In almost all communities, particularly faith-based, children are seen as an invaluable gift and trust; parental love for them knows no bound. In light of the decline in marriage and an increasing number of divorces, parents rightly see it their responsibility (familial, not coercive) to help in their loved one's successful marriage.
By the time children enter the stormy adolescence and start secondary education, the whole world unfolds itself to these impressionable young people because of rapidly changing social conditions, peer pressure and the technological invasion of our private spaces. This phase of a child's life is a huge bewilderment and a nightmare to many parents. Children attend formal schooling for their career, but informal social schooling on sex and relationships in a permissive social environment is pervasive.
The nature of teenage life is to explore the new world and embark on creative and adventurous pursuits of life. Unless some form of cultural, moral and spiritual boundary restrains them from promiscuity, adolescents are likely to be driven by an obsession for sex and fun. This may cause misfortune to individual life, particularly girls with unwanted pregnancy; they are highly like to suffer from depression and low self-esteem. Teenage pregnancy in most developed countries is a big worry, both socially and economically.
Marriage-based responsible family life in faith communities is a powerful deterrent against reckless boy-girl relationships and the ensuing sexual mayhem in a society. A strong family and community culture, with active and positive parenting, helps adolescents pass through the challenges of a laissez-faire lifestyle. This brings in them the necessary confidence as precious human beings and worthy citizens, for the well being of people around them.
By the time these young people enter into adolescence, they know the boundaries of a man-woman relationship, before and after marriage; they come to understand that marriage is a social contract that involves two families. They become aware that reckless or selfish relationships with opposite sex is not only unbecoming for themselves, but it also burdens society with negative consequences. Informal education within the family gives them a mental preparation on the concept of marriage and family building, based on two pillars - responsibility and fidelity.
In the midst of changing social trends young people need to be emotionally and mentally ready for their new journey of married life. Being raised in a family with positive parenting will equip them with a good level of religious and moral conviction, personal strength and a spiritual anchor to overcome prevailing social pressures; they will be more confident in sailing through many challenges of post-puberty life, by avoiding over-indulgent 'fun time' with the opposite sex. This may sound difficult to many and even backwardness to some, but this is about personal choice.
Boys and girls raised in positive family environments learn to interact, naturally and decently, with one another in the public domain - in universities or workplaces - by maintaining respectable and safe distance. Marriageable Muslim young men and women would never meet with each other in seclusion, in accordance with the teachings of their religion. The purpose of this apparently 'strict' regime in man-woman relationships is to protect them from the pitfalls of a slippery slope in their character.
How can sensible parents realistically help their post-adolescent adult children in their marriage? In most cultures parental responsibility only changes in its level and nature as the child grows older. Whether they live under the same roof or not, parents have a moral duty to give honest advice to their adult children; they also provide wonderful company to the grandchildren. Educated and enlightened children never miss out from parental wisdom, although at the end of the day decision is theirs.
Marriage is a serious business in life; young people should be aware of the consequences of making a wrong choice for their life. Choosing a spouse, another independent human being with another background, should not be taken lightly; it is not like choosing one's clothes. Clever children look up to their parents for guidance before choosing someone and see marriage as a sacred institution for the betterment of society.
On the other hand, proactive parents sensitively exert their moral right to see that their beloved ones do not make mistakes in their choice of life partners; of course there is no room for coercion on the boy and the girl; 'forced marriage' has nothing to do with religious tradition; the Prophet of Islam would annul marriages in cases where they were done forcibly.
Involvement of parents and family members has a more likelihood of bringing a better spouse with matching backgrounds in terms of family and upbringing - not just on external features. Morally upright young people would obviously look for morally upright life-partners and they would go the extra mile to find a reasonable match.
A positive parental role works as a win-win situation in the family where an additional member brings added joy and happiness to all.
Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari is an educationalist, author, community activist and parenting consultant (www.amanaparenting.com). Follow him on Twitter: www.twitter.com/MAbdulBari