The biggest challenge of parenting is to accept that we are facing a world that is very different from the one we grew up in. This is true irrespective of which country you live in with the additional complexity of a rapid destruction of walls between cultures. The truth is that your solutions don’t work today and your children know this better than anyone else. Yet you still have the challenge of inspiring, supporting and teaching them. Your challenge is to prepare them for a world that you know nothing about. This can be seen as positive or negative depending on your point of view, but one thing is certain and that is, it will not leave you untouched.
The major Global Challenges that we face are three:
Thanks mainly to the internet and to global TV channels we are in an information overload phase. We don’t suffer from lack of information but from a surfeit of it – easily available at the click of a mouse. What is missing is the ability to discern, to sift, to pick the nuggets. What is missing is the ability to know what to do with what we read or see. What is missing is the ability to connect the dots to complete the picture. What is missing is the ability to recognize the reality and to put things in perspective so that we can differentiate between real information and propaganda. What is missing is the ability to respond positively and powerfully to ensure that the dissenting voice is also heard in the cacophony of the dominant discourse.
Easy information exchange has also lowered and, in many cases, wiped out the entry barriers into technologies and business areas. This opens new opportunities for entrepreneurs provided they know how to use them. It also wipes out the competitive advantage of the niche, when that is exposed to attention from other aspirants. It is a challenge for parents to guide their children in ways that enable them not only to make sense of what they see and read but to leverage it for themselves and others.
The information exchange also has a darker side with every evil that happens in the world getting instant limelight. The conscious self is bombarded daily with images which at one time would have sent us into depression, but which leave us untouched and unmoved today. This desensitization of the heart, the deadening of compassion, making the horrific, mundane, is the result of constant exposure to cruelty, oppression and bloodshed. Like the nurse in the operating theatre or the butcher in the abattoir, the sight of another’s suffering leaves us untouched. Our classical scholars used to be very concerned about exposing oneself to things that harden the heart. Imam Al-Ghazali used to say that one should not mention death while eating because if the heart is not deadened then you will not be able to eat. And if you are able to eat then it will become evident to everyone that your heart is dead. I don’t think we bother with such niceties anymore because the condition of our hearts is apparently not of any consequence to us.
The challenge that parents have is to guide children such that their hearts don’t harden and they have the compassion to help those in need. Hidden in this is also the real danger of radicalization of youth and their falling into the trap of those who seek to recruit them for cannon fodder. It is our challenge to help them to retain perspective, show them how they can positively contribute and stay away from all extremist positions. But to do all that we need to check what state our own hearts are in for only who can see, can guide the blind.
The second challenge we face is that of technology. Like rain, it is a part of our lives. You either get wet or you learn to use an umbrella. The smart phone, the computer, social networking and the ever-present Google. Google Maps automatically gives me driving directions to the masjid on Fridays whether or not I ask for them. It tells me if a flight that I am booked on, is late or not. It even tells me when I need to leave for the airport, even when I have not asked for this information or informed it about my present location. It knows without being told.
Technology takes away the drudgery and monotony. It adds value and makes life easy. But at the same time, it increases distraction, creates a false sense of satisfaction and speed. People feel satisfied with posting likes on Facebook and making favorites on Twitter as if they actually accomplished something. They forget that a million likes don’t put a piece of bread into the mouth of the starving child or save the life of one who is in danger. Instant gratification – the most dominant sign of an immature intellect – is one of the legacies of technology, albeit unintentional. We forget that if you want results you have to work very hard at the right things; not merely click a mouse or tap a touch screen. This results in unjustified frustration and the millennial personality is born. People who are literally disinterested in the future. What can you hope for with respect to creating a legacy from those whose main interest is the next sensation?
Speed of response that technology enables is both a competitive advantage and a threat. Our own response to events has to be hugely faster than our parents’, needed to be because every event is instantly global news. The repercussions of the thoughtless word are serious and in some cases, severe. But what remains constant is that artificial intelligence is not the same as natural and technology doesn’t replace wisdom. We still need the human intellect to interpret the event and color the picture to see the whole scene.
As I mentioned, the influence of other cultures is so invasive and powerful that merely trying to guard against it by prohibiting TV is futile. Children are exposed to other cultures all through their day. What needs to be done is to demonstrate to them the value of your culture in such a way as to enable them to take pride in it, while still respecting other cultures. This is essential because the usual approach of running down everything else creates walls and doesn’t promote cross cultural understanding. How to learn without becoming judgmental while retaining our own sense of right and wrong? This is a complex issue and something that needs to be learnt before one can teach it. The most critical part of this is to retain an open mind while being clear about the boundaries. One must be confident without becoming bigoted. This is critical to presenting your culture because you can’t present an alternate perspective without understanding and respecting the perspective of your partner.
The modern world has also created myriad new career options which bring with them new dilemmas and questions. In short, your life history doesn’t work anymore. Our challenge is to prepare them for a world that we know nothing about. But you signed up for that job when you had a child.
So what to do? Solution: Win the RACE. What race? RACE is my acronym for what you need to do to deal with the challenge of raising children you can be proud of. RACE stands for Read, Anticipate, Create and Execute.
Reading has become redundant and this is the root cause of most of our problems. Not reading disconnects us from our own history, our culture, religion and from the collective learning and wisdom of the human race. Reading enables us to know what is happening, to put it in perspective and to anticipate problems and opportunities – two names for the same thing. Ask yourself how many books you read every month. Ignorance is not bliss. It is ugly and shameful. Start reading. Read and encourage your children to read. Read and analyze and discuss and debate. See what questions they ask. The questions are much more important than answers. Let powerful questions arise in the mind and answer them yourself or find others who can answer them.
Cultivate the company of those who read and who have intelligent conversations – not backbiting and slander disguised as social talk. Cultivate the company of scholars of all kinds of knowledge. Go to them and take your children with you. Don’t worry if your children tell you that they can’t understand anything that is being said. Consider it a sign of sickness. That is why you took them there, to stretch their minds and to expose them to the expanse of knowledge. What you hear today and don’t understand gets stored in the memory and comes to your aid years later at unexpected moments. You need to change your habits and your social life. You must do first what you want your children to do. Make no mistake. To give you must first have.
Learn to read the signs both in your children and in the environment and prepare for them by being proactive. Combative and harsh attitudes usually get negative results. You need to be able to reason and convince, not force. To reason and convince you need to have knowledge and be convinced yourself. Brings us back to reading. Monitor your conversations. Monitor your company. Who do you meet with your children? Who are your children exposed to? What are they likely to learn from them? Make sure you keep the right company and expose your children to the right company. Most children today spend time with their own age groups. The question is, what can a ten-year-old teach another ten-year-old? Children need the company of wise and knowledgeable elders to learn life skills. Being an elder is not a factor of age but of knowledge and wisdom. Being old is different from being an elder.
Now that you have an idea of the challenges ahead and you have anticipated how some of them are likely to touch you and your children, create solutions. Teach tools because your answers don’t work anymore. Teach tools because they are timeless and can be applied to all kinds of problems. Create opportunities for them to practice what you teach them. Just as an example, give them decent pocket money and teach them budgeting and balancing their accounts. Then ask them to present those accounts to you every month and earn a bonus if they can show you what they spent and what they invested. Show them that the difference between spending and investing is the return. Investments yield returns, spending is only expense. When they learn this, they are on the way to earning their own living. This is not a factor of how old they are. It is a factor of what you have taught them. One final word; when you are checking their accounts. See what they invested in charity. For charity is an investment with the best return.
Finally execute, implement, because only results can be banked, as the saying goes. You must create a schedule to impart these skills and knowledge to your children. Parenting is a contact sport. You can’t outsource it, no matter how competent the care taker. Definitely, you can’t outsource parenting to an iPad or smart phone. The world was a better place when we had smart people and stupid phones.
Remember that children listen with their eyes. If you don’t read, the child will not read. And if he reads because his teacher inspires him to do so, soon he will know more than you and that is shameful. Remember you signed up to raise your children the day you decided to have them. Whatever you’ve done until now, it is time to take stock and ask yourself what you need to change. It is eye opening if you ask your children what they learned from you. It is simply not enough to feed, clothe and gadgetize your children and then leave them to their own devices except to refill their bellies or accounts. You must get serious with their upbringing.
Get serious. We only live once. Let us live it right.’