As our Creator, Allah (swt) has granted humans a choice – to worship Him or not – explaining the consequences of both. For this noble choice, He has raised our rank and reward in comparison to other creations, who are mandatory submitters. Allah (swt) expects that we will make sensible choices and not breach His trust.

These choices for governing our families have to be made within the framework of strong and sensible family norms. Most often, our culture defines the acceptable norms for our families. Absence of family norms is bad; however, it is equally bad to be restricted by these norms. Our children need to understand these norms and own them.

The ultimate value of the Western civilization is personal freedom, which they do not wish to have challenged. Nowadays, we see it present also in our society, where certain individuals accept only their own version of religion, based on their desires. Islam, conversely, demands complete submission before the Creator.

We cannot compromise on family norms; however, everyday choices are a different matter. This may include the child’s choice in education and the career he aspires for. Obviously, this should not be based on the youngster’s wishful thinking or following the popular trends of the time. He should be able to convince others of his personal reasons.

In the process of decision-making, the youth usually encounter the following two obstacles:

  1. Parents state that due to their age and experience they know better.
  2. Parents have the authority and the power; thus, the child is not allowed to take his own decision.

Case Studies of Questionable Parental Decisions

  1. The Late Riser

A mother approached me with a complaint that her 14-year-old son stays up late at night and does not wake up for school on time. She daily undergoes a bitter drill of dragging him out of bed, which puts a strain on their relationship.

In this situation, the young lad did not fear the consequences of his actions. He was not assuming his responsibility and was totally relaxed. His mother knew the possible consequences and feared for her son. She tried to convey that to him but for him, it was not enough.

The solution here would be to simply let the child face the consequences, instead of the mother becoming a shield for him against the school discipline. This child is old enough to own his decisions. Upon my advice, the mother remarked: “But he will be expelled!” I informed her: “Then let him be.” When it happens, the boy will think about his actions. He can be trained to plan his life better and be responsible for himself.

  1. The Mischievous Slacker

Another parent complained of a 15-year-old boy, who was caught at school with his friends making mischief. As a result, the school rusticated them for a few days.

The youngsters were emotionally disturbed. One of the boy’s parents approached the school to apologize and plead on his behalf. The school permitted the student to re-join, waiving off his remaining suspension period.

After some days, the boy was found guilty of the same activities. The parents were naturally feeling ashamed – they explained they had counselled the boy and yet he had let them down.

I simply told them that when the child had the right to choose for himself, they, as parents, did not allow it. Instead, they reacted, then owned the problem themselves, apologized to the authorities, and fixed it for him. It was the boy’s job to reflect on the mess he landed himself in; however, the parents did not trust his ability to fix his own mess.

After the suspension, parents should have asked their son the following questions: What went wrong? Where do you stand now? What is the lesson to be learnt? What are your next options?

Training a Youngster to Decide

When life presents our children with opportunities to distinguish right from wrong, parents unfortunately take them away. The role of a parent should be “to be there” to ensure that the child weighs the merits/ demerits, strengths/ weaknesses and pros/ cons of the situation. They must train him to be engaged in the intellectual processing:

  1. Prior to arriving at a decision, the child can list the available options.
  2. The child should state the merits and demerits of each option.
  3. The child should provide logical, justified, and substantial evidence for his or her choice.
  4. Once the child is done with this exercise, parents may highlight the consequences of his or her choice, if any.
  5. Sometimes children consider only a few obvious options and decide between them. If we know that some other options have been overlooked, we can guide them to it and ask them to re-consider their decision in light of the new information.
  6. If the parents disagree with the decision and have genuine fears about the consequences, it is best to inform the child and ask him or her to safeguard your fears with appropriate measures.

Regretfully, in our society, successful parenting is equal to “selling your decisions to your child”. Hence, when these children grow up and become independent, they refuse to accept the controlling behaviour of their parents. When a child enters the teenage years, nothing can irritate him or her more than a parent’s attempts to protect him or her. Besides, parents will not and cannot be with their children everywhere. It is impossible to protect them from every possible ill experience and failure in life. But it is possible to train them to imagine consequences, reason, weigh out all possible choices, and arrive at a decision.

Of great importance is also the type of communication parents have with their teenagers. In general, the tone and words are tougher than what we use for our domestic staff. My advice is that our communication with our teenage child should be of the same protocol, as with a business client – respectful and trusting in their capabilities.

Our youth can only be empowered, if they are permitted to make everyday decisions, which can be as simple as which shirt to wear. The family norms should ensure that your son or daughter does not have anything indecent hanging in his or her closet. If the child knows, understands, and owns his family culture, he or she will decide within it. But if confusion and rejection prevail, the child will take faulty decisions. Sadly, many times kids’ wishes lie outside the family and not with their parents. It says a lot about the family system and parenting style.

Family norms must be strong; however, there is a difference between restrictions and norms. Family norms should be well established and maintained, for example, having meals together, not expecting food to be served at odd hours, and returning home right after Isha. However, parents must follow these norms first, before expecting it from their children. Once the norms are strongly rooted, children will tend to make the right choices.

The essence of empowerment is in the ability to choose. Without this ability, the child does not feel empowered. It is better to make wrong decisions early in life and learn from them, than to make incorrect choices later on, which can ruin one’s life.

Transcribed for Hiba Magazine by Rana Rais Khan.