Tackling Teenagehood

teenagers

Raising teenagers is a herculean task. Raising teenagers in the West is even more wrought with obstacles. Or so I thought, until I realized that I was approaching my duty with a wrong frame of mind. I read the following. It is a letter written by Ali (rtam) to his son. It exemplified my feelings and set me thinking about approaching parenting from a different angle. Ali (rtam) wrote:

“I found you a part of myself; rather, I found you my whole, so much that if anything befell you, it was as though it befell me, and if death came to you, it was as though it came to me. Consequently, your affairs meant to me as my own matters would mean to me. So I have written this piece of advice as an instrument of help…

Certainly, the heart of a young man is like an uncultivated land. It accepts whatever is strewn on it. So I hastened to mold you properly, before your heart hardens up and your mind gets occupied…”

My task was clear. This is what I need to do:

  1. What I should not do. I wasn’t supposed to stop my son from logging into Facebook, or from tweeting all afternoon, or from asking silly questions that made no sense. My actual task was to instill in him three things. Prophet Muhammad (sa) said: “The best gift to children from parents is their correct training.” (Tirmidhi) Once these things became second nature, he would monitor himself, and my job would be done. We all forget that when we ourselves were teenagers, we used to have an insufferable attitude: “I can do whatever I want, because I’m an adult.”
  1. The meaning of Abd-Allah should be clear to your teenager. “The most beloved of your names to Allah are ‘Abd-Allah and ‘Abdur-Rahman.” (Muslim) Iman is a wavering thing. Sometimes it is strong, while at other times it becomes weak. Do not be hard on your teenager; he will follow his peer group, which does not mean he is ‘bad’. It only means that he needs a direction. Give him an alternate. Make him think it is his choice.

I met a young high school girl at the Masjid. She always dressed decently and wore Hijab. It’s been a year since we met, and I have never seen her in skinny jeans, t-shirts or tight revealing clothes. I asked her what her parents did that made her so confident. She said they gave me a choice: either I practice Hijab correctly or I don’t do it at all. “What if you had chosen not to wear Hijab?” I asked. “Actually, I knew that Allah (swt) commands women to cover their beauty, so the choice was obeying Allah (swt) or disobeying Him.” I was stunned… so simple. Conclusion: instill in your teenager the love of Allah (swt), His Prophets (as) and His Taqwa. Your child will choose the correct path by himself.

  1. Teach your child the Quran. You would say that every parent does it. What’s so great about this piece of advice? Actually, teach your child the Quran, in terms of the stories and what they signify: the commandments, the recitation and memorization, the meaning and depth of the message, and the philosophy. This will elevate your child’s intellect. He will no longer accept anything at face value, unless he double checks and verifies it against the Quran and the Sunnah. It will inculcate in him Islamic morals, values and manners. Most importantly, your child will look beyond his daily routine and ponder over the reason for his existence, his real aim in life.
  1. Just don’t talk the talk, but walk the walk. The single most important factor is you as a role model. If you lie, your child will know it is acceptable. If you indulge in questionable behaviour, your child will find the door open. One day, my daughter started yelling at her younger sister for not wiping the toilet sink clean after herself. I asked her to calm down. She looked at me and said: “But Mama, you always use that tone.” I was taken aback! Now, we, as a family, have decided to get rid of our habit of yelling at each other. Accept your vices, as we are not perfect, and work on them with your kids. They will learn that life is about continuous striving to please Allah (swt).
  1. Pray for your children. Always, everywhere and in everything they do. We can only guide. Allah (swt) is the One, Who will accept their struggle.

Infusing the Personality of the Prophet (sa) into Your Children

personality

A myriad of challenges surround parents in the contemporary world, not to mention a number of surrogate parents that have taken over in the form of cell phones, television, ipads and other gadgets and gizmos. At times, parents inclined towards the Deen wonder how to infuse the personality of Prophet Muhammad (sa) into their children. After all, Allah (swt) has mentioned: “And indeed, you are of a great moral character.” (Al-Qalam 68:4)

There are basically two types of personalities: type A and type B. Others fall somewhere in between. Mostly, the personalities of both parents determine which personality type becomes characteristic of the child.

Type A parents

  • They express anger and irritation, whenever they have to stand in a queue for more than 15 minutes.
  • It’s hard for them to find time to relax or let themselves go during the day.
  • They express irritation or annoyance, when someone speaks too slowly.
  • They work better under pressure or when meeting deadlines.
  • They take charge of a group, in order to get things moving.
  • They do things quickly, even if they have ample time.
  • They interrupt what people are saying, if they think they are wrong.
  • They are picky and note minute details.
  • They get annoyed at those who don’t work as hard as they do.
  • They interrupt others’ conversation in order to speed things up.

Type A children

  • They are achievers.
  • They try hard to win at sports or games, plus be good in academics, too.
  • When they lose a game or do not stand first in class, they get angry at themselves or others.
  • They get bored easily.
  • They find there aren’t enough things to do during the day.

Type A parents raise type A children. Because these parents are intensely competitive and achievement-oriented, they drive their kids to be the same. These parents are aggressive, driven and impatient. They have a distorted sense of time urgency. Everything is urgent and cannot be postponed. They move rapidly and frequently. They talk fast and listen impatiently. Hence, their children learn this behaviour from them. They become achievers in all areas, but they end up damaging their health and relationships with others.

Now, let’s analyze type B.

Type B parents

  • They are patient and adapt to trying circumstances.
  • They have a routine that suits them and allows them to relax.
  • They do not rush: either their conversations or their tasks. They take things slowly.
  • They do not interrupt what people are saying, if they think they are wrong.
  • They do not pick at every minute detail.
  • They are not intensely competitive.
  • They do not have any sense of time urgency.

Type B children

  • They are not ‘achievers’ in the sense that they will not stand first in class or win every game, but they foster quality relationships and enjoy better health.
  • They do not get bored.
  • They are relaxed and unhurried.
  • They are non-aggressive and non-competitive.

Now, the question is, how do we reconcile the two types, in order to ensure that the personality of our children resembles at least to some degree that of the Prophet (sa)? One way to do that is to have baseline type B with some characteristics of type A. For instance, kids are encouraged to do their best and leave the rest to Allah (swt). A complete inclination towards type B would mean that parents do not encourage their child to make the extra effort, and since the child is non-competitive, he or she does not have the urge to push himself or herself forward. However, while the parents encourage and motivate, they also clarify that failure is to find out one more way that will not work. Hence, there is no room for the child to be lazy and lethargic; instead, the child becomes proactive with a sense that he or she will not always succeed in what he or she is doing.

Baseline type B with type A characteristics also means having a strong sense of direction. For such individuals and their children, success would not result from speed or trying to cram in as many tasks as possible in the shortest possible time. It would come from being focused, prioritizing the tasks and then performing them in accordance with their urgency.

Here are some incidents from the life of the Prophet (sa) to illustrate how his personality was the right blend of type B with type A, as the situation demanded.

Aisha (rtaf) has narrated: “The Prophet (sa) took a child in his lap for Tahnik (i.e., he chewed a date in his mouth and put its juice in the mouth of the child). The child urinated on him, so he asked for water and poured it over the place of the urine.” (Bukhari) Note the reaction of the Prophet (sa). He did not rebuke the child or his parents. He did not get angry or irritated. He simply washed off the urine.

On the other hand, he did get angry, when the commands of Allah (swt) were disobeyed. Consider the following incidents. It was narrated from Abdullah bin Amr (rtam) that he came to the Prophet (sa), wearing two garments dyed with safflower. The Prophet (sa) got angry and said: “Go and take them off.” He said: “Where should I throw them, O Messenger of Allah?” He said: “In the fire.” (An-Nasai)

Narrated Ali bin Abi Talib (rtam): “The Prophet (sa) gave me a silk suit. I went out wearing it, but seeing the signs of anger on his face, I tore it and distributed it among my women-folk.” (Bukhari)

The Prophet (sa) got angry in the aforementioned two hadiths because the colour and the fabric used are meant to be the fashions of the disbelieving men. However, they are permitted for Muslim women.

To infuse children with the personality of the Prophet (sa), it is imperative for the parents to do the following:

  • Self-analyze and keep correcting your own behaviour. If you are success-oriented, you cannot blame your child, if he or she is one. If you react negatively upon every negative behaviour, accept that your child will do the same.
  • Choose carefully what to react strongly on. You cannot pick a battle with a child every time he or she does something you deem unacceptable.
  • Teach them to be true achievers in the hereafter as obtaining Jannah is the greatest success. In this world, you win some, you lose some. There is no need to grieve over the past or be anxious about the future in this temporary world.
  • If you feel you have already instilled the win-all personality in your child, it might be a good idea to let them play games with younger siblings and encourage them to let the little ones win at times. This would be a good time to demonstrate how to accept others’ victory with good grace.
  • Teach your kids the fact that when they lose or fail at something in spite of their best effort, it is Allah’s (swt) Qadr (decree) at work. Give them an example of Sulah-e-Hudaibiya that apparently was a loss but was termed as Fatah-e-Mubeen (victory).

So what type of a child are you raising?

Heart-to-Heart on the Highway

Highway

Every morning, you can see children gaping vacuously at the passing landscape, as they travel to school. One wonders if this routine interval can be transformed into a healthy and productive period.  Following is a list of five noteworthy areas for conversation, which can be talked about along the way.

  1. The signs of Allah (swt). Contemplation, in reality, is a habit that parents can help form in their children. A scurrying squirrel, changing weathers and the beautiful symmetry of nature are all prompts for initiating insightful discussions about the Creator and His attributes. This observation, as mentioned in Quran, is a quality of true believers and develops profound love and awe for our Creator. Parents or teachers can also point to the attributes of Allah (swt), as they are being reflected in the surroundings, for example, a close encounter with an accident reminds of the attribute Al-Muhaymin (The Protector and The Overseer).
  2. Bounties and blessings. Point to the crumbling slums, beggars looking cravingly at food and little children rummaging in the garbage and have kids count the blessings that Allah (swt) has bestowed upon them. Make them notice those less privileged and teach them to be grateful for all that they have. Important structures and landmarks can be observed, too. Ask them who is the Creator of these edifices? Is it the architect or Allah (swt)? Isn’t it true that intelligence and ideas are all blessings from our Lord (swt), the Ultimate and Flawless Creator? He inspires people to build; they, in turn, invent and create things.
  3. School and family. This may be an apt time to listen to your child without interfering, or disrespecting his/her thoughts. Suspend your own judgement. Let him/her talk. Observe intently his thoughts and beliefs. Reviewing the times tables, solving problems concerning friends and teachers and discussing ideal school behaviour can also be done while driving to school. Sibling rivalries and other school and family related issues can be spoken about as well.
  4. History and current affairs. A severed nation is cut off from its past. Our curriculum does not do justice to Islamic history and even history in general. Hence, parents must supplement children in this field. Use these valuable minutes to revise concise lessons from history through audio lectures or passages from books. Discuss the glorious past of the Muslims and ponder over the current affairs; think about how to gain what we have lost. Go over the daily news, the situation of our country and Ummah, and talk about how they can contribute. Remember, kids will think and talk big, if they’re taught how to, by actively engaging them.
  5. Memorizing. Many a children have memorized portions from the Quran that were played in their cars. When not in a mood to chatter, put on recordings of short Quranic Surahs, Duas and Azkar (words of remembrance), and automatically they’ll be transmitted to the tongues of your young ones. Even if they don’t reproduce, it is all going in and settling in their minds. If practiced daily, no doubt, children and even parents will have memorized large portions of the Quran by the time they’re out of school!

Don’t undervalue the importance of time. Take advantage of every minute that you have to raise the leaders that you are entrusted with.