Unfortunately, many of us feel it is nearly impossible for our offspring to select the right kind of atmosphere in which they are able to freely and comfortably nurture their faith while living in the West. On the other hand, there are the parents who have complete confidence in their children and never worry about who their friends are and what they do.As parents, we want our children to engage in strong, healthy friendships, associating only with those who maintain good moral conduct and provide a positive influence. Similarly, we want our child to avoid toxic friendships that may steer him/her away from Islam and everything it stands for.
Unfortunately, many of us feel it is nearly impossible for our offspring to select the right kind of atmosphere in which they are able to freely and comfortably nurture their faith while living in the West. On the other hand, there are the parents who have complete confidence in their children and never worry about who their friends are and what they do. For them, raising children well at home rules out any possibility of them being negatively and immorally influenced by school friends, right? Not quite.
Our Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him and his progeny) tells us, “One always absorbs the thoughts and beliefs of his associate and companion,” meaning your children will (intentionally or unintentionally) surely be affected by their peers, regardless of what their outlook, behavior, and lifestyle is. Based upon this is the natural phenomenon of Shia Islam, Tawalla – which ultimately tells us to love and befriend those who are virtuous – and Tabarra – which ultimately tells us to dislike and keep away from corrupt, immoral beings.
Parents must therefore bear the responsibility of ensuring their child is hanging out with the right crowd. The key to this lies in being involved and connected with your child, certainly not to the extent of intruding and making their decisions for them, but just enough to know who and what is going on in their lives.
As your son or daughter hits his/his teen years in particular, this involvement becomes especially important. It is a time where children typically begin to pull away from family and move more into a world that centralizes much around friends. The close emotional relationships you saw your child formerly sharing with parents and siblings also tend to gradually transfer to friends and peer groups. This is an important change for parents to acknowledge.
However, you are less likely to know through normal associations who exactly your teens are befriending. In fact much of what you know is second-hand information through your teen him-/herself, who has the ability to pick and choose what they wish for you to know. That is not to say all children brought up in the Western culture are dishonest or untruthful, but sadly too many a time we do witness Muslim youth mingling with the wrong crowd, with parents completely and utterly unaware of their wrongdoings. For this reason, parents are encouraged to adopt various approaches to interact with children and their friends, thereby helping them make the right social cues. Here are some suggestions:
Get to know your children’s friends. Now, your children may or may not want this; in fact, many are likely to see it as interference and react negatively as a result. Even so, it is important that you do know their friends to a certain extent, and there are plenty of opportunities to do so if you make an effort to seek them out. This will not only give you a sense of their character but also of the things they are “into”. Additionally, being involved in your child’s social life in this way will allow doors of communication to open about their friends if the need ever arises.
Invite them to your home. It is important that your children feel comfortable enough to call their friends over. Making your home a welcome place for them to hang out is always beneficial; invite them to dinner, involve them in family activities, offer to drop them home, or perhaps organize a sleepover – all the while making sure to give them space.
Form a friendship with their parents. This has many advantages and is a very good point of reference in terms of knowing your child’s friends’ backgrounds. A few chats with fellow parents will enable you to learn much of their values and standards. If the family is a religious one, for example, the chances of good children brought up in such a household are greater.
Share your values on friendship with your child. Although this applies more to younger children, it is something that is often overlooked. When a young child begins to form his/her first independent friendships, the assessment of potential peers is based on their own resources and their own view of the world. As amateurs, they may not understand which qualities are favorable in a person and which ones are not. It is at this stage that parents should sit down with their child and point out the characteristics of a “good” friend. Encouraging a healthy friendship by teaching youngsters how to be good friends themselves is also essential.
Encourage forming close friendships with those of the same faith. Needless to say, this has countless benefits. Even one such close friend can have a monumental positive impact on your child. A friendship based on shared beliefs, where two people continuously exert each other toward piety and righteous deeds, is unparalleled and beyond compare. Moreover, it will leave little room to be of those who weep on the Day of Judgment: “Woe to me! If only I had not taken so-and-so as a friend! He has led me astray from this Reminder (the Qur’an) after it had come to me.” (25:27-29)