How-to guide: Ensuring emotionally healthy development in our youth (part 2)
The first part I wrote (which can be found here) was largely focussed on dissecting the media and entertainment world, and taking a closer look at the effects such industries are having on the innocence of the youth. In this second part, I’d like to explore some ideas that can help parents, carers and families foster emotionally healthy development in young people.
“Verily, the heart of a youth is like an uncultivated piece of land – it shall accept what is planted on it” – Ali ibn Abi Talib
The above saying is enough to understand how vital and sensitive the early years and adolescent period of a person’s life are. Not only will they shape their morals and behaviour, but will no doubt have an impact on future generations too. It is therefore paramount that parents, carers and communities do their utmost best to nourish children with a moral and wholesome upbringing. In fact, the blessed Prophet (s) has said:
“A child is a master for seven years, then a servant for seven years and then a minister for seven years”.
The three phases suggest there is a key balance to be reached at critical times in a youngster’s life, whereby they are afforded (sensible) freedoms to explore, develop and blossom in character. Many infer that mischievousness during this phase is a positive thing, as it allows them to perhaps exhaust this particular trait. This is then followed by a second segment whereby the child learns duty, discipline and manners. This second phase may well be the crucial phase of developing the sense of responsibility and the time when parents need to be most tactful and involved. Finally, the stage of friendship – where the relationship shifts to a more open, relaxed and discursive nature.
Whilst I am not a child therapist, nor a social worker, my interactions with children as a secondary school teacher, and especially observations of Muslim children, has led me to believe there are practical and critical actions parents, carers and communities can carry out to garner better child development.
1. Monitoring and censoring
I’m sure the youth won’t thank me for this suggestion, however it is vital for parents to be mindful and aware of what children are interacting with via the internet, TV and their phones. As discussed in the previous article, the influx in sex-filled TV programmes and films, together with a barrage of alcohol and drug abuse scenes, topped off with vast amounts of violence make times very challenging for both adults and children.
2. Friendship groups
Again, this may fall within the parameter of censoring, but the impact of friends is immeasurable. Peer pressure is an inevitability, and whether it is a dare to do something silly, to try a cigarette for the first time, or something more serious, it is something all children will experience. The key however, is to be able to get to a stage whereby you can trust the friends your child hangs out with. This usually requires interaction with the friend circle, so perhaps taking a few of them to the cinema or the park – or even just meeting up with their parents is a good starting point.
3. Taking an active interest
A friend of mine, who is blessed to have three children, advised me that no matter what your child’s interest is, you need to make sure that you give up time in the week to encourage him/her, and get involved with whatever it is, be it football, comic books, cooking, arts and crafts, etc. There is nothing more important to a child than to bond with a parent whilst doing something they enjoy the most. In addition to this, being interested in your child’s education and academic progress is so crucial (though they may eventually get stroppy and be a typical teenager about this).
Closely linked to item three, it is crucial to open up doors of dialogue and conversation. Children need to feel important and safe to be able to discuss things with parents. This could be as base as their opinions on social or political issues, or more sensitive issues such as drugs, sex and relationships. Even if your child didn’t completely agree with you, or you were uncomfortable in discussing it, surely the fact that they are discussing it with you, and not taking the views of a TV of music celebrity, is what’s important? In terms of religious and spiritual development, there are so many occasions to have such conversations; after prayers, on the way back from the mosque or madrassah, on the way to family etc. These are key opportunities to not just teach, but to listen and discuss with children so they are granted an environment in which they can question, discuss and decipher the beauty of Islam, and perhaps defend their beliefs when questioned. Ultimately the conviction in their faith will also lead to them being able to withstand the pressures of society when it comes to making difficult social decisions too.
Put it this way – your child will need to develop a relationship of trust and dialogue with an elder person at some point in their lives. Wouldn’t you prefer it was you?
5. Family structure
Unfortunately, time and time again children who are lucky to have two parents, as well as siblings, are still deprived of a loving and supportive family structure. In some cases mothers who are extremely career driven neglect their pivotal role in the nurturing of their children. That is not to say women can or should not work, but that their role as an active mother is irreplaceable in a child’s life. Furthermore, fathers who are led by anger more than anything else, create an environment of tension and fear, such that their children either go to extreme lengths to rebel or manifest and replicate the same traits in their childhood. These are just two situations that I have witnessed first-hand that have caused damage within a child’s upbringing, but of course there are a vast array of similar situations that can occur. One cannot overestimate the value of a loving, caring and – yes – present family nucleus in a young person’s life.
6. The community
The community can play a huge role in helping to guide, encourage and motivate youth to fulfil their potential in life. They don’t need to just be in places that help them read Quran, pray and be taught rules – though of course these elements of religion, when supported by discussion, ration and dialogue, are the cornerstones of faith, and spiritual and moral development. However, community leaders need to realise that they are competing for the youth’s time, and competing against other forms of leisure and entertainment such as nightclubs, gang culture, TV, music and all the other activities available to adolescents in the modern world. This is a massive problem that communities have struggled with for a long time, and is something that needs revolutionising if we want community centres to be effective in offering a safe and attractive alternative for youngsters.
Our community centres will do well therefore to provide safe and halal places of entertainment, where issues of concern can be ventilated and dealt with by youth workers.
“And the right of your child is that you should know that he is from you and he will be ascribed to you in this world due to both his good deeds and his evil deeds. And you are responsible for what has been entrusted to you in teaching him good conduct, and guiding him toward his Lord and helping him to obey Him on your behalf and for himself. Then you will be rewarded for so doing, and you will be punished. Then regarding his affairs, act like one who will be proud of bringing him up in this world, and one who is excused by his Lord for what is between you and him for taking good care of him, and the good results you achieved. And there is no power but in God.” – A Treatise of Rights; The Right of the Child (Ali ibn Hussain as-Sajjad)
Do not be fooled into thinking there is a way to avoid children making mistakes, wrong decisions, sinning or being exposed to the very things you and I detest and find unpalatable. However, we have a responsibility to help them make free decisions, and decisions based on intellect and morals, and hopefully more often than not, make the right decision. Moreover, to avoid generations making the same mistakes, and making these mistakes earlier and more frequently, we must play a much more active role when it comes to the upbringing of our children.
From what I’ve seen, by far the biggest indicator of child behaviour is the strength of the parental relationship.
And verily God is the all-Knowing.