Monday, 30 October 2017

The End of Authoritarian Parenting


Most people in my parent’s generation seemed to have a fairly traditional approach to parenting.  It was the same as their parents and the many generations that came before them.  It generally consisted of “do what I tell you, listen to what I say, my word is law”.  The consequences for breaking that law were not always spelled out so clearly and generally involved a spanking.

Many people look back to those days as better times, when children knew their boundaries and behaved and adults were respected, people left their doors unlocked, neighbours looked out for each other etc.  In reality though, those days are long gone.  We move at a pace when the elderly and young become a nuisance, we have the internet which along with endless information brings pornography, anonymous trolls, the disconnection between people and an inability to just switch off and fully unwind.  We have sex and sexuality in every direction and through every type of media, we have plastic surgery and crazy ideals of what we should look all like, we have mass immigration and emigration leading to people feeling threatened and a hatred of people who are different, stoked by the broadsheets – Islamophobia anyone? 

We have a recession and economic hardship, but live in a consumerist world which acts as if money is endless and we must not stop buying.  We have wars that we can watch from a distance whilst being too terrified to let our kids out of our sight – they can’t go to the local shop alone, play on the street or go to someone’s house to play unless you have learned to trust them because the bogey man is lurking on every corner as witnessed by the daily stories of sexual abuse in the news.

Depressed yet or shall I go on?  Sorry that is a bit much and there is much in the modern world to be extremely grateful for.  But my point is that is a very different world and one that it has become very hard to raise children in.  My mum used to tell us about a saying from the Punjab – “children and chicken’s raise themselves” i.e. you give birth and leave them to it.  The whole village used to keep an eye on them, you could give someone else’s child a smack for misbehaving, societal rules were clear and internalised naturally including an Islamic-ish environment which kind of just rubbed off on children as they grew up.  That’s not to say people did not work hard at parenting, but raising children was part of daily life rather than a full time industry and job in itself.

The world has changed.  Boundaries are not clear anymore and what parents say at home is not consistent with what the media tells children, which again may be different from what society or their peers tell them.  Children have to make choices about who they will listen to and which values they will adopt.  Imagine for a moment – practicing parents that encourage hijab, friends that wear the hijab but with their highlighted fringe showing, boys in the classroom that always look at the girls without hijab, beautiful girls on the TV with big hair and an internet full of the latest hairstyles.  What do they do?  What do you do as parents?

Think back also of when we were young.  I remember very clearly having to modify my behaviour and language to fit in – I behaved differently at home and differently at school.  That dichotomy of the two sides of me – docile, obedient and bookish at home, loud and foul-mouthed at school, took me many years to reconcile until I could be brave enough to be the person I was wherever I was.

To get to the point, I think that the way we parent our children has to change.  The old fashioned authoritarian way of parenting is just not going to cut it anymore.  More than ever the “them” and “us” mentality that is created by authoritarian parenting is not going to serve our families.  Our children need our help and guidance to get through this confusing world and they need us on their side.

They need to able to come to us with their questions and with their problems – how many parents know whether their children have been sexted (getting sexually-explicit texts) or whether they are getting inappropriate attention from someone.  If they have friends that have tried drugs, or if trying drugs are not even considered a big deal in their peer group.  Whether they have accidentally or even out of curiosity looked up porn on the internet.  If they know someone at school that carries a knife or even a gun (this happened in my high school class over twenty years ago, so who knows what really happens now). 

Little Lady told me of a time her primary class were left unsupervised in an ICT lesson and two of the boys decided to Google naughty words and look at the images which the rest of the class could also see.  One of the girls told the teacher and both boys lost the privilege of using the internet and were reported to their parents.  I did wonder why the school didn’t had some kind of block on this type of content, but I think it’s the kind of thing that can easily happen as kids will always be curious.

Parents often think these things can’t happen to their children, that they would know or that they have raised their children better than that.  The truth is that more children that we think are exposed to these things and at a younger age. 

They are pushed into a kind of adulthood far sooner than we were.  When I deal with my fourteen year old daughter, it feels like I am dealing with an adult much of the time.  This doesn’t mean though that they don’t need the protection, love and guidance of their parents – they are still children whether they see themselves in that way or not (as witnessed by my daughter’s inability to stop leaving a trail of mess across the house or to let go of some of her old toys).

I am not advocating to stop disciplining our children or stop expecting a certain standard of behaviour.  I just think that the way we implement this has to be different.  Because if we find our child has done something we don’t like, the old fashioned way of dealing it with it – a slap, or smack with a slipper or even the belt, might not have the same effect as it used to of correcting the behaviour.  It can put them firmly in a position where they are at odds with us.  They are no longer listening to anything that comes out of our mouth and the value system or behaviour we are trying to instil can become then ones they just want to run away from (anyone remember being beaten or lectured during Quran lessons and just hating learning Arabic as a child?).  Most importantly, when they are witnessing or involved in something inappropriate, we are the last person they feel that they can come to because they expect censure, judgement, disappointment or even punishment, but we are the ones they need help from the most.

How have I changed my parenting from the way my parents used to do things?  I explain my decisions and why I want them to do thing a certain way – they are expected to do what is asked but they know why.  They know they can negotiate or disagree with my opinion, as long as they are respectful and understand that I have the final say.  Our values are rooted not in the authority of the parents, but our faith – we do things not because I want, but because Allah (SWT) commands and we trust He knows best and commands us out of his love for us.  Most of all the children know I will listen and will not immediately judge and go mental.  I learned this from my sisters.  They would talk to me when they were growing up about things that happened to them or that they had done because they knew I would not get angry or think they were bad, but maybe take a gentler approach to steering them away from something).

That doesn’t mean I am a perfect mom, that the method works perfectly or that my children are perfectly well-behaved.  Ask my neighbours, I am sure they can hear me shouting when Gorgeous has just thrown wads of wet tissue at the bathroom ceiling, or Little Lady has left her clothes in three different rooms, or the boys have broken another door off the kitchen cabinets (that makes two now).  It does mean that we “negotiate” a lot; I have to be mindful that I am consistent in what I am saying and doing, because your kids catch you out very quickly.  It can take longer to get them to adopt a behaviour because the children might not agree with you about it (I think computer games will be one we disagree on for the next ten years or so).  But it leaves me hopeful that if they are worried about something or something happens to them that they know is wrong – they will come to me knowing I will listen and help them without over-reacting or flying off the handle.

What do you think?  Do we need to hold onto traditional discipline in modern times, are parents too soft today?  Or have you taken a different approach?






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