Make Religious Teachings Clear and Simple
Sheima Salam Sumer, earned her Master’s degree in Counselor Education from the University of South Carolina. She has worked as a professional counselor in a variety of settings–school, home, and office, counseling individuals of all ages as well as families and groups. Here she throws light with answers on family issues, kids and parents from a spiritual angle.
Q: How do you think parents could help their children develop concern for fellow creatures? Please reflect on this based on your own example.
A: First, I teach my children that God loves for us to help others. Sometimes if we see a needy person outside, my kids hand that person a small donation. I also tell my kids stories about needy people, in order to open their hearts. Doing volunteer work together as a family is a great way to develop concern for others.
Q: Sometimes parents compare their children, labelling one as smart, another as dull, etc. Even when the kids grow up, parents think that the child who is earning more money is a “successful” person, while the one earning less is a failure. How do you look at this?
A: This can be very hurtful to children. Every person is a unique creation of God. Real success is not about having a lot of money. Success is gaining God’s approval in the next world.
Q: Could you please share some positive aspects of the way your parents parented you when you were a child, that you appreciate and may be grateful for?
A: I grew up with my mother, and I appreciate so many things about her. My mother discussed God and the Quran with us. I remember sitting with her as she talked about the wisdom of different verses in the Quran. She made sure that we went to a religious school on the weekend. She paid for tutors to teach us how to read the Quran in Arabic. She welcomed my questions. I remember asking her why we could not have boyfriends in Islam, and she calmly answered that it would not be fair to babies if they were born with unmarried parents. She taught us the wisdom of our faith, and not just to blindly follow rules. She sincerely loved us and took us on vacations and fun outings. She was not too strict. She was very kind, generous, and honest.
Q: In our present-day closely-interconnected world, where people from different faith and ideological backgrounds engage in close interaction, what do you think parents should do to help their children learn to get along well with people from other religious, ethnic and class backgrounds?
A: It’s important to teach kids that it’s ok to be different. Differences are the reality of life. The key is to treat everyone with respect. Also, God intended for there to be different religions. So there’s a wisdom in this. My kids have friends from different religions. I teach them about different religions and we talk about why we choose to be Muslims.
Q: The Internet and ‘social media’ have now become pervasive, and are having a major impact on people’s ways of thinking. In many cases, it is having a very negative impact on children. What advice do you have for parents in this regard?
A: It’s important to pay attention to your children’s behaviour. It’s crucial to talk to kids about social media and how it often gives a false view of reality. Discussions about the differences between the values of social media and the values of true faith are necessary. We must encourage critical thinking in our kids. We should also make religious teachings clear and simple. We must be parents who our kids feel comfortable talking to. We must spend more time with our kids so that they don’t need to turn to social media for support.
Q: One primary duty of parents is—or should be—to nurture their children in such a way that they grow up to be able to function well in the world as mature adults. Today, educational institutions focus mainly on the intellectual training of their students—their studying different academic subjects (and even here, the focus is on cramming up mountains of information to regurgitate during examinations rather than understanding a particular subject). Relatively little attention is given in these schools to character-building of the child, including on helping the child learn how to handle real-world challenges and to relate well with others. (With regard to the latter, in fact these institutions instil fierce individualism and competition). Children may learn things like calculus and the name of the capital of some remote country but are not taught simple first-aid or how to be charitable to the poor.
Given this sort of ‘education’, children who are compelled to study in such schools may receive little input on character-building or relating harmoniously with others—two basic things for a well-functioning mature adult.
Could you please reflect on this? What suggestions might you have for parents in this regard, based on your own experience?
A: I totally agree with you. Most of what such schools teach is useless for life. The priorities are to teach character and religion/spirituality. Even though I attended schools as you mention as a child, I went to an Islamic school on the weekend. I am currently blessed to be able to homeschool my children and to teach them about human relations and religion. My children currently take Skype religious classes. If your children are attending what are generally considered conventional schools, it’s necessary to supplement their education with positive religious and social experiences.
(Sheima Salam Sumer can be reached at [email protected])