of satisfaction and speed. People feel satisfied with posting likes on Facebook and making favorites on Twitter as if they actually accomplished something. They forget that a million likes don’t put a piece of bread into the mouth of a starving child or save it from the bullet of a sniper. Instant gratification – the most dominant sign of an immature intellect – is one of the legacies of technology, albeit unintentional. We forget that if you want results you have to work very hard at the right things; not merely click a mouse or tap a touch screen. This results in unjustified frustration and the millennial personality is born: people who are literally disinterested in the future. What can you hope for with respect to creating a legacy from those whose main interest is the next sensation?

We have a mentality that always seeks more and more excitement. Steve Irvin (Crocodile Hunter) is a good example of this and its unwitting result – taking closer and closer chances with dangerous animals until one day the inevitable happened. But the result is that today if you want to make an animal encounter show, until you can put your head into a lion’s mouth and obviously come out alive, the producers won’t even look at you. The value of doing so? Well, when you measure everything in terms of TRP ratings, that is perfectly clear, isn’t it?

The speed of response that technology enables is both a competitive advantage and a threat. Our own response to events has to be hugely faster than our parents’ needed to be because every event is instantly global news. The repercussions of the thoughtless words are also serious and, in some cases, severe. But what remains constant is that artificial intelligence is not the same as natural, and technology doesn’t replace wisdom. We still need the human intellect to interpret the event and color the picture to see the whole scene.

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11 responses to “Parenting Can’t be Outsourced”

  1. Reema says:

    What an insightful post. It has me thinking of how I need to raise my children in a society centered around and dominated by technological advances. While I don’t want to constantly police their activities (I believe this is counterproductive), I want to ensure that they use social media and technology responsibly. As you say, today’s parent must be particularly well-versed in the language of technology in order to educate and protect their children. This is a challenge we must all face head-on. Thank you for your post.

  2. Umm A says:

    Assalamualaikum, and SubhaanAllah Shaikh!

    Very well said. I have thought similar thoughts in a disorganized fashion quite a bit. It’s a constant struggle for me to avoid the compulsion of repeatedly checking my phone or email which ends up compromising my productivity, and yet am so grateful that Allah Ta’Ala has made it so easy to acquire knowledge.

    I was slightly taken aback when I read this statement though – like the nurse in the operating theatre or the butcher in the abattoir, the sight of another’s suffering leaves us untouched. I work/train in the field of critical care medicine, and yes, the visceral reaction to blood or obvious pain blunts to a degree, but without that kind of acclimatization, no one would last in the field. It also does not translate into a lack of compassion. And I also assume that a butcher is not heartless, and neither are all the many meat-loving Muslims :) I am sure the intentions were ‘nek’.

    • Susan Harr says:

      Well said. A nurse or a surgeon has to steel her/himself against feeling queasy at the sight of blood, incisions and so on, but this does not entail or imply a lack of care and compassion for the patient in his/her hands; rather, it means to rise above the self-engrossed squeamishness of the medically untrained so as to be able to do what is necessary in the interests of the patient.

  3. Sadaf says:

    Excellent, eye-opening post! Very well-articulated.
    بَارَكَ اللهُ فِيكَ Shaikh Yawar.

  4. Hibaysh says:

    “Without understanding application we have the pathetic situation of our children going to school for 15 years and coming out completely innocent of anything remotely useful. Their minds are filled with disconnected pieces of information that are, perhaps, individually useful but because they never learnt the relationships or how to use that information in real life, they lose all interest in the subject itself. In the real world they are completely incapable of survival, let alone being able to influence, guide, command or even earn a decent living. Fifteen years of schooling only puts them on the threshold of another decade of studying to qualify to stand in the line for a job.

    What never ceases to amaze me is how the insanity of it doesn’t strike anyone and we still continue to donate serious amounts of money to the system that does nothing for us. ”

    This. Haqq right there.

    Excellent article, very well put together.

  5. Wajahat says:

    MashaÁAllah. Good post. May Allah guide us to choose spouse as per the guidelines of beloved prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him), as guardianship of children starts from there. Also we should hold fast tge Book of Allah and Seerah of Prophet and fiqh of deen. Ameen

  6. Haji Abdul Kareem Nandasena says:

    Kindly permit me to use your articles at our educational forums.
    WasSalaam.
    Haji Abdul Kareem Nandasena – Sri Lanka.

  7. Abdul says:

    Barrakallah fikm…outstanding article worth everyone’s sight.

  8. mariam says:

    really good point. May I suggest some real tips to follow. Parenting tips from
    http://www.simpletips4mom.com/?cat=38
    They have some easy to follow project to deal with in the long run the problem with hardening of the heart. May Allah(swt) protect us and our children from that. ameen.
    JazakaAllah khair

  9. Susan Harr says:

    A deeply thought out article, and expressing many views that I myself hold, though I am not Muslim. As an English teacher of over forty years’ experience, and having had a wonderful, innocent childhood myself, unblighted by this barrage of shallow information and technological wizardry, I really do pity the children of today. I am of a generation which did not even have television – until I was twelve and we got one to watch the Queen’s coronation!

  10. Stardusty Psyche says:

    Brother Mirza,
    Indeed, there is no substitute for one on one parental contact. Not day care, not a babysitter, not after school programs, not a computer, not a smartphone…a human parent.

    There is no substitute.

    Unfortunately, two career families and divorce are the driving forces that lead to outsourcing.

    I would repeal so called no-fault divorce, which is another way of saying groundless divorce. If a couple has minor children they should have to stay married unless there is abusiveness in the house that makes divorce truly the lesser of evils for the child.

    Parental happiness is irrelevant. Parents seem to think they are entitled to personal happiness at the expense of their children. The law says they are. I say they are not.

    Thank you for your article.

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