Thursday, October 1, 2009

A Winning Strategy : Give Kids What They Want!

There is a saying that says : one does not appreciate the blessings he has until he loses them.

It is a wise strategy to give kids what they want, especially when what they want is a good thing. This sounds like common sense. However, often times, parents do not give their kids these good things, thinking that they can give it to them "later". But this "later" often does not come, as the kids grow and lose interest. Let me give a few examples.

At a certain age, parents, especially ones with children in public schools, will pay anything to have their kids make friends with other Muslim teens. The teenager does not want boring Muslim friends. But only a few years ago, this same kid was begging the parent to take him to visit his Muslim friends. Had we fulfilled that desire back then, we would not be facing this problem today. The youth would have felt comfortable and engaged with his Muslim friends. Give kids what they want, especially when they are asking for a good thing, because you may lose this chance later.

Another example. At a certain magical moment in life, your child may have a desire to go to the mosque. You must capture the moment, and give her what she wants. You may be thinking: but they only want to go to play. That is fine. They go to play today means that they will more likely feel comfortable enough with the place to go to pray tomorrow. If they do not go to play today, then they will not develop the relationship to go to pray tomorrow. The place will be foreign to them.

Another example: Your younger child asks to participate with you in some chore, like going with you grocery shopping. You think: this is a messy deal, since it will only delay you. But in a few years, they may not be interested in much of what you’re doing. They may see most things that you are doing as boring. All they need from you is : to leave them alone. Going shopping is a chance to bond with them while doing an activity that you have to do anyways. You should also get them to help you in some ways while shopping (applicable for any kid above 3 yrs old). You can teach them things about food, money, healthy living, respecting others who are shopping, helping the family in different chores, etc...

Younger kids ask us for things that we pray to have the older kids do. The solution is to give these things to the younger kids, and not to wait for “later”, which often does not come. This will accustom them from a young age to this good behavior or practice.

Here are a few more examples :

- kids willing (or even desiring) to spend more time with you and with the family

- kids wanting to talk with you about their life and friends

- reading a book with you

- having you put them to bed

- giving you an opportunity to share your own life with them

- willing to take your advice on things

- going with you to one of your boring friends

- desiring to read the Quran with you

- Asking you to get them some Islamic book or Islamic song

The next time your kid asks you for something, stop and ask yourself: Is this a good thing? If it is good, don’t delay giving it to them. You will be willing to spend much more a couple of years later to have them do the same thing they are willing to do today.

Here is an extra credit for those who read to the end: if you really want to get mileage from this principle, do this : your kid is begging you for a good thing (say, to go to the mosque). Then, with a straight face, you think about it for a moment, and then you say: “well, I am not sure if I can do this, but I may consider it, if you help your sister with her HW”! You will not find this type of advice in Parenting for Dummies!

Please share your thoughts, and what worked for you in the comment section!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Islamic schools versus Public Schools

Islamic schools are usually a good solution, but not in all cases. This post will make sense to parents who do not want to sacrifice academics for Islamic identity or vice versa. Here are some important questions that you should ask before deciding where you will place your kids.

1. How strong (academically) is the public school next door?

You should compare the academic strength of the Islamic school to the public school. Some Islamic schools are very good. Some public schools are really bad. More often though, you will find a public school in your area that is much better, academically, than the Islamic school. You need to find out : What is that difference? Is the difference very big? You can usually find out the ranking of the public school is by visiting many online web sites.

Islamic Schools are more difficult to rate academically. Some of the questions you could ask are: did the school graduates go to very good colleges? What was the performance (in public schools) of the children who left recently from the Islamic School? What is the school’s ranking in the standard achievement tests? Is the school accredited, and with who? Are all the teachers certified?

There is no fair "Islamic" comparison between both types of schools. Islamic schools may have a lot of problems, but in general they will be much better in that respect.

If the public school is much better academically, then it scores a point.

2. What is your family’ Strength ?

If you have a strong home Islamically, then you should consider public schools. This is the most difficult question to ask, since those who are focused Islamically tend to want more of the same (and vice versa). In any case, you may be able to provide at home much of the fundamentals that are provided in the Islamic school.

If your family is well educated, and you can provide the child with a healthy academic challenge at home, even beyond what the Islamic school may give, then this points in favor of Islamic schooling. For instance, will you have resources, computers, books, go to the library, help them be organized, develop a love for reading and math, etc…

The Islamic personality of the child will be shaped by both home and school, with more importance towards the home in the younger ages.

Public schools score a point if you have a strong Islamic home (for ex: you pray together as a family, both parents are practicing, you have Islamic resources at home, you take the kids to the mosque more than once per week, they have many Muslim friends, etc..)

3. How old is your child?

I believe that it is more important to place kids in Islamic schools in the younger ages – until between 4th and 8th grade. This is the time when they are building their character. Of course there is more danger in public schools at the high school age. However, they are at least mature enough to put up a fight to maintain their Islam. Also, this can prepare them for life in the "real world". Also, resources in high school become very expensive. Public high schools often have much more resources that Islamic High schools.

If your child is in 7th grade or older, Good Public Schools score a point.

4. What are your child’s abilities

Due to their limited resources, Islamic Schools often cater more to the average student. That is: if you are very smart, the Islamic school does not have AP courses for you to grow your talents. If you need additional academic help, they do not have the capacity to provide that for you either. Average students do well in Islamic schools: They maintain their academic average, yet maintain an above average Islamic identity.

This is a tricky question. 80% of children are average. But 80% of parents think that their kids are in the top 20% compared to other kids. And that does not add up.

Another way of saying it is : Islamic schools are low risk, low reward (low risk of losing Identity, low reward of creating exceptional students). GOOD public schools are high risk, high reward (high risk of losing Islamic identity, high reward of creating exceptional students). One thing is noteworthy : because of the additional pressures that public schools place on the person’s Islamic character, the youth will either be broken Islamically (80%), or become very strong and proud of their faith (20%); therefore the high risk rating.

If your child is in the 20% above or below average academically (through independent observers :) and they are motivated Islamically, and the public school is much better than the Islamic school, then Public Schools score a point. Some signs of Islamic motivation include: they are praying, they want to know about Islam, they like going to the mosque, they have Muslim friends, they are proud to be Muslims, they are honest, etc...).

5. How much does it cost

Finally, how important is the cost factor for you? Are you willing to annually pay the $5-$7K Islamic schools require (per child)? Public schools are not free by the way. They cost $10-$16K per year. It is just that you don’t directly pay for it (pay through taxes, etc..).

On a personal note, although tuition for my three kids in Islamic Schools is a big deal, I still hope that Islamic schools will raise their tuition in order to raise their standard: pay the teachers more, and give the students a better education. It is wrong to try to commoditize Islamic schools. Islamic schools by nature cater to a special segment of the Muslim society : rich, practicing parents. They are attended by 5% of the Muslim kids. Trying to model a school to offer Islamic education to “everyone” is a failed model, since it serves no one. Islamic schools are not a right, but a luxury.

If cost is a major factor, then public schools score a point.

II. The bigger picture

Even if my own kids go to Islamic Schools, as a Muslim activist, I think that we have to invest more in public schools. More than 90% of Muslim children in America go to public schools. We need to be engaged, not just individually as parents, but as a community, in the public schools, in order to influence a healthy education for our children. Girls who wear the Hijab should not be ridiculed. Just like Yum Kippur is celebrated, Eid should be celebrated. Curriculum should highlight Muslims' contribution to America and to the world. We should not tolerate anti-Antisemitism, or Islamophobia. We can ask for Arabic to be taught as second language.

In fact, I must go a little bit further. As a practicing American Muslim, I am obliged to care for everyone’s education and everyone’s well-being. As a community, we need to fight for everyone’s right to receive a good education, not just Muslims. Islam teaches that good is due to every child and this is therefore the responsibility of our community. Drugs, crime, teenage-pregnancy, and other social problems are ours to find a solution for. What if indeed, "every child, is my child?", as a good friend used to insist?

III. Your turn

Please share your experience and questions. What worked for you? What is your experience? What additional factors need to be taken in consideration when evaluating both schools ?

Friday, September 25, 2009

Future postings

Some of the topics which I hope to write about in the future - (maybe a couple each week):

- how to deal with kids falling in love .. romantic relations
- how to punish kids in a way that fosters positiveness
- how to instill the love of Allah in kids' hearts
- the importance of being a role model for the kids. They will do as you do, not as you say.
- how (and when) to talk to kids about sex
- how to discipline kids without breaking them
- how to raise kids who are leaders, not followers - while at the same time not living in chaos at home.
- the difficulty, importance, and techniques, of controlling anger at home with the crazy kids
- public vs private schools
- compare Islamic school education to public school
- books my kids are reading
- raising kids is a very effective way to grow the individual (teaching parents patience, dealing with people, management, growing others, sacrifice, maturity, team-work, selflessness, how to influence others without brute force, how to be sneaky in a positive way, etc..)
- In some situations, a parent can be the good cop, and the other parent, the bad cop.
- what is more important : that the kids love the parent, or that they come out very good?
- "balance" in life (home, work, spiritual, activism, etc..) is important, but also very relative. It depends on some important factors per person (how much support you are getting from home, difficult your job is, what phase in life you are in (old or young), how old are your kids, what opportunities you have in each category).
- How to use online videos to learn Arabic (cartoons as a tool to teach Arabic)
- when is it better not to help your kids, and when you should leave them to make a mistake.
- they say that many of the great leaders in the world had very strong mothers, and very distant fathers. Is this True? Why is this the case?
- share some of my personal experience and challenges growing up in America.
- the crucial (make it or break it) role of the grandparents. How to keep them engaged in the most positive way. How to "work with them" so that you are all on the same page. Importance to grandparents for healthy kids.
- Specific Examples from the life of the prophet on how he raised his kids, and how he dealt with kids.
- what's a good TV policy ?
- what are some good movies and how to find them?
- the importance of sports for kids - on many fronts.
- where can I find supplementary educational material for my kids; and how to use the internet for real cool educational material (for instance on youtube).
- The importance of giving kids what they want, especially if what they are asking for is good. "Later", they may not have the same interest.
- Book reviews : Good parenting resources

Topics I need more information about
- how to help kids become more organized
- which books are good for teenagers
- How to become your teenage-child best friend (ok, just a friend will do).
- many, many more (can you help?)

What you can do :
1- share topics that you are interested to write about and post on this site
2- share topics / questions that you would like to see written about / addressed
3- share an experience with your parents (or kids). I can post with your name or anonymously

Movies and Kids

Movies usually have negative influence on kids. They are a great entertainment tool, nonetheless. Parents really need to be careful about what their kids watch. Movies can (and in fact do) shape the minds of kids so much more than we think.

Those lucky parents who can do away with TV all together, and replace it with quality time, sports, community service, having fun together are indeed blessed. At a minimum, we must exercise control.

There are a number of web sites that allow parents to review movies with kids in mind. That is, they rate the movie for kids, not just for adults. Of course as Muslims we are even more careful, since what the general society sees appropriate for teenagers for example, we will still have some issues with. Nonetheless, this is a good start.

Kids in Mind Movie Rating is an OK site. It is not the most impressive.
Common Sense Media is a little better, since it differentiates by age.

Please share other sites, or actual movies that are good. Please indicate age as well.