Bringing Up Teenagers in Dubai

Bringing Up Teenagers in Dubai

Being mom and dad to a teenager can be a challenging role; but even though it’s a tough call, the rewards can more than make up for the pain.

Adolescence has often been nicknamed the wonder years. It’s the time when a child begins his or her nodding acquaintance with what it would be like to be a grown-up. In a sense, it’s a difficult time, coming to terms with the ‘adult’ facets of a big, bad world. On the other hand, it’s also a magical time: when a kid suddenly starts getting taken seriously, and begins to toy with issues — friendships, relationships, finances, self-development, peer pressure — that constitute the threshold to an exciting world they are longing to be a part of.

At this critical juncture of their lives, parents have a starring role to play as their wards struggle with the ups and downs of this transformative phase.

“As teenagers are faced with these struggles, it is important that parents play a supportive and empathic role. Through active listening, parents can begin to create a healthy bond with teenagers and provide a forum in which teenagers can express themselves freely without fear of judgment,” says Alaa AbuAli, specialist in children and teen therapy, Synergy Integrated Medical Center, Dubai.

parenting teenagers in Dubai

Research has shown that the risk of mental health disorders in teenagers such as depression can be significantly reduced by the existence of nurturing and healthy relationships with an adult figure. “Parents are the primary adult figures in the lives of teenagers and serve as role models. Many teenagers have expressed to me that witnessing their parents sad or stressed leads them to feel a similar way. Parents should model positive coping skills and be aware that teenagers are greatly impacted by parental conflict,” she adds.

Many families in the UAE are expat ones, living away from the familiarity of their homeland. Parents are often — understandably — anxious about raising teenagers in a country where the lie of the land can be very different from those back home.

“There may be setting of much stricter boundaries, limits and curfews than would have been perhaps put in place back home,” says Ann Kuis, counsellor at Lifeworks Dubai, adding, “Although nearly always driven by a need to protect their children, over-protection can bring about highly resistant and rebellious behaviour from the teen who is seeking more freedom and independence. Finding a balance and compromise which works for both parent and teen is constantly challenging.”

A tightening economy has put a lot of strain on UAE households. “Teenagers are looking to their parents as being role models for what it takes to get through tough times — which creates a wealth of opportunities for parents to instill values in their kids,” says Samdiha Sheikh, whose husband lost his full-time marketing job in 2009, making her the main provider for the household now. “For example, it is a valuable lesson for teens to see that life doesn’t always go according to plan and that they must remain flexible and have a good attitude even in the face of challenges.”

Many times, teenagers feel this effect, and translate them into action. “During my last vacation, when I found out I could not get a part-time job because of the recession I volunteered at the local mosque. It was a spiritual as well as satisfying experience. I also gave up my pocket money last year knowing fully well that my parents were finding it hard to make ends meet. What better time than now to learn about cash responsibility and discover that life is about much more than designer jeans and instant gratification?” says Abdallah Khadra, 17.

American writer Elsa Marston writes about literature for young Arabs. She has also written Santa Claus in Baghdad: And Other Stories about Teens in the Arab World, a collection of stories that, although fictional, expresses the real thoughts and beliefs of many Arab teens in the modern world.

“I think literature — stories — rather than textbooks and non-fiction, conveys much more truth about people because it involves the reader emotionally,” says Marston, herself a mother of three grown-up boys. “When I was in Palestine this past fall, there was a reading promotion campaign going on, called ‘Papa, Read to Me!’ The purpose was to encourage fathers to take an active role in their children’s education and lives… It was a very successful campaign.”

She adds, “I think fathers must expect to play a real partnership-role with their wives in parenting, and be a strong presence in teenagers’ lives — not just as a disciplinarian, or the breadwinner but taking an active interest in what the child/teenager is doing, is interested in, wants to accomplish, is afraid of, and so on.”

Muslim Teens: Today’s Worry, Tomorrow’s Hope by Toronto-based Dr Ekram and Dr Mohamed R Beshir is a comprehensive, solution-oriented book that allows parents to fulfill the trust of raising their teens in a systematic and tested way.

Dr Beshir says, “With media, the Internet, and social networking, kids from all over the world are subject to many of the same problems and pressures. As a result, it’s critical for parents to understand their kids’ environment, and not to simply assume it’s the same as the one in which they were raised.

“Also, remember that parenting is the most noble task you will undertake in your life, and that it’s a full time job — so you have to give it the time that it really deserves,” he adds. “The rewards are great.”

This truly gives parents an opportunity to turn today’s worry into tomorrow’s hope.

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