Trials of adolescence
During adolescence the relationship between parents and children can break down. However, there are ways to minimise the fall-out, as Riham Adel discovers
For a first-time parent, the excitement of raising a child is unlike anything in the world: choosing the child's food, clothes and schools and helping the child take his or her first steps in life are experiences like no other. Even hearing a baby utter the word "no" for the first time can be a time of extraordinary excitement.
However, the millions of times that follow, with "no" being repeated with tedious regularity, can be anything but exciting. Eventually kids grow up, and arguments start to be the daily routine in almost every home with a teenager. During their teenage years, young people start to feel mature enough to have opinions of their own, but these opinions are often ignored by their parents, who can continue to interfere in their children's lives, even preventing them from forming their own identities.
Some parents may feel that it is rare to have a rational conversation with an adolescent, but conversing with 15-year-old Niccolo Shukri shows that it is possible. Shukri was raised in Italy and moved to Egypt in 2006, and he recognises teenagers' problems.
"When something crosses my mind I go straight to my dad. He is a very good listener and adviser," Shukri says, adding that discussing things with his father helps him to understand issues on his mind. When he thought about trying drugs for fun, for example, as some of his friends had done, he told his dad about it, who asked him what he thought the advantages and disadvantages of such a course of action would be.
"I went to my room to think of an answer to convince dad that trying drugs once is not a big deal." Then he did an Internet search to find out more about drugs. "I learnt from this search that drugs only offer a solution to people who suffer from social or psychological issues," Shukri says, going straight back to thank his father for his indirect advice.
"I have never thought about drugs since then, especially when I found that friends of mine who had taken drugs have had various problems." Shukri says that many boys his age misunderstand what maturity is and fake fights, or take risks, just to get attention. They smoke drugs in order to feel older and more masculine, sometimes imagining that they can attain manhood by insubordination.
Shukri has also not been afraid to discuss sex with his father. Today, Shukri says, "I don't feel shy about discussing my feelings with my father, who has helped me find a clearer way forward." However, Shukri would probably be the first to admit that many teenagers do not find it so easy to talk things through with their parents. When discussion is not possible, teenagers can become moody and reserved.
"My parents are very conservative," Yara El-Zayat, a 19-year-old student at a private university in Cairo told Al-Ahram Weekly, adding that differences in views sometimes made conversation difficult. "I sometimes wonder if they notice that I am not their little girl anymore," she complains, adding that her parents often refuse to allow her to go out with her friends or classmates.
"It's very frustrating," El-Zayat says. "They just say no every time, even if we haven't really discussed it. I have no chance to convince them of my point of view, and as a result we argue."
El-Zayat adds that the most disappointing thing is that every time she visits one of her friends, her mother checks up on her by calling her on her mobile and sometimes on her friends' mobiles as well. "I feel suffocated," she says. "While I admit that they are worried about me, I still wish that they were able to strike a balance between feeling protective and letting me go my own way," she says.
Sometimes she dreams about the kind of open- minded discussion that might allow her to express herself freely, but thinks that even this might not work as she has got too used to being reserved with her parents. El-Zayat says that two of her friends resisted their parents' control. Both friends felt that their parents had to realise that contemporary life has changed, and, as a result both got married early to escape their parents' control.
Establishing a strong relationship with teenagers, many parents agree, comes about as a result of having open conversations from early childhood and aiming to be a role model for children.
"I trust my mother more than I trust myself: she is my best friend, and she is more honest than I am. The more self-respect and self-confidence I have, the more I recognise her concern and love for me," says Dina Hafez, a 17-year-old business administration student. Trust and honesty are the keywords in Hafez's relationship with her parents, and she says that she has talked freely with her mother since childhood.
It seems that today parents should try to be more flexible with their teenage children, particularly since teenagers are now more aware of their rights. Important issues for many of them are freedom and privacy.
"A teenager's mind is often in conflict. He or she may not have the ability to determine his or her direction. Furthermore, a teenager finds it easy to get lost between aspirations towards independence and the possibility of achieving it," says Hisham Rami, a professor of psychiatry, in an interview with the Weekly.
"Adolescence can be a dangerous time for many, as a teenager's main concern is often about obtaining independence, freedom and privacy, even though neither social nor financial circumstances allow him to get these things."
Rami explains that teenagers need to argue, compromise and adjust. Unfortunately, parents often do not have the time to listen to their children, owing to tough economic conditions and long working hours, and they are not really ready to endure long arguments. Yet, parents need to be aware that the teenage years often bring conflict with them. The best way to avoid it, or to minimise it, Rami says, is by "working on developing their children's social skills during childhood, the earlier the better". This can give children greater confidence and a greater ability to deal with situations and interact with different kinds of people.
Parents who do manage to have a close relationship with their teenage children often say that they are proud of their children's maturity, and this can lead to greater trust, releasing their fears and letting them have sensible discussions with them.
Some parents believe that sport can be a useful way of building relationships with teenagers, as well as being valuable in itself as a way towards building a well-rounded personality. According to Omar El-Morr, a 14-year-old swimming champion at the Heliopolis Sporting Club in Cairo, "swimming is my whole life, and I feel bad when I don't do it." The only issue about which El-Morr says he has to argue with his parents is his computer.
"I am addicted to the computer," El-Morr admits, "especially to playing games online, even though this drives my parents crazy." El-Morr says that once he stayed on the computer for 12 hours, though he knows this is not healthy. "I appreciate the effort my mother exerted to encourage me to do sport, as well as to alert me to how many hours I was spending with the computer," he says.
Some parents may be overly strict, or adhere to traditions without considering whether or not these are really in line with religious precepts. According to professor Salem Abdel-Gelil, deputy minister of religious endowments ( waqfs ), Islam respects the minds of teenagers and holds that physical changes are followed by mental ones.
"Giving orders to teenage children damages relationships on both sides," Abdel-Geil says. "Parents should exert the maximum effort to be persuasive instead." He quotes a piece of advice from Islamic jurist Ali Ibn Abu Taleb that instructs parents, "don't force your children to be like you; they are born for another time".
According to Radia El-Deeb, a 20-year-old student at the Faculty of Engineering in Cairo, better relations between parents and children helps young people understand more about marriage and parenting before they get married and become parents in turn.
"I didn't have a very comfortable adolescence," El-Deeb says, criticising her mother for what she sees as her conservative views and unwillingness to share with her daughters. Today, El-Deeb is aware of the influence of her childhood years on her adult personality. Having spent her childhood going from one separated parent to the other, she feels that her mother "only knows me superficially. She never spent time with me to talk or listen." El-Deeb formulates the problem by saying that she feels her mother wanted her daughters to be copies of her.
Finally, it seems that in some ways friendship between parents and their teenage children is a kind of "remote control" in parents' hands. By building such friendship, parents can influence their teenage children's behaviour, increasing their maturity at a crucial period in their lives.
"I believe that a successful adolescence is all about thinking before acting," Shukri says. It's a conclusion that many a parent may well share.