My 9 year old son at school is being significantly influenced by his friends, some things are okay but others I am completely uncomfortable with (playing a lot of video games, swearing, and barely communicating with me). Please help me out, I am not sure what to do.
An Anxious Mother
Dear Anxious Mother,
We spend years trying to inculcate the values of the Ahlul Bayt (ʿa) and instill the teachings of the Noble Qurʾān into our children, but this upbringing will only extend so far. Once out into the world, our children will meet an array of personalities, some that will be fleeting and others that will remain for a while. You can only do your best to develop foundations rooted in Islamic principles and to make the best decisions possible for their environment.
Here are three ideas to help in your situation:
- Reconnect. Respect. Empathize.
In this situation, try not to alienate your son because of what he is exposed to and the choices that he is making. Instead, connect with him and try to understand where these choices are stemming from. What needs is your son trying to have met and how can you help him meet these needs in a more healthy way?
If he has a new interest in video games, perhaps you can connect with him through that. Try playing with him. Maybe your son and his father can spend some time playing together, or you can make it a family affair to play together in the evenings. You can also speak to him, at his level, about different types of video games, the types of games to avoid and why (due to extreme violence, obscene language, ḥarām content, and content that goes against our values). And if his language has become harsh and he is using swear words, then remind him that in the home, words are important and should be chosen with care and only to be helpful, as Imām ʿAlī (ʿa) has said, “Indeed obscene language and vulgarities are not from the morals of Islam.”1 And if he has a practice of using vulgar language outside of the home, it is essential to remind him of the character of a believer, that they are mindful of their words and actions, towards their own selves and towards others, because words that are spoken cannot be taken back. If you embody this principle, of speaking kindly and with respect, then he will be able to adopt the same practice. A good reminder is the words of Amīrul Muʾminīn (ʿa), “Be soft without being weak and stern without using force.”2
If you speak to your son openly, without judgment, he may not open up right away, but sincerity and empathy will allow him to feel safe with you, and when he needs to, he will know it is okay to come to you. Remember, it is important to always uphold and model the healthy relationship that you want to see with your children. If they see you being closed off or harsh, that is what they will learn is acceptable communication. Imām ʿAlī (ʿa) has said, “The best thing that parents can bequeath to their children is good etiquette.”3
It is important to note that if these influences are due specifically to the schooling option chosen, it may be necessary to consider an alternative in order to help your son maintain his Islamic values and foundation.
- Create & Introduce Spaces for Valuable Relationships
It may be possible that the social sphere in your son’s school or amongst his classmates is limited. Imām Alī (ʿa) has said: “An associate is like a friend, so choose one who is suitable.”4 If you prefer better influences for your son, then find the spaces or bring him to the places that will help him develop a more varied or positive relationship with other boys, whose families raise their sons with similar values to your own. These may be weekend meetups with other families with sons of similar ages, games nights at your local masjid, and/or registering him for organized sports/activities.
- Make Duʿāʾ
Prophet Muḥammad (ṣ) has said, “May the mercy of Allah be upon he who helps his child in being righteous, and that is by forgiving his wrongs and praying for whatever is between him (the child) and Allah.”5
Throughout the lives of our children, they will make mistakes and you will wonder where you have gone wrong, what you could have done differently, and what you must change. But mistakes are a part of growing and learning, and the choices your son makes right now will not define the rest of his life, even if it may feel like it might. Remember to pray for him always, as not only will it lighten your heart and relieve your anxiety, but it will only be Allah (swt) who will guide his heart and his actions to what is best.
With many duʿās praying for your anxious heart,
1 Ghurar al-Ḥikam, Ḥadīth #7853
2 Ghurar al-Ḥikam, Ḥadīth #9154
3 Ghurar al-Ḥikam, Ḥadīth #482
4 Ghurar al-Ḥikam, Ḥadīth, #1955 Biḥār al-Anwār, Vol. 104, P. 98, Ḥadīth #70