Over the past few weeks, a Netflix series has swept the nation that has many of our teens and tweens talking. The show, 13 Reasons Why, vividly takes viewers through the journey of a high school girl’s suicide, from her perspective. By leaving thirteen tapes, one for each of the people that she felt led her down the path towards ending her life, Hannah Baker, the protagonist, showcases many of the social ills our teens face today that can lead to struggles that are difficult to address. While the show clearly takes on a very drastic presentation style by using disturbingly intense images and language, some important themes surface from the situations portrayed in each episode. Regardless of whether your tween or teenage child has watched this show, it’s likely that they have heard some discussions regarding the storyline and the characters. Take this opportunity to open age-appropriate dialogue with your children if they have been exposed to these themes and strive to be their first source of information when they indicate a need to talk. Below are thirteen reasons why our youth today may not feel confident, comfortable, or secure in situations at school or with their peers and what we can do about it.
1. A picture can often hurt more than a thousand words
The influence of social media is undeniable as it pervades our lives in so many ways. When our youth post a picture online, it is often accompanied by a lack of awareness in the permanence of a posted image—even when posted to a social media site that purports impermanence or when sent to someone as a message along with a surreptitious “delete this” to accompany the image. Cyber-bullying often occurs from the power of the visual and the way in which the visual can be manipulated online. Know what social media your children are using and what they or others are posting or sharing with their camera phones.
2. The central characteristic of our faith
If Islam were to be defined by a central characteristic, that characteristic would be haya’a, or modesty. Yet, as our children grow we often send the wrong message of the importance of haya’a for girls while not always stressing the reciprocity of haya’a for boys as well. In verses 30 and 31 in Surat An-Nur we see the commandments of modesty that begin with a commandment for men to reduce their vision and end with a commandment for women to do the same (24:30-31). Teaching our children how to implement modesty in character, dress, language, and interactions with others will go a long way in the way they experience the world.
3. The intensification of peer pressure
While many of us as parents may look back on our school days and simplify the peer pressure we faced by shrugging it off as a part of growing up, the pressures our teens face today are even more intensified than pressures of the past. Beyond alcohol, hard drugs, marijuana, partying and hanging out with the wrong crowd, our teens face a whole new world of peer pressure online. From easy access to pornography, sexting, inappropriate video chatting to situations of catfishing and non-age-appropriate online RPGs, our children are facing immense pressure to succumb to the pressures of a virtual world in addition to the real world that surrounds them.
4. Curiosity really could kill the cat
Kids are curious. At any stage of development, there is a curiosity that exists in the innocence of childhood that can lead to positive motivation to learn but also negative exploration if pursued in the wrong way. Our children need boundaries. Despite the whining and the moaning and the groaning, they need to hear “No” when a situation may be dangerous, harmful, or inappropriate. However, a “no” without any “yes’s” can lead to rebellion and a subversive way of doing things. Be sure to temper the “no’s” with alternative forms of entertainment/social settings that will benefit your children. If this means no sleep-overs or limitations on whose homes you send your teenagers to or imposing reasonable curfews for both screen time and out of the house time, then trust your parental instincts and implement the reasonable boundaries that allow your child to flourish in a healthy and nurturing atmosphere.
5. “Whoever fights monsters should be careful of becoming one”
In the process of trying to get even for past hurts, our youth may find that revenge only serves to feed the nafs (the ego). When a child’s perception is clouded to the point of believing everyone is out to get them, they are at risk for being hurt again and again while also hurting others. Teach your children the power of words and the power of those words to do good but also the power of those words to hurt. Guarding the tongue is one of the key elements of our faith and helps guard the heart – our hearts and the hearts of others as well.
6. Non-traditional families
Whether or not we are comfortable with the idea of families comprised of two dads or two moms or children who may be exploring gender fluidity or transgenderism, we need to realize that this exists in our society today and that this social phenomenon is changing the nature of the way our world views families. To ignore the topic and choose not to discuss with our children won’t make a difficult subject disappear. Have the tough talks with your children on the new gender dynamics we are seeing today.
7. Broken homes and broken spirits
In speaking of families, do not be lulled into a false sense of security by believing that the homes of traditional normatively defined families are always safe spaces and havens for our youth. Take a long look at your own home. Recognize the impact that parental arguments, domestic violence, physical, verbal, emotional, and sexual abuse has on a teen. Make your home a place of mawaddah and rahma whether you are a single parent trying to raise your teen, in a blended family situation, or are living with in-laws, grandparents, extended family or any other dynamic.
8. Psychosomatic symptoms
If your tween or teenager is complaining of a consistent stomachache, headache, tiredness, or other aches and pains and all medical evaluations show there is no health condition, don’t just dismiss the pain as if it is nothing. Often times emotional pain manifests itself in the form of physical symptoms. Recognize that anxiety, depression, paranoia, panic attacks and other mental health struggles are very real and our children need a safe space to express these struggles that they may be going through. Listen to your children but also provide the outlets and access to professionals. There is no shame in speaking to a therapist or a counselor. Let’s remove the mental health stigma and get our youth the help they often need to deal with these difficulties.
9. Silent shaytan
Living in a world that is inundated with violent images and sexually lewd content, our youth are becoming more and more immune to violence and explicit material. From video games to television shows, much like the one that inspired this list, the more our youth are exposed to explicit images, the more they shut down in terms of reacting to negative or oppressive situations in real life. Teach your children to understand what oppression is and how our faith commands us to change that which is wrong or oppressive either with our hand through action, with our tongue through speaking out against it, or through our heart by despising it. Talk about rape, assault, and sexual abuse and arm your teens with the weapons they need to spot potentially dangerous situations and to report any issues that occur to them or to others.
10. Accountability for actions
We live in a narcissistic society that promotes a “not me” culture. Taking on accountability teaches our children to battle the nafs (ego) and to recognize that they will make mistakes, but there is nothing wrong with seeking forgiveness and making amends. When our children deal with difficulties such as loss of a grandparent, friend, or relative, as parents we need to also recognize the stages of grief and facilitate interactions that help our children find positive outlets for emotional expression. Surround your teens with friends and influences who remind them of Allah (subhanahu wa ta'ala) through their words, their actions, and their character.
11. The scars we see and the ones we don’t
When a teenager’s emotional pain becomes overwhelming, often the teen may turn to self-harm as a way of relieving the pain that they do not how to cope with. Using self-cutting or other forms of self-harm as a way to cope or feel in control is not a positive outlet for any child. Providing positive coping mechanisms are needed to allow our teens to express their emotions and work through their pain. While turning to Allah (subhanahu wa ta'ala) is of course a method we need to teach our children, allowing them to understand that Allah (subhanahu wa ta'ala) sends people in their path to listen and to be there can be exactly what they need to hear.
12. Don’t allow others to own you
Peer pressure can quickly morph into an intense need to fit in at the expense of a teen’s well-being. Teach your child to make mindful choices and to live life consciously for the sake of Allah (subhanahu wa ta'ala). Allow them to experience the love and mercy of Allah (subhanahu wa ta'ala) and to realize that He alone is the Creator and the Judge who is Al-Wadud (the most Loving), Al-Rahman (the most Compassionate), Al-Raheem (the most Merciful). Those who place our teens in vulnerable positions or make them feel used, are not friends. Empower your teen to recognize his or her own self-worth and value.
13. You are not alone
Loneliness can be one of the most difficult emotions for teens to cope with. Model the behavior of positive interactions. Be kind, be nice, be merciful, be compassionate and teach your children to be the same towards themselves and towards others. When our teens lose hope, that is when they lose their sense of purpose. If your tween or teen feels invisible or lost, don’t shut them out. Speak to them. Open up and provide avenues for them to open up to others they can trust.
The Quran reminds us to never despair from the mercy of Allah (39:53). There is hope, there is a purpose, and there is a cure for the pain. Empower your children by surrounding them with people who love and care for their well-being and seek out the tools that teach our teens that life is worth living and they are not alone. Know what your children are watching and accessing and have the tough talks with them so that they are not left to make sense of these powerful visuals on their own. There are many resources available online to assist in situations when a tween or teen may need to talk to someone about an emotional or mental struggle:
Crisis text hotline: 7474
The AMALA Hope Line: 1-855-95-AMALA
The ILIYA Crisis Hotline: 1-443-429-0095
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
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