A few days ago I wrote about some issues I had observed among children and young people with regard to their behavior, beliefs and the general direction their life was headed in. My aim is to flag some pertinent points and articulate this issue as a complex one that has many facets and many factors that contribute to it. The first and most significant factor is: Parents!

The first thing that needs to be considered in the behavior of children, is the behavior of parents. This may seem odd or surprising at first, but this is not a simplistic statement. If we take a good, hard look at ourselves and do not shy away from self-critique, we will realize that our children are our mirrors. In almost all respects, children from a very young age, learn to emulate parents and learn from them. If a mother smiles at her baby, she smiles back. If a toddler sees his father talking in a certain tone, he copies it without even understanding the meaning. As children grow up, they recognize some behavior as normal, which is what we, as parents, feed them. This normalcy may or may not be the standard in the wider society, and may or may not be constructive for their future life. It is therefore very important that as adults we identify what behavior we want our children to learn as normal, how we want their surroundings to be and how we can shape their future in accordance with our own beliefs and values.

For example, if we want our children to be productive in life and not waste precious time aimlessly surfing the internet, we need to become their models first. If we spend countless hours in the same activity we want our children to avoid, it is never going to happen. It is common to hear parents complain that their children do not speak to them but are instead only using their mobiles, talking or texting. However, digging just below the surface will reveal that such parents have cultivated that kind of atmosphere in their home. Communication between parents and children and even between parents, is minimal. All family members have their own phones, usually the latest and most expensive versions. The phone has become a central feature of the home, and even a necessary link to the world; even a few minutes without it makes people jittery and restless. Take away the phone or disconnect the internet and people start looking mournful, as if someone close to them has died. No wonder then that children are losing the art of communication- because parents have lost the art of communication.

The examples are endless. If you want children to respect you, then show respect to your elders. If you want them to converse with you, turn off the television, phones, and the internet and stop making these your props in life and reconnect with your children and spouse. If you want to inculcate knowledge about Islam, solid beliefs about right and wrong, and bring up a family the way that prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him) taught us to do, then spend time to gain the knowledge which you can pass on to your children. Do not expect them to become ideal citizens, good Muslims, obedient children, productive and successful individuals, if you cannot exemplify these qualities yourself.

Personally, in our family we have taken conscious steps to minimize anything that disturbs the way we want to mould our children. We chose not to have cable television, we do not have music in the house, phones are only used to make calls, we speak to each other and listen to each other, our habit is to communicate, we are attuned to each other’s emotions, joys and stresses; we discuss all types of matter- worldly, academic, religious and anything else that crops up. We relate all important discussions to Islam and use examples from the sunnah to show our children what kindness and good behavior are; we set expectations in line with values grounded in Islam,  we tell stories from the history of prophets, and the children regularly quiz us about facts from Islam, science, history and various subjects that they research.

Over the years our parenting style has been called many uncomplimentary things by those who know us. We have been called old-fashioned, odd and austere. However, our children have thrived on the soil of our upbringing. They are happy, vocal, expressive, caring, respectful, obedient,  intelligent, interactive, enthusiastic, inquisitive, creative, well-adjusted, level-headed, reasonable, practical, and have an insatiable appetite for learning. And the best part is that the foundation of their life is Islam, and they are gearing up for a life of success in the material sense and the Islamic sense. So we are content with being old-fashioned, odd and austere!

For creating a close, loving, warm and caring family, we have never needed anything that required a phone or hours of surfing the internet. The crux of the matter is this: practise what you preach. It takes a lot of determination, hard work and commitment but the reward of securing success for your family in this life and the afterlife, cannot come easily.