Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Parenting Challenges of the 21st Century

Presented at the ERDC Seminar on 23rd March 2016 at Rangoonwala Hall, Karachi. Parenting challenges for the 21st century are growing in intensity and are going to become a major issue for parenting in general and for Muslims in particular.

Challenge of Becoming a Role Model of Self Organization and Self Discipline

Self organization is becoming a major challenge for survival in the 21st century. I think for parents to be a role model of self discipline and self-organization is the biggest challenge. Unlike the previous century, social, family and work structures that forced much of the organization in our lives are loosening and putting pressure on the parents as well as children to be self organized.

Previously our lives had a regimented existence typically structured around meal times and early-to-bed-early-to-rise routine, TV/entertainment time in the evening in the living room with everyone together, newspaper in the morning, office/school starting in the morning and ending in the afternoon. Today, TV and entertainment is available all the time. I think majority of homes no longer have strict meal times as meal is no longer being cooked at home regularly. Office emails, messages, and calls have penetrated 24 hours of time. early-to-bed-early-to-rise routine has not only been forgotten but have also led to further complications of health, wealth and wisdom.
Developing structures and rules for organization and discipline in life is a huge challenge.
We can't expect our children to become what we are not!

Challenge of Providing Unconditional Love in a Family

Parents especially mothers must have a supreme trust, faith and confidence in their children. It is through mother's unconditional love that a child would overcome his weaknesses and his deficiencies. Without this all encompassing love of the children, parenting can not rise to the highest levels envisioned by our religion where paradise is under the feet of the mother.

To understand that parenting is not a transactional relationship is also a challenge. All relationships are now increasingly becoming transactional in nature. But, the family relationships should not be allowed to become transactional. We should not allow the replacement of mother's time with the child for a day-care center, or time and effort to care for old parents for an old-homes, or to trade the interaction time with child in the evening with a tutor, etc.

Parents must appreciate that the parenting role is a gift from Allah and the parents are not transacting with the children in return of future favors and returns.

Differentiating the Parental Role from Other Roles

I have been increasingly observing that parents are arrogating responsibilities of roles that are either not theirs to assume or allowing some other roles to dominate their more important "parental" role. I have observed mothers ignoring the role of the mother, and assuming a role of a judge, role of a prison guard, role of a teacher, role of a "raaziq", role of "haadi" and others. I see mothers picking up on the kid's weaknesses all the time, trying to teach the kids in the morning, evening, afternoon, at meal times and late into night and not letting go of this obsession with studies and teaching and in the process completely ignoring the role of the mother.

I see this confusion regarding three roles taking over the parental role:
Assuming the role of teacher at the expense of mother's role
Not letting go of the role of a teacher. The role of teacher dominating and even eclipsing the role of the mother. I am now forced to say this:
bachay ko maa ki mumta ki zaroorat hoti hay, maa ki teachiri ki nahi
Child needs mother's love, not mother becoming a teacher.

There is an imperceptible role of mother as a teacher, where the child continues to see his mother as a mother even while she is teaching him. This type of collaborative learning environment with mother as a facilitator of child's learning is recommended. However, there is the other side where the mother puts on the crude, brutal role of of a teacher, where the motherly care and love gets replaced by the harsh, uncompromising, judgmental, vindictive and humiliating teacher who loses no chance to humiliate the child in front of his siblings or friends. This must be avoided.

However, many parents are unable to distinguish between the two. It is therefore recommended that they explicitly put on the teacher's role by donning a robe and putting that robe away once they have completed the teaching so that the child can take a sigh of relief when the ordeal is over and the parent also realizes that now the role of the teacher is over, and the parental role has begun.

Role of "Raaziq"

The way I see the parents worrying about the children's future is surprising. Forty years ago, in Karachi there were only two engineering colleges and two medical colleges. Today there are over 17 engineering colleges and around 15 medical schools, and there are over 30 universities. Today, any average student can get admission in whatever field he likes. The scenario is quite different from the exclusive opportunities available in the past. Yet I see the parents subjecting even a child age as small as 4-5 years with extended tuitions for preparing for admissions in God knows what school. I have seen of a kid of 4th grade being forced to attend tuitions after the school for 3+ hours and the parents paying over Rs 18000 to the tutor. This is extremely crazy. Robbing the child from his playtime, socialization time, and reflection time is criminal. I believe this attitude represents wavering of faith and eemaan in the creator being "raaziq". This craziness is coming from parents who are projecting their frustrations and "mehroomis" on to the children and are going overboard in their effort to give them a more prosperous future. They seem to be trying to assume the role of "raaziq" when they think that are determining the abundance that a child may have in future!!!!

Role of "Haadi"

I often see the parents taking on this role which even prophets were not given. That is, assuming the responsibility of ensuring that they give hidaya and guidance to the kids. In their zeal, they abuse and punish the kids when they feel frustrated at the youth not obeying their commands. The rule for tableegh is wa ma alina illal bilagh. Parents are only responsible to show the right from the wrong and use hikmah in trying to provide this guidance. They often forget the need to understand child psychology and need to have the faith in the potential of a child, and patience in the goodness that the child has and faith in Allah that he is the protector, and then try to do the best that the parents can. However, parents should not think that they can assume the responsibility which was not even given to the prophets.
Wa tu-izzu man tasha o wa tu-zillo man tasha o... [Al-Imran: 26]
Yudillo man yasha-o wa yahdi man yasha-o... [Ash Shura: 8]
The challenge for parents starts when they start taking the intransigence of their children personally and lose their composure and patience. This becomes a huge problem when parents are unable to understand their own psychology and what was going on in their mind when they got angry. This happens when they are unable to distinguish whether they are angry because their ego was hurt when the child refused their command, or whether they should feel sorrow about the child suffering in the hereafter because of the child's intransigence.

Challenge of Social Connection with Real People in Real Life

Inability to differentiate between real social interaction with real people and in real life with virtual social networks in virtual web world is becoming a huge challenge. People now are unable to differentiate reality from virtual life. For example, it is easy to "unfriend" someone in FB but hugely difficult to unfriend someone in the real world. Real world disconnection from a friend has emotional costs and social costs. There is actually no cost of time and effort in unfriending someone with a click of a button.
The move towards nuclear families living in smaller apartments in big cities has alienated the opportunity of children to socialize which was present in extended families with frequent get-togethers and scores of invitations to family weddings and other events. These opportunities providing extensive interaction interact with children of different ages, play, fight, resolve conflicts, and learn inter-personal issues and how to cope with the emotional pressures.

Alone-together phenomenon introduced by the cell phones has imprisoned the children and parents in the prison cell of their cellphones.

The challenge of writing and posting intimate pictures on facebook and writing of open diaries is a new challenge which was not present earlier. Earlier, reading some one's personal diary was a big no-no. Today this is not only common but encouraged by the writer (often a young, naive adolescent youth) himself or herself. They can't envision that as we mature and grow older, we change, our interests change and our likes and dislikes change; we learn from our mistakes, and build anew our lives. They forget that their lives once on the internet are into public sphere, constricting the space for them to grow, unlearn and start afresh, redesign their lives, and learn from their mistakes. The costs of this redesign of their lives becomes huge once intimate details are on public internet where the information never dies. Consequences of mistakes now made are exponentially higher and information on the net never dies and is never forgotten and may come to haunt decades later.

Self Learning and Customized Learning Experiences

Opportunity of learning and acquiring knowledge from any source and in any field, good or bad, are now limitless and available on a single click anywhere. This accessibility can no longer be constrained or censored.

Making Marriage Easier

Children are growing up much earlier and learning about things decades before their parents did. They are maturing earlier and hence obstacles for "halal" should be reduced from "haram". Marriage should be made easy. Illicit relationships should be made difficult. Waiting for the youth to be in job and established in life before marriage should be discouraged. There is a need for the parents to understand the psychological and social pressures that a child feels today and to facilitate the permissible.

Challenge of Studies vs Games

Once upon a time, there was a distinction between games and study. Study meant better job and self sufficiency and games meant not to be self-sufficient. This is represented by the famous poem:
khelo gay kodo gay ho gay kharab...parho gay likho gay banao gay nawab
All this has changed tremendously. People in sports and games are often earning more today. Games are increasingly becoming a vehicle for providing a learning experience for the children in all disciplines. I can see that in future, all learning would happen through software which would be more like exciting and engrossing games of today, where the child would become a player in different roles in the experiential learning of the concepts. Eventually, games would become a preferred mode of learning and acquisition of knowledge and skills.

Exposure of nature, physical exercise

Need for the parents to provide exposure to nature and physical environment would become great with the life in the virtual world becoming more and more exciting. The physical experiences of the nature would become a challenge with so many low cost virtual experiences abounding around us. A human being is human because he can appreciate nature and has experienced nature, has swam in rivers, climbed mountains, breathed in the fresh air of the country side, smelled the fragrance of rain drops after an extended drought. Closeness to such experiences are crucial for avoiding many of the depressions and psychological issues now plaguing the population and often afflicting the children.

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Friday, March 11, 2016

Names vs Intent and Contents of Programs and Courses: Experiential Learning Case Study

There is an interesting academic issue related to the name of a course and its relationship with the intent and contents of the course. Over the last 20 years in academic management of curricula at several universities involving design of degree programs from bachelors to PhD level and introducing scores of new courses and monitoring their execution over time has taught me the following lesson:  The name of a course always trumps the intent of the course contents irrespective of what we may write in the outlines about the learning outcomes and what we specify as the contents or pedagogy. Once a new intent of the course is defined under an existing name, the intent quickly loses its spirit once the initial drive and focus wanes and shifts elsewhere.