A very learned and successful Asian father whom I know attended my recent book launch at the House of Lords on parenting. On his return I got an email that said: "The motto of a budding family should be parenting, parenting, parenting. It is true that many problems caused by adolescents could be avoided if they were given proper parental care and control. A large share of the blame for last year's rioting lies on the shoulders of parents not doing their job properly."
I know him as a wise man and his email prompted me to write this piece.
In an op-ed piece in August 2011 (which can be found at The Huffington Post and AlJazeera English) I mentioned: "A society where family structure is robust, will more likely turn youthful energy to nation building. Where it is weak, that is a recipe for the kind of disorder we have seen on our streets so recently."
Family is at the heart of any society. Effective, positive and assertive parenting needs to be at the heart of every family. A child grows in the hands of adults, fully dependent for survival, protection and growth. Mother and father are naturally and instinctively the first people in a child's life who not only make sure of their balanced growth but also preserve and strengthen the family's intellectual, cultural and spiritual heritage through these children.
In his leader speech at the Party Conference in 1996 former Prime Minister Tony Blair set the tone of his future government: "Ask me my three main priorities for Government, and I tell you: education, education and education." Education is indeed vital for a nation: however, education starts at home with good-quality parenting from a child's birth. 'Home is the best school' goes the old maxim.
Parenting is more than parenthood. It is a conscious endeavour that starts from the moment a baby is conceived in a mother's womb. It is the core duty of every parent and a basic right of every child to have such conscious attention. The task of parenting does not end with puberty or when a child reaches 16. It is a life-long commitment that involves physical, emotional, social and spiritual wellbeing - from the womb to the tomb. Of course, the nature of parenting changes as a child grows from dependence to adult life. The reward of effective parenting is enormous and long-lasting. On the other hand, poor parenting or abdicating responsibility can bring devastating consequences for the family, as well as wider society (and the nation as a whole).
Parenting, in essence, is about preparing for the future, a one-time opportunity to set a child on the right path for life. The historic adage that the 'Hand that rocks the cradle, rules the world' is wisely remembered and practised by successful nations.
The essential ingredient of parenting is love. However, as a child grows 'blind love' needs to be replaced by 'tough love'. Children need opportunity and freedom, but for their balanced growth - to become 'good human beings' - they need consistent, rational and strong boundaries. Discipline in life is vital, far more so for children during their adolescence, a phase with challenging physical, emotional and social changes accompanied by critical behavioural issues such as insecurity, egocentrism, lifestyle and attitude changes, changing eating habits and possible mental health consequences.
Parenting is also about motivating children to think positively and act constructively. This could be an uphill task in communities or groups that suffer from negative media portrayal and social stigma: for example, certain post-9/11 Muslim communities in a few European countries. The natural tendency of these people, who feel 'cornered', could be to withdraw from society. We must all guard against this possibility, otherwise to 'protect' their children they could isolate them within their own ghettos. This would represent a huge wastage of of human resources and potential, as well as leaving a dire legacy for those communities in the future.
So, how do parents inspire their children when, in their own communities, social deprivation and educational achievement might be low, generation and culture gaps wide, social ills high, and the prison population many times their demographic proportion? This is a harsh reality for Muslims in many European countries, including Britain.
There is no magic wand to solve these issues, in either a mainstream society or in specific communities. There are common social ills that affect all young people, regardless of background: bullying, prejudice, bigotry, delinquency, antisocial behaviour, drugs, extremism, violence, etc. The increasing numbers of domestic violence and family breakdowns in many developed societies presents an enormous economic and social cost. Politicians, faith and community leaders, the media and grass-roots activists must all address these issues, collectively, if societies - and the younger generation - are to prosper and to 'belong'.
Yes - we must have a macro-level solution, with action from government, non-governmental organisations, community groups, civil society bodies and faith and community centres. But there can also be no compromise with effective parenting. There needs to be a grass-root parenting movement, with individual parents acquiring basic parenting skills and employing them with confidence. Confident parents are able to create a positive home environment and impart in their children, especially in their adolescence, the self-esteem and drive needed to succeed in life.
Parenting is more than a family issue; a family cannot raise its children in isolation. It is about building communities, societies and nations. It is about giving children an inclusive vision of life and to prepare them to work for the good of all, to build a nation. It is about creating good citizens and good human beings.
* Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari is a community activist, an author and a parenting consultant (www.amanaparenting.com). He is a founding member of The East London Communities Organisation (TELCO), Chairman of the East London Mosque Trust, and former Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain (2006-10).
The views expressed in this article are the author's own.
Follow Muhammad Abdul Bari on Twitter: www.twitter.com/MAbdulBari