Khaleej-Times Interview

With Dr. Mohamed R Beshir

Co-Author of Muslim Teens

 

Could you tell me a bit about yourself and career?

I was born in Egypt and finished my undergraduate degree in Electrical Engineering from Alexandria University in 1970. I worked as a teaching assistant and then as an assistant professor after completing my Masters degree in the same university. I moved to Canada to finish my PhD in the area of telecommunications in 1973, and my wife joined me a year later. After finishing my degree, I joined a large telecommunications firm as a research associate in 1978. I worked with the same firm in various telecommunications positions, the last of which was a Senior Network Analyst. I retired from this firm at the end of 2010. We have four children, all born and raised in Canada, and we currently have eight grand children.

My passion for the area of parenting and family matters started with the birth of our first child. Noticing the unacceptable behaviour of many of the children in our community, particularly teens, was very alarming for my wife and I. At that point, we made a deliberate decision and commitment to do our best to make sure that our children would grow up in Canada as strong confident Muslims, both proud of their identity as well as positively contributing to their society. With my wife’s professional knowledge as a physician and her strong background in child psychology and my in-depth Islamic knowledge, we started our quest for excellence in parenting. It was neither a simple journey, nor an easy one. I dug deeper and deeper into the teachings of Prophet Muhammad SAAW and his companions’ guidance related to family matters. We extracted many wonderful principles to guide us on our quest for excellence in parenting. We also studied many books, took numerous courses, and travelled to conventions and conferences trying to meet successful parents and learn from their experiences. We undertook a self-search process to find out our weaknesses and strengths in the area of parenting, and came up with a plan to get rid of our shortcomings and enhance our strengths. We started putting what we learned into practice and we saw amazing results. The next stage was to share our experiences with our community. This was done first by delivering lectures and conducting workshops within our local community, but soon we were receiving invitations from many Muslim communities all over the world to conduct our parenting workshops. This gave us an opportunity to observe the different problems of children in various parts of the world, and unlimited access to parents’ concerns, which proved to be very useful in building our expertise in the area. At this point, we decided to document our experiences to make them available to a larger audience. Our first book, entitled “Meeting the Challenge of Parenting in the West: An Islamic Perspective”, was published in 1998 and became a best seller in no time. Currently, we have over 10 books on parenting and family matters, 4 of them are best sellers and many have been translated to many languages including Arabic. Please see the attached word document for the reviews of some of our books as they appear on amazon.com.

 

What prompted you to write this book and what has the response been?  

As indicated above, before writing “Muslim Teens”, we wrote our first book entitled “Meeting the Challenge of Parenting in the West: An Islamic Perspective.” Many communities invited us to speak about the book and to conduct parenting workshops. As indicated in the introduction of “Muslim Teens”, we have learned a lot from these workshops and gained tremendous experience related to teens’ problems through discussing and interacting with parents. It was very clear from these discussions that the most important issue and concern parents have in North America, without a doubt, is raising teens in a western culture. Parents are concerned about how to take good care of their children to ensure that they are non-troubled teens and contributing individuals to society and humanity in general. That is what triggered us to write Muslim Teens.

Alhamdulellah, the response has been great. Muslim Teens has been translated to many languages. Many editions have been reprinted, and it is one of our 4 best sellers on family matters in North America. We’ve conducted many successful workshops to various communities all over the world based on the book material.

 

What is the first advice you would give parents of Muslim teenagers?

The first advice I would give parents of Muslim teenagers is to parent their teens based on knowledge. Parents should equip themselves with the following areas of knowledge to succeed in parenting their teens:

  • Knowledge of the developmental stages of their teens and their characteristics
  • Knowledge of their teens’ environment
  • Knowledge of Islamic parenting skills. This is a topic with many different areas, but those that are most relevant to the parenting of teens are the following:
    • linking your children to Allah subhannahu wa ta’ala
    • being an approachable parent
    • using effective communication and dialoguing
    • controlling your temper and not acting out of frustration, and
    • being consistent

What is most challenging about bringing up teens?

There are many challenges in bringing up teens: peer pressure, norms of popular teen culture, risks surrounding this age group in modern society such as drugs, parties, gangs, etc. However, by far the most challenging aspect in parenting teens is the willingness of parents themselves to change and use more effective and successful parenting techniques with their teens. Many parents repeat certain patterns that were used with them when they were young without testing their validity for the time and new environment. Ali Ibn Aby Taleb said:

 

ربوا أولادكم على غير ما تربيتم عليه فإنهم خلقوا لزمان غير زمانكم

 

“Raise your children using ways different from the ways used with you, because they were created for different times”

Imagine this being said 14 centuries ago when the rate of change was very slow; how about now when things are changing so fast? I think parents should learn to adapt to new and more effective ways of tarbiyah. It is a huge mistake for parents to just follow their own cultural practices without testing and ensuring that these practices are based on Islamic principles and would work in their new environment and time.

 

Do you think parents are distracted by increasing life stress? Is there less time these days for them to have important conversations with their kids?

There is no doubt that nowadays parents are under many pressures and distractions which leave them stressed and end up affecting their relationships with their teens. Among these distractions are day-to-day pressures and the lack of a larger support system. With the modern lifestyle, there is less focus on family time and on building meaningful relationships with extended family, so the support of aunts, uncles, and grandparents is gone and everything seems to fall on the mother and father’s shoulders.

However, even though it seems like there’s more stress and less time, a lot of it comes down to time management and prioritization. Parents need to make a point of keeping their kids as their top priority in their day-to-day time commitments, as opposed to spending their time on things that are actually luxuries. For example, some families are more focused on keeping the house in perfect shape and having a fresh meal or eating out for dinner every night, but they have no time to talk with their children or share in common activities.

 

Could you recall any interesting incident in your work that you’d give as an example in teen parenting?

There is a fairly common problem we’ve seen over and over when it comes to parenting teens, and it’s the problem of the “second identity”. Parents come to us in shock, having discovered that their children are involved in all sorts of activities they don’t approve of, such as drinking, dating, or drugs, and that it was happening right under their noses but they had no idea.

What’s tended to happen in these cases is that the parents have underestimated how much effort is required with their kids, and so they have focused their time and energy on other areas, whether it be work, community involvement, etc. So, they keep busy elsewhere and come home exhausted, and even when they’re home, they’re not really interacting with their kids or involved in their lives. As a result, the kids have no one to guide them, and no oversight or follow up. It becomes very easy for them to “trick” their parents, saying they’re going to library for example, and instead going out to a party, or getting involved in drugs.

The parents don’t realize it, but they’ve put so much attention on other things that their family life is getting neglected and suffering the consequences. If they were paying a bit more attention, they’d be able to tell that their teens were getting caught up with the wrong crowd, but usually, by the time they notice the teens are in a very bad state. This absent parenting is especially common with fathers, who often think that their job is outside of the house, and leave all the work of actual parenting to the mothers, who can’t do it alone. As a result, it’s often the teenage boys who suffer the greatest consequences.

Even if parents are aware of what their children are doing, many parents make the mistake of simply stating that their teens’ behaviour is wrong and giving orders, and think this will be enough to stop the behaviour. However, teens in modern society have come to challenge and question every basic principle and value, even those that the older generation took for granted. Therefore, parents have to realize that changing their teens’ behaviour will involve a great deal of effort and closeness. There is a need for the teens and their parents to have a strong, open relationship in order for them to be receptive to their parents’ opinions or advice.

 

How do parents make the most of their time when talking to their kids about certain topics?

The best advice we can give on this front is for parents to make a point of being approachable, overall. If their kids see them as people who are generally reasonable, non-judgemental, and approachable, then the children will be a lot more likely to hear what they have to say on all topics, and even to come to them for advice instead of seeking it elsewhere.

When it comes to certain topics that parents want to raise with their kids, it’s important to frame the conversation in a positive way, not accusingly. Also, parents should not approach the conversation with preconceptions about how it’s going to go, but really stay open to listening to what their children are telling them or asking them. Good communication is key, and this means active listening.

Are parents afraid of setting rules because they think none of the other parents are doing it?

One of the main sources of negative parental behaviour is peer pressure among adults themselves. Many parents do certain things, or refuse to do them, with their teens for no logical reason. When you dig deep to find out why, usually the answer is that another family does it this way, and they don’t want to be seen as “less”. For example, there are families who will buy their teen a car as soon as he/she gets his/her driving permit. Then you find other parents in the community doing the same thing out of the need to “keep up”, which is madness. No one should be buying their teen a car because the neighbours did it. These decisions should be made based on the actual need or situation of the family in question.

Also, parents may not set rules because they don’t want to be the “mean” ones. Some examples are setting curfews, or even monitoring who your kids are spending their time with. Quite a few parents don’t like the kind of friends their kids have, and are afraid of their negative influence, but they don’t want to deal with having their kids be unhappy or lose friends in the short term, so they say nothing. What they don’t realize is that they are sacrificing their kids’ characters in the long term to avoid a fairly small problem right then.

 

What is the difference between today’s generation of teens and their parents (in terms of relationships) than the earlier generation?

There are quite a few differences when you compare today’s generation of teens with their parents’ generation. Specifically, when it comes to relationships, because of the extended family structure, there were many more multigenerational relationships. Young children, teens, adults, and the elderly all used to interact much more frequently. Now, it’s very typical for each generation to spend almost all of their time with others their own age.  As a result, the youth don’t naturally get exposed to the ideas and behaviours of those older than them. They have less respect for them and their own environment seems as though it’s the whole world.

Some of the other differences are that this generation is also much more exposed to what’s happening around the world and in other cultures. They don’t get their news from their families and their parents are really not able to filter what information they have access to. Finally, with previous generations, the cultural norms of society were more conservative, so even if parents didn’t do a great job, their kids were not at as much risk of “going astray”. Nowadays cultural norms are extremely liberal and parents have to be very careful to instil certain morals and values.

 

Is there anything else that you’d like to add as a message to your readers in the Middle East?

Don’t think that just because you’re in the Middle East, your kids are immune to western pressures. The world has changed and shrunk. With media, the internet, and social networking, kids from all over the world are subject to many of the same problems and pressures of dating, drinking, drugs, low self esteem, and other problems. As a result, it’s critical for parents to understand their kids’ environment, and not to simply assume it’s the same as the one in which they were raised.

Also, remember that parenting is the most noble task you will undertake in your life, but that it’s a full time job, so you have to give it the time that it really deserves. Done properly, the rewards are great insha Allah.