Parenting in the Information Age
Interview with Sh. Ali Sulieman Ali
Sh. Ali Sulieman Ali is member of ICNA Shariah Council and Director of Muslim Family Services, an ICNA Relief Project
Q Online networking, such as Facebook and Twitter, has caught on like wildfire. About how old children should be before allowing them to create accounts on these networks and whether they should be monitored?
A Sh. Ali: First and foremost, Allah holds us responsible to protect ourselves and our families from actions that may divert us to the Hellfire. Therefore, anything that may lead someone to such actions that weaken their Iman should be guarded from and prevented. In current times, technology has become an integral part of society and one of the primary sources for obtaining knowledge. This technology and information superhighway has caught the attention and curiosity of these young minds. It is a critical fact to know that children differ among each other in terms of their intellect, obedience to elders, and the traditions of their home. Therefore, their response to the internet will also vary. However, it is my personal opinion that we can allow children to establish their presence on the internet at the age of 12 or 13 at the earliest. Anything prior to this may be premature for them. We can make this available to them with guidance on using it responsibly and relay that they have been entrusted with this tool. If they adhere to their guidelines, we should reward them with our trust. However, if they cross the boundaries, they should be admonished along with appropriate punishment to help them learn the value of trust and responsibility in what can be a dangerous environment.
Q Today, young Muslims often leave home to dorm at schools or utilize study abroad programs where they are away from the supervision of their parents. This allows them easier access to the dangers and pitfalls of the ills of society. Yet, hindering them from this may cause problems. How can Muslim parents develop a learning environment for their children while at the same time protect them from harm?
A Sh. Ali: Every child or human being goes through at least two different levels of learning. The first stage is the stage of imitation when the child is absorbing whatever information or knowledge that you provide. If you take him/her to the masjid for prayers, he/she will go with you and do as you do. The second stage is the stage of “why”. They begin to start thinking and questioning the knowledge that you are presenting, no longer taking it with quiet acceptance. This is a very critical stage and the longest of every child’s life. He/she is no longer a child and wants to know the “why” of everything he or she is told to do or practice. At this stage, if we fail to direct them and teach the essentials, we may mislead them either temporarily or permanently. Hence, this is where our responsibility to respond is critical. As Muslim parents, we have to create an educational environment for them where it is inclusive of talented and educated individuals to help them in developing their talents and to remind them that they represent the future of Muslims in this part of the world.
One really important cornerstone of marriage and any relationship is a sense of gratitude to the Creator for the bond that we have
There is wisdom in the statement that it takes a whole village to raise a child. Jewish communities have already adapted this as part of their own society where they bring their children to schools and religious communities, introducing them to talented and educated individuals, such as psychologists, educators, administrators, etc. We have to create a similar environment for our kids in our own communities and bring in the best educators, psychologists, etc. that we feel will help guide and educate our children. Again, in my personal opinion, I would allow my children to travel or explore his/her world outside the home, but not before the age of 17. At the age of 17, they have developed some sort of foundation and maturity. Secondly, I would only allow this as long as I believe that they are in the company of good people and not those who would cause them to deviate into a more detrimental path. With a proper foundation and good companions, we as parents will not have to worry as much as to what choices and types of lives they will lead.
Q Parents are torn between full-time Islamic schools versus part-time Islamic education. Particularly with teenagers, how can we find a harmonious balance of exposing them to the Western world as well as proper Islamic culture?
A Sh. Ali: Every Muslim parent should raise their children based upon Islamic principles. A strong method for pursuing this is to establish them in Islamic schools at least up to the eighth grade. By this age, 13 or 14 years old, they will have learned the Islamic principles, basic elements of the faith, and developed an ability to know and read the Quran. They will have a set of Islamic values instilled in them that they can utilize later in life as they pursue their goals. I know there are different opinions in placing them in Islamic schools for high school years as well, but a minimum for eighth grade is essential. After that, they can pursue different high schools to continue their education. However, if they do, it is important to keep them connected with their Muslim identity and not to isolate them from the rest of the world.
Regardless of the life that they pursue, they must know that they are Muslims, and it is part of their core selves. It is important for them to get involved in local Muslim organizations and supplement their worldly education with part-time Islamic activities in the evening or on weekends so that they do not become alienated from their core identity as Muslims. The culture here is definitely different, especially when being raised by immigrant parents. They are then a combination of an American/Western as well as Muslim and also tied to ethnicity; hence, it can be a real challenge for our children to live with this unique mix of identities. We have to understand where they are coming from and the experiences they are going through, being gentle and kind in guiding them. We have to work towards a difficult goal of developing them into educated and intellectually- minded Muslim individuals.
Q What kind of communication techniques can Muslim parents implement with their children of pre-teen and teenage years in order to stay engaged with them and their personal lives?
A Sh. Ali: As parents, we have to establish and maintain a meaningful connection with our children and their lives. It is important for parents to get to know and become friends with the parents of their children’s friends. They should attend and participate in their school activities and watch them in their extracurricular activities. The parents’ role in their lives should not be just in their homes, but in their lives externally. The ways the older generation was brought up is different from the ways to bring up the new generation. For the first seven years, work on disciplining the child. From 7-14 years, teach them about values and life, and then after that, become their friends and guide them as associates rather than parents. Remind them of the character of the Prophet (pbuh) and tell them the importance of discipline in Islam. Having good character is an integral part of a human being no matter where they go in life. A person’s character is the first quality through which a person’s ability is measured.
Prevent them from engaging in what is prohibited in this country by bringing them to workshops where the dangers of drugs, alcohol, etc. are discussed. Implement in them good values and talk with them on a regular basis so that you may well prepare them for the experiences they may encounter later in life.
About the author
Ayeshah Ali is the assistant editor of The Message magazine.