I’ve never met a parent who claims to fully understand how to raise their teenager. It’s normal and expected for teens to commit small, relatively harmless acts of rebellion.
Often what tips parents over the edge is when their child behaves in a manner that conflicts with the religious values parents work to provide their children with.
These actions feel like betrayals to the parent though the child’s motives are rarely malicious. Muslim teenagers explain why they are tired of being unfairly judged by their parents.
Muslim-American teenagers offered insight about how their parents handle the daunting task of instilling their own religious values.
My own stance on religious parenting is simple. I don’t believe in promoting a culture of blind faith by telling children dos and don’ts without them being mindful of what they do.
Free discussions and character building are the most important parts in religious upbringing. If someone is going to dedicate their life to pleasing Allah (swt), they need to do it for themselves.
They must find the motivation to do so within themselves. Being spoon-fed by well-intentioned parents often results in a shaky or even nonexistent connection to God.
What Do Muslim Teens Have to Say?
My first interviewee, 17-year-old Aya, confided that she often feels “…hugely distanced from my parents because of the judgment I receive for doing things that I don’t, personally, find to be morally inappropriate.”
She knows her parents only intend to protect her, but the badgering is tiresome. More importantly, however, she feels their relationship tarnished by the occasional yet serious argument caused by harmless actions.
Salma, age 15, takes a similar stance on the issue. She also feels judged for making her own decisions if they happen to conflict with the beliefs of her parents.
When asked if she thinks her parents respect her personal opinions concerning religious rules, she responded:
“Overall, no. Generally speaking, it’s if you disagree with someone’s opinion, you’re somehow disrespecting God, so there’s this mesh of opinion, interpretation, and actual religious rulings. Even if they don’t respect it, however,” she continued, “I still believe that I have the freedom to have my own opinions.”
Salma says the judgement from her family has accomplished nothing but cause her to resent Islamic culture. This is, of course, the opposite of the intended impact and Salam recognizes that. She clarified that her perception of Islam is overall a positive one despite having to cope with critial behavior.
What makes her feel the most misunderstood? Salma replied: “Literally anything about young Muslims ‘straying off the right path.’ It bothers me how severely my parents simplify everyone’s situation to good and bad. There are so many different factors and reasons behind every action.”
What About No Compulsion?
Aya, was born into an Islamic household with a convert father. She acknowledges and respects her parents’ opinions but wishes they wouldn’t enforce them quite as strongly.
The teen also observed that her father has somewhat ironically far higher standards for her behavior than her mother does. She marveled, “It’s weird because you’d think if anyone would be able to empathize with the complications of being pressured into a religion you’re not a thousand percent on board with, it would be a convert!”
Aya also echoes Salma’s thoughts in regards to needing to feel liberated enough to form and voice her own views.
“I’m old enough to form my own opinions,” Aya asserted. “My parents taught me right from wrong. I’d appreciate it if my parents would allow me to exercise the right to make my own decisions, especially ones that literally only affect me.”
Culture versus Religion
The interviewees commonly find their parents overbearing and rigidly dedicated to their personal mindsets.
Mariam, age 16, skillfully articulated their mutual struggle. “I wish my parents would phrase their beliefs as just that–their beliefs–not facts. More often than not, I agree with them, but it can be frustrating when they won’t accept any other viewpoints.”
Hussain, an 18-year-old who recently moved out, is experiencing the kind of freedom one can only achieve by getting some distance from parents.
He shared his views on how raising Muslim teenagers has become incredibly challenging for both parties. Hussain cautioned: “It’s difficult because of the current culture and the plethora of information out there sharing different ideas and ways of thinking.”
All four teenagers offered unique insights but simultaneously share many experiences when it comes to their upbringing and the challenges that came along with it.
My interviewees and I recognize that parenthood is an incredibly complex journey we haven’t embarked on ourselves. There’s no handbook of rules and no master to guide you through every decision, insuring that you never miscalculate a situation.
Many of the girls I spoke with admitted that they fully expect to make some of the same mistakes they observe their parents making when, inshaAllah, they have kids of their own one day.