In this counseling answer
•Try to listen without comment.
•Try to understand the child’s circumstances, as well as the different variables in his life
•Try to comprehend the nature of what he is going through
•Try to close their eyes to minor issues and concentrate on the major ones, such as the identity crisis
•Try not to be ashamed of asking the help from other Muslims with experience in dealing with adolescents abroad.
Wa `alaykum as-salam dear sister,
Raising children with an Islamic identity is not an easy matter, whether in the Arab world or abroad, it is a challenge we have to face up to.
When we raise children in an environment that fosters different principles and values to the ones we cherish, we are faced with a multi-faceted problem, one which influences the identity of the children.
It is very important that the parents have a close relationship with others belonging to the same culture and having the same values, in order to get the children together more often and to minimize the non-Islamic influence surrounding them.
We suggest returning to the extended family system, still practiced in some conservative regions of the Arab world—away from cities, and away from foreign influence. A system where the entire society cooperates in the upbringing of the children, the responsibility is not left only to the parents. When they fail in some way, the neighbors and relatives will step in to remedy the deficiency.
We find that families emigrating from Islamic countries face the difficult challenge of raising their children in small family units. Therefore, I will repeat and stress the importance of knowing other Muslim families; together, they will help reestablish the extended family system.
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Children adapt easily to their new environment. It is only when they become adolescents that they begin asking themselves the difficult questions of who am I? What do I want to be? Am I going to be an image of my father? This is the most sensitive period of identity formation, if the young adult finds himself in the midst of a cultural struggle (between his parents and the culture surrounding him) and at the same time misses the support, love, and companionship of other Muslims, the new culture will have the upper hand, this is the expected outcome.
In my long experience with Muslim families in the United States, I have found that families grow tense when they see their children drifting away from Islam. The anxiety of parents manifests itself in closer supervision of the children: Punishment, forbidding them to go out with their non-Muslim friends, criticizing the behavior of the children and their friends…. The parents expect their teenage children to hold on to their Muslim identity, this is an erroneous assumption on their part since they have failed to instill Islamic values in their offspring from an early age.
In some cases, we find that parents did not neglect instilling Islamic values in their children, but the rebellious adolescents reject everything that has been taught. The following are some elements that may explain the child’s behavior:
-Family problems such as parents fighting, divorce, or the death of one of the parents.
-Psychological or mental problems within the family, which have made the child unable to deal with his family.
-Is the child trapped in the vicious circle of narcotics?
-Is the child under other sorts of pressure such as education?
-Was one of the parents absent during a critical period of his development?
-Did the child know what was expected of him?
As far as we can understand from your letter, we suggest the following steps:
1. Establish a calm dialogue between the parents and child, without criticism or sarcasm. The aim is to know what is going on within this angry psyche. If the parents fail to communicate with their child, then they will have to find someone the child trusts, if this is impossible, the option will be to seek the help of a professional—not for treatment, but to help bridge the communication gap. The way you describe the child—defiant—leaves me in no doubt that he is a very unhappy person. You must realize that you will need patience and effort, in addition to the help of a professional with experience in teenage problems.
2. The worst thing is to criticize the way he thinks or the way he lives, as this will only inflame the situation and further widen the gap between parents and the rebellious child. The parents must try to do the following:
-Try to listen without comment
-Try to understand the child’s circumstances, as well as the different variables in his life
-Try to comprehend the nature of what he is going through
-Try to close their eyes to minor issues and concentrate on the major ones, such as the identity crisis
-Try not to be ashamed of asking the help from other Muslims with experience in dealing with adolescents abroad.
Ask him with all honesty what they can do and what he expects from them
My final advice is that you must begin immediately before the situation becomes irreparable. May Allah all mighty help us all in raising our children and help us instill in them love and pride in their religion, despite all the challenges that living abroad may impose.
Disclaimer: The conceptualization and recommendations stated in this response are very general and purely based on the limited information provided in the question. In no event shall AboutIslam, its counselors or employees be held liable for any damages that may arise from your decision in the use of our services.