In an incident that shocked the UAE community, 11-year-old Loujain Hussain was brutally beaten up by her younger schoolmates during recess, at a private school in Abu Dhabi. The injuries were so severe that the child is in a coma and suffered a brain haemorrhage. The extreme nature of the violence has shocked several Gulf News readers. At the same time, last week, in Saudi Arabia, a four-year-old boy shot dead his father for apparently refusing to buy him a video game console. While both these cases may be extreme examples, they highlight an issue that is often a topic of discussions but doesn't really seem to be addressed —are parents losing authority over their children? Have they abdicated on parenting? Who is failing when it comes to providing sound, value-based education to children? In a live debate organised at the newspaper's head office, Gulf News readers discussed the issue. Here are excerpts from the conversation.
Have parents lost control of their children?
Salman Al Suwaidi
Bad behaviour, bullying … all the things that children do are not because of the school system, not because of government, it is not because of the economic situation. It is all because of parents. One of the major reasons we have a problem nowadays is because in the past we had a support system - most cultures had grandparents who would instruct their children on how to parent. And this knowledge would pass down from generation to generation, until about, I would say in the Western cultures, till the 1950s. That was when the whole system of grandparents passing on the knowledge of how to raise a child disappeared. Now it is happening in the Arab world as well. The new generation wants to parent in a different style, there might be both positive and negative in it. Also, another point is that we have become a ‘Me generation'. Everyone wants their freedom, their power. Even when you have children, you are not thinking about them. People still feel that they are free to go out and live their single life. They expect their children to fall by the wayside. If you look at Arab culture, we fall back on domestic helpers; in the Western culture, they try to get children involved in extra curricular activities. It is their way of keeping children busy throughout the day. If you look at the incident that took place in Abu Dhabi, I would presume that if children are given at least the basic upbringing, are taught the minimum morals, this wouldn't have happened. But it did happen. It just goes on to show that that there was literally no parenting involved and this is because there is a lack of knowledge or understanding of what it means to be a parent. You cannot say that video games affected these children; you cannot say that the media influenced these children. The parents don't really want to parent, and those who are parenting don't have any guidance. The schools are there to help you, if you do the parenting at home the schools can build up on it. If you do not do any parenting at home, the schools can't really do anything about it. You need very strong parenting, especially at the early stage of childhood.
Aisha Al Janahi
I don't think parents have complete control over their children because they don't have a proper discipline strategy. Children are not born with a ‘how to' manual. They need proper guidance. The couple of incidents that have happened, I wouldn't blame the children. It is because the parents didn't take care of them in the early years. Children just reciprocate what parents do - if you are angry, they will be angry. The first six years actually affect their brain architecture the most. You can't blame a four-year-old child for the shooting; why does he have a gun? I feel in such incidents, parents have not taken good care of their children. If a child dropped a vase, for example, if I am going to tell him off harshly, I am not fixing anything long term and the child will carry this abuse for a long time. Parents don't know the intelligent way of communicating with them. You need to acknowledge their feelings and they will calm down even if they feel angry. Secondly, being involved is crucial, because the children feel: yes, I am important because my parents are giving so much attention to what I eat, what I am wearing - they really care. Some parents just wave their fingers and point out what the child did wrong, but that is wrong. Emotional intelligence is very important.
Asma Al Janahi
When it comes to waving your finger at the child, most doctors have said that the most negative way to deal with children is when you point at something. Also, when parents don't have a strong relationship, the personality of children often becomes weak. Also, many parents talk to their children only when they do something wrong. So, if the child wants attention, he'll do something wrong.
I would just like to say that you know all these aspects as you are reading studies on children, even I have started reading these articles. But many parents are not aware of the fact that the first six years of a child's life are the most crucial when their minds are actually built. My own relatives and friends say, "Get a maid, do a job. Get on with your life." That is the problem. Most parents think that the children at that age are too young, they can just spend their time watching cartoons, then they'll go to school. This awareness is still not there. Children are in a hurry to grow up and most parents are in a hurry to earn money so that they can secure their future. In the meantime, children are not getting the attention they need. Also, a lot of people now say, "It is the new age, if you don't tell your child something, they'll find it on the internet anyway. So tell them everything you can, be friendly with them." What I think is that you should not kill their childhood and innocence. Why can't we monitor the things they watch? But it is not just the parents who are guilty. The media is really irresponsible right now and so are the social pressures. I am a professional architect and I chose to quit, but nobody will ever tell me that I am doing a good job at home. Nobody is ready to accept that motherhood is a profession in itself.
Parents are confused about whether they should be a parent or a friend.
Salman Al Suwaidi
That's one thing that happened in the past 10-20 years. The new generation feels that they don't want to be a parent like their father or mother. But their techniques obviously worked, that's why you turned out so good. Yes, there are a lot of things that can be changed, but at the end of the day if you are a good person, your parents did well. You can be a mother that works and your children will come out alright if you give your children the time and be more involved. Because there are mothers who are at home and they have zero involvement with their children. And when it comes to disciplining children, you have to strike a balance. You shouldn't be too soft, but you also can't be very strict. In my household, my wife takes all the disciplinary action, I am the final word. My son is two years old, we talk to him, show him if he is doing wrong. There are instances when you need a light slap on the hand and he knows why you are doing it. The other day we were at the mall and he was acting up a little, and all I did was look at him angrily and he straightened up. After that, you can always cuddle him so that he doesn't feel bad and knows that you still love him.
Asma Al Janahi
I also sometimes get really angry in shopping malls when I see a child crying and the mother slaps him really hard. How can you treat children in such a way? Also, I was at a lecture one day and they said that while earlier parents held 80 per cent influence on children, nowadays with all the media and friends, parental influence has been reduced a lot. So, parents are not aware of how to deal with it.
All that anger will be taken in by the child and come out somewhere else at some other time. Also, there seems to be a lot of complacency among parents. Even if you are away all day at work, when you come back home at least let the children know that you are doing all this for them. What I have noticed is that parents are not able to do that nowadays, and children are finding their emotional anchor somewhere else, most of the time with their friends. But that's when children start feeling they are old enough and parents are put on the backburner. Guidance becomes totally suffocating for them, and if you keep a tab on their movements, they will start doubting your intentions.
Salman Al Suwaidi
I would just like to add, when it comes to the media, I am a gamer. I enjoy video games very much. When it comes to cartoons or movies, if you sit with them and see things that are inappropriate, talk to them about it. Tell them how it is wrong.
Aisha Al Janahi
I can see that the most important problem is that parents are lacking knowledge. That is why they are not taking care of the most minor details. They think, "He is just a baby, why should I care?" Do care. They are like a sponge, they can grab so many things, a lot more than we can. Every parent needs to form their own strategy for their children, because every child is unique. My friend asks me, "Aisha, why aren't you taking your son to the nursery?" I don't think the nursery is good for him, I can see that the enrichment classes I take him to are good for him. Every mother needs to make her own assessment, how she can read her child. Don't just follow what other mothers are doing, they are not in your shoes. They don't know how your child is. Speak with your children in simple words and communicate with them so that they understand what is right and what isn't.