Wednesday 24 August 2016

Little Muslimah’s and the Teen Dream Life

I am debating whether to turn this post into a full on rant, but I think it’s sometimes more useful to be reflective than angry. We are more than half way through the holidays and the refrain of “we are bored” and “what do we do when you’re not at home” has been ongoing. I have made it clear that it is not my job to entertain anyone and that they must find things to do, although I have been taking them on day trips here and there.

The one thing that has been different this summer holiday has been the requests from Little Lady to be allowed to go out alone, to go to the park unsupervised with friends and to be allowed to hang out….

Up until LL has been so sensible and mature that I was happy to note that growing pains of teenage seemed to have passed us by completely. I was wrong, it lulled us into a false sense of security and then leapt us on fully fledged. Part of this was inevitable and it is only fair we get out share. I believe that there is a second cause also.

Earlier in the year, Little lady achieved good grades and did well in her mid-year tests. Because of this I gave her more freedom and allowed her access to the internet, which her brothers do not get freely. I think this might have been a mistake. She ended up watching back-to-back Vines and YouTube videos, all the time reassuring me that her homework was done. At the end of the year, at her parents consultation day I found her grades had dropped for both Islamic and mainstream subjects and her exam results were not as good, to the point that her teacher questioned if she should continue to study for the Alimah (scholars) course next year. I may or may not have overreacted…I did feel quite devastated. Having a child study to be an Alim (scholar) or Hafiz (Memoriser of the Quran) requires sacrifices. The least of these is financial, there is also the investment of time, attention, effort, changes to lifestyle. In addition there is the full attention on you as a parent of both those that disagree with your decision to put your child in Islamic child and those that wish you well and are considering the same for thier own child. This shouldn’t matter to me, but it is there all the same and people ask regularly about how LL is doing. So yes, I may have overreacted a little and gotten upset.

As a consequence, I have limited internet time and ask regularly what the children want to go online for. I have asked Little Lady to continue revision through the holidays and get herself up to a good level again. I have tried to focus on motivating her and reminding her why we went down the path of Alimah studies. Simultaneously I have this pulling away in a bid for more freedom. 

So is it fair to blame the internet, YouTube and Vines? No the responsibility lies ultimately with me as her parent and also with her to be respectful of my need to protect her even if she doesn’t agree with it. At the same time I think it is something we need to be aware of.

Many people won’t even be aware of what the Vine’s are. They are six-second-long looping video clips, often these are grouped together into a fast moving YouTube video. The Viners and YouTubers are a mixed bunch, but pretty much I am finding them to be focussed on gaming, beauty, life hacks for young people and humour. They seem to be self-aware, have a strong social conscious and revel in their youth and a sense of fun and play. The video’s my children like to watch (apart from the boring gamer ones my boys watch) are the ones where Viners and YouTubers play pranks on each other, gently make fun of their parents (look for “Brown Parents be Like…” videos for an example), undertake social experiments (reactions to hijab, reactions to homelessness) amongst other things. YouTubers and Viners are even the new equivalents of the boyband crushes for young girls.

In itself I don’t have a massive problem with these guys and what they do, although I do think the pranking is going too far in many cases. They seem less vacuous and more clued up than we were as kids. I think what concerns me is the subtle effect they have on children, well my kids anyway. Certainly my children have picked up the language. I heard Little Lady a few time start sentences with “Brown Parents be Like…”, before I asked her how I was a typical brown parents in any way before she stopped saying it. 

They also seem to be enamoured of the lifestyle – the fashion for instance for Van’s (from the “
Damn Daniel, back at it with the Van’s!” vine) and this strange trend of wearing very bright red trainers worn with everything. I am a bit annoyed with this, because bright red ballet pumps or heels with all black is one of my fave signature styles. Then there is the preoccupation with contouring, ombre nails, colouring your hair strange pastel or grey colours and the  re-emergence of the 90’s style, which I remember was completely hijab/modest dress unfriendly in the first place.

I think even that part doesn’t bother me. I think many of the Youtuber’s/Viners, even those that are very young, give the impression that they have a lot of freedom to travel, move around and try new things. Many of the most successful ones own their own homes and are seen spending all of their time hanging out with friends, going on road trips or attending big events. I think this creates an image of a lifestyle that becomes very attractive to young people, and this in part is causing Little Lady to bridle at the restrictions we have on her and is causing her to try and wrangle more freedom.

The Muslim equivalent of the Youtuber’s/Viners are hardly a real alternative, because the level of Islamic behaviour I am seeing is questionable and people still seem to be presenting these perfect lives, these amazing Instagram-friendly homes, and these perfect marriages or relationships which young girls aspire to. Anyone who has lived life will know that it is a learning curve, you improve through your mistakes. You build your relationships through humility, tears and forgiveness, not through banter and the perfect wedding. A life well lived is directly counter to a perfect home without any clutter. Your teens and your 20’s are your time to be confused, mess up and learn things the hard way. Your 30’s are your time to find yourself and become sure and confident. But youthfulness seems to be where it is all at and anything after 30 is about being relegated to the irrelevant Aunty brigade.

All of these things on their own are enough to deal with, but when we have tried really hard to impart religious values such as modest dress, respectful behaviour and respect for parents, it almost feels as if everything we are doing has been undermined. So after weeks of negotiating back and forth, my husband has put his foot down and said he doesn’t want her going out alone to the park or into town. There have been tears, sulks and moody silences. For once I have decided not to try and fix things and cheer people up but to give her space to think about what we have been saying.

It’s interesting how we try to manage one kind of influence (TV) and it gets replaced by another that is even more influential. I can’t see an end to this and I suspect we will be dancing around this issue for a long time, at least until she is old enough to have less supervision. One thing that comes to mind is the 
advice given at a talk I went to about establishing daily taleem in the house:

This is taking time to study Islam with your child every single day, even if for five minutes. There was encouragement for the children to be encouraged to take the lead or for everyone to get the chance to read a little. The speaker emphasised that there are so many routes of fitnah (evil) into our homes and the lives of our children, that there is no way we can stop them. Instead the daily taleem or study is the only way to counteract these. Books like Fazail-e-Amal (the Virtues of Good Deeds) and Fazail-e-Saadaqat (the Virtues of Charity) were given as good examples alongside books that described the sunnah (traditions) of our beloved Prophet (sallallahu alaihi wasallam). The purpose is to inspire the members of the family and encourage them to learn and act on what they learn, so that rather than telling the children what to do, they are concerned for their own deeds e.g. reading salah on time. In our home examples would be books on knowledge (because Little Lady is studying to become a scholar), books on the virtues of Quran (because Little Man attends hifz, or memorisation class) and books on salah (because we are trying to get Gorgeous to pray and it is an uphill struggle). 

Accordingly I have started taleem in the house again which we have stopped and started in the past. I am encouraging Little Lady to take the lead. I am very mindful that this is just the start. My husband used to say that the Sahabah (Companions of the Prophet SAW) are our role models not footballers and actors, therefore we need to dress and act like the Sahabah (RA) (hence his decision to grow a beard at that time before it became fashionable). In the same way 15 year old YouTuber’s and Viners are not our role models and I will have to work hard to convince my children of this.

Dunstable Downs Kite Festival 2016

Last year we went to the Duntable Downs Kite Festival and loved it so much that this year we invited my family to join us there.

Dunstable Downs is designated a site of Special Scientific Interest because of its chalk grasslands and sits within the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.  It has wide open spaces and the day we went along was very windy, so it seems near enough perfect to fly a kite.

We had the kite from last year and three more that my husband picked up at a boot fair for under £5 (a butterfly, a diamond shaped kite and fish).

These are some of the kites from the people who put on professional displays:

This was our butterfly kite which went up beautifully:

There was plenty to do alongside flying our kites: a small funfair for children, pony rides, a marquee full off craft stalls.  We even saw people hang-gliding in the distance.

We brought a picnic and between us put on a good lunch: bagels, biryani, chicken wraps, pizza, chickpea chaat (salad) and pakora's.

Midway through eating a gentleman came up to us and told us we definitely had the best picnic he had seen that day!  My sister-in-law asked if he would like something, but he politely declined saying he was on a diet.

We spent the rest of the afternoon flying kites, trying to spot interesting kites other poeple had brought and exploring the nearby greenery

Before we left we treated ourselves to a few bits from the stalls:

You can imagine what the boys picked:

It was such a pleasant day out and one that I would heartily reccommend.  The people at the event were very nice and we felt completely comfortable.  All the open space was so soothing and hubby and I even got the bright idea of taking a walk alone, although in the end mostof kids followed us anyway.

There was a visitor centre with toilets and a canteen as well a shop which sold kites, so the event was very family friendly.  If you would like to take your children, these events go on throughout the year at different sites, you can check if there is one near you on the Kite Calender or The Kite Society's Event Calender.

Some of the pics are courtesy of Shutterbug Sister, you can see lots more here.

How to Make Friends and Influence People - Little Man Style

Little Man is due to start High School this September. I am amazed at how this milestone in his life has come around already and I have also been a little worried about how he is going to manage. Little Lady was always tough and vocal. Gorgeous is big and loud – everyone knows if he is not happy. Little Man in between is both physically slight and quiet. Probably not that quiet, but definitely in comparison to some of the other big gobs in our house. His new secondary school is very good alhamdulillah but also very big and full of tough kids (Little Lady spent a term there before going to Islamic School). I have visions of him being bullied or becoming very lost amongst so many children.

Watching him over the holidays has really helped assuage some of my fears though. There have been a few incidents where he has handled himself really well and shown how he can get on with people. A few weeks ago at the park, a much larger boy came over to him, immediately making me think he is a bully (my bad for judging, although Little Man had told me earlier that a boy had been threatening towards him). The boy had come over to ask about a mutual friend and once they got talking I realised he was from the school LM would be attending and they knew lots of boys in common from previous years that had moved from his primary school to the secondary. I was happy knowing he had a new friend at his school, especially one that looked so tough.

Yesterday on the way home from my office, we took the kids to the park. Little Man brought something called Fun Snaps with him. They are little twists of white paper with something like gun powder in them. You throw them on the floor and they make a loud bang. They are banned inside my house, because they also make a big mess. LM threw one on the floor and a little kid nearby freaked out – he was in awe because he had never seen such a thing. So LM explained what they were and poured him out a handful only for the boy to go into meltdown, jumping up and down, giving us all the thumbs up and yelling excitedly “You are my best friend!” You are my best friend!” This prompted LM to go back and give him the whole box. We could see him as we left, surrounded by his friends, testing out his snaps.

The little boy’s reaction made my day. I love people who are easily pleased or who are quick to show happiness or appreciation. But what made me happier was how LM had behaved and how easily he won this boy over. It reminded me of times he had done it before in different ways and it made me feel a lot easier about his move from being a big fish in a little pond at primary to being the little fish in a big lake at secondary